SEPIA AMERICAN SHORTHAIRS (AND THE FURTHER SPREAD OF SEPIA)
Whether we like it or not, sepia is in the American Shorthair gene pool. CFA disqualifies chocolate, sable, lavender, lilac, colourpoint, mink, and sepia pattern American Shorthairs (i.e. the colours might pop up but they can’t be exhibited). ACFA list chocolate shaded (but not solid chocolate) as a permitted colour. TICA accept all colours. This can present a problem when transferring cats between registries, or when sepia pops up unexpectedly where it should be.
The American Shorthair "Purrfun My Main Man" contributed the sepia gene to the Exotic Shorthair in UK (all offspring were sterilised to prevent it spreading in the UK). In the USA, it spread from the Exotic gene pool to the Selkirk Rex gene pool, though few people are working with it. An American Shorthair added sepia when used as an outcross for Scottish Folds in Russia.
The emergence might seem trivial to many, but sepia seems to have “escaped” into the American Shorthair gene pool through trying to counter inbreeding that had caused the Burmese head defect to spread in that breed. If sepia escaped, did the head defect also escape? The lethal head defect showed up in the American Shorthair breed at the start of the 21st century demonstrating a link between the two breeds. Dermoids – also linked to a cranial defect - have shown up as far back as 1987.
First we need a little history of the breed. The American Shorthair began as the shorthaired farm cat that arrived with settlers and on trading ships in the days of the first colonies. They were greatly valued for ruggedness and hunting ability rather than for beauty. When the cat fancy arose in Britain, the most popular breeds were Shorthairs (the British Shorthair) and Longhairs (Persians). Well-patterned shorthairs, often silver classic tabbies, were imported into the USA and mixed with the American-bred cats. Quite a number of British Shorthair cats made the trip across the Atlantic and some American-bred cats made the opposite journey because they had not yet diverged in conformation. As more breeds were developed or imported, it became necessary to differentiate the American cats from the British Shorthairs. At first they were called “Domestic Shorthair” but this name was confusing and had negative connotations. By 1939, the breed was in decline and it was left to a few dedicated breeders to perpetuate good quality, truly purebred cats. Dr. Frances MacCraken persuaded farms with pure hunting bloodlines to register their best breeding stock. These new foundation cats were used to recover the broad heads, square muzzles and massive bodies.
In the early 1960s, the American Shorthair Cat Association convinced the various registries to change the breed name to American Shorthair. British Shorthair imports were still allowed, provided they had a GCCF 3 generation pedigree, revealing no Persians mixed into the lines. The last pure breeding line in England that closely resembled the American Shorthair was the inbred Jezreel line which more closely matched the American standard than the British standard. The first two registered "American Shorthairs" were Jezreel silvers from the UK. After that, the British and American Shorthairs were separate breeds. Linechasing finds that many modern cats trace to common ancestors in the 1950s and 1960s even if their 3-generation pedigree does not show much inbreeding.
To eliminate tabby markings in the Shaded Silver American Shorthair, other breeds were added. Wayne Park used a chocolate point Siamese to introduce the agouti (ticked) tabby pattern gene to get rid of the excessive leg barring and clear up the coat. This meant that pointed cats and chocolate-silvers occurred, and the shaded silver American Shorthairs were often more "refined" in type. Other breeders use Burmese to introduce the ticked tabby pattern, but this apparently gave the red colours a "muddy" appearance. Some breeders used Abyssinians to get the ticked tabby gene, but this adversely affected ear conformation and colour distribution. The use of Chinchilla Persians meant that later breeders had to decide whether their cats would be American Shorthairs or become Exotic Shorthairs ("… the shorthaired Persian known as the Exotic Shorthair was conceived to make saints out of sinners. The Exotic Shorthair was quietly envisioned as a dumping ground for the hybridized Silver American Shorthair. No doubt there were those who felt that the breed would be short-lived and ultimately tossed over the side taking with it the registered hybrids." Rosemonde Peltz, Cat World [USA], Jan-Feb 1976)
SEPIA IN THE SIXTIES? THE BOMBAY LINK
In the 1950s/60s, Nikki Horner (then Nikki Shuttleworth) set up Shawnee cattery and produced some very successful American Shorthairs from carefully selected stock. This cattery produced huge numbers of cats in a number of breeds, including Burmese. It here that the Bombay originated from a cross between a black American Shorthair and a Brown (Sable) Burmese. Many American Shorthair catteries used Shawnee lines. Horner’s first litter of Burmese x non-pedigreed black domestic shorthairs in the 1950s was a disappointment (seems to have been accidental). The kittens resembled poor American Shorthairs. Between 1966 and 1972, she bred 27 litters, starting with a good quality black American Shorthair females and a good quality brown (sable) Burmese male and inbreeding to get the Burmese conformation. Because of that inbreeding, Herb and Suzanne Zwecker started the “Road to Fame” line (1970s) using a non-pedigreed black domestic shorthair male and a brown (sable) Burmese female.
In the August 1965 issue of Cats Magazine, we find the background of the Bombay. A Black Domestic (i.e. American Shorthair) was crossed to the American Burmese to counter inbreeding depression in the latter breed. There was the almost throwaway comment that there had been an earlier accidental mating between a Black American Shorthair and an American Burmese, but it had not been made public knowledge.
Is it possible that a black shorthair from the Bombay breeding programme got back into American Shorthair lines, carrying the gene pool with it? Did any descendants go back into the American Shorthair breed e.g. when the studbook was re-opened? Other Bombay lines were started to ensure diversity and it’s likely that some offspring went into either the Burmese gene pool or the American Shorthair gene pool depending on which they most closely resembled. Although there is no smoking gun, I’ve been told that when the Bombay was developed some sepia-carrying offspring were indeed registered as American Shorthair. The links between the American Shorthair and the American Burmese is why the head defect has shown up in both breeds, however it showed up more recently which suggests more recent contact with the Burmese breed.
SEPIA IN THE SEVENTIES? THE RE-OPENED STUDBOOK
In the 1970's, Major and Mrs. T. Tucker's exhibited Male Man of De Tracy, a brown mackerel tabby stud with "unknown" sire. This cat demonstrated that there were still excellent type outcross cats in the general population. As a result, the CFA stud-book was re-opened, much to the displeasure of many established breeders. Cats with barn-cat sires were added to the gene pool, provided they were healthy and had the correct conformation. By that time, however, many of these cats had genes that had not been present in the original American Shorthair gene pool. Some would have carried the longhair gene and because many cats were still allowed to roam, some would have carried more exotic genes such as chocolate, colourpoint and sepia. Farm cats have popped up in these colours.
Accepting random-bred cats that looked like American Shorthair also meant accepting a whole lot of recessive genes that would not show up until a few generations down the line when their descendants were bred together and the genes doubled up.
SEPIA - OTHER SOURCES
For a considerable time the CFA books were open to allow new foundation cats. Several CFA grand champions had parentage marked as "unknown," for example "Step and Fetch It." Some of the white cats of unknown ancestry could have been masking anything, and some breeders probably registered foundation cats as “unknown parentage” even though they knew what the cats were and what genes they carried.
One of the CFA lines that worked with colours other than silver tabby was known to have used Burmese outcrosses. A later line of brown tabbies in Florida showed evidence of Burmese ancestry (head defect) and American Shorthairs from that line were apparently used as outcrosses with the Scottish Fold programme. The “Beauchador” line of American Shorthairs goes back to Margot Mellies' “Miribu” line and has produced some unusual colours and also extreme type due to Burmese influence.
DIFFERENT REGISTRIES, DIFFERENT RULES
CFA disqualifies American Shorthairs showing evidence of crossbreeding; this suggests that they know that such cats occur. ACFA accepts chocolate shaded, but not solid chocolate. TICA accept all colours. This is only a problem when transferring cats between registries or when exporting cats to countries where breeders are unaware of the different rules in different registries, or are unaware that sepia carriers exist in the gene pool even though the colour is disqualified if it appears.
In the early 21st century, chocolate-silver American Shorthairs (ivory background with brown stripes "looking like a hot fudge sundae") were registered with TICA under the short-lived “Vienna Woods” name because the chocolate series was not recognised in American Shorthairs at the time. The pointed gene and chocolate colour have been in the mix for a long time. For example, Wayne Park used a chocolate point Siamese to get the bodies more clear on his shaded silver Americans.
Seal sepia tabby American Shorthairs appeared more recently. There is apparently an American Shorthair breeder showing sepia as a New Trait in TICA. He exhibited a seal silver classic sepia tabby. This was from Beauchador lines and the trait goes back to Ironforge lines.
1960s AMERICAN SHORTHAIR WITH "MANY BREEDS" IN ITS PEDIGREE
This pre-1970 photo of American Shorthair, Holliday’s Margarita, bred by Ruthe K. Miner, provoked quite a bit of discussion online with suggestions it was a Burmilla or Singapura, neither of which existed at the time of this cat. The caption stated that the cat had many breeds in her pedigree. This is an old-stye American Shorthair, from when the breed was still being developed. The pedigree contains Norpark cats bred by Wayne Park.
SEPIA (AND MINK) SPREADS FROM AMERICAN SHORTHAIRS TO SCOTTISH FOLDS AND BRITISH SHORTHAIRS
In Russia, the sepia gene entered the British Shorthair in 2017 from the Scottish Straight (straight eared variant of Scottish Fold), resulting in both sepia and mink British Shorthairs (mink intermediate between sepia and colourpoint). Scottish Folds/Straights are outcrossed to British Shorthairs to maintain health. Because colourtpoint British Shorthairs are a recognised variety, sepia bred to colourpoint resulted in mink varieties. Mink British Shorthairs are bred by Tatyana Rechkina of Fluffy-cats Cattery. The sepia gene entered the Scottish Fold/Straight gene pool in the USA from crossing to American Shorthair(s) that had gained the sepia gene via the Bombay breeding programme. Some of the first Russian-bred sepia Scottish Folds were at Rumfold cattery, but the breeder did not pursue the colour, instead selling sepia carriers to other catteries. Because the mink cats came from lines selected for deep copper eyes, their eye colour was not the desired aqua colour, but ranged from yellow-green to blue-green depending on the base colour. Several Russian catteries now breed sepia and mink Scottish Folds/Straights and sepia and mink British Shorthairs; some have bred golden minks/sepias, silver minks/sepias and "copper" minks/sepias. (Copper is an extreme expression of golden/rufism where the coloured tipping is so minimal that the cats appear copper coloured with nearly white bellies). ScottishLand Cattery in Florida has Russian-bred sepia Scottish cats from Russia, and there are sepia silver Scottish bred in western Europe. The mink pattern was separately introduced into British Shorthairs in France, with the first Mink British Shorthair being born in 1995.
Sepia may have reached the Persian gene pool via longhaired variants of Exotic Shorthairs, which arose through crossing American Shorthairs and Chinchilla Persians. Purebred Persians in sepia pattern were born in Vancouver, Canada, in 2020, meaning that both parents carried sepia (one was an import from Iran). Over the years there were also short-loved attempts to breed Himalayans/Colourpoint Persians with sepia and mink pattern through crossing to Burmese.
To my knowledge there are no mink pattern American Shorthairs because colourpoints are not permitted in the breed. There was an attempt to create a colourpointed verions under the breedname "Opal" in the 1980s/1990s.