The red (sorrel) Abyssinians in Books and History

compiled by Christine M. Ruessheim

May Eustace & Elizabeth Towe have written about the recognition of the red (sorrel) variety of the Abyssinian cats in Fifty Years of Pedigree Cats, London, 1967:

Red Abyssinians have appeard in litters for a number of years, and are quite distinct from the well-known older generation of Abyssinians, whose coat colour was ruddy brown ticked with black or dark brown. Mrs. Dorothy Winsor gave me her impressions which I published in Cats In Clover and extracts are quoted here. Of her first Red she said:

"Her coat gradually changed to a deep ticked red which glowed like a flame - a colour so solid and lovely that I wanted not merely to breed from her, but to breed kittens of the same vivid colouring".

Mrs. Winsor, through the Abyssinian Newsletter, contacted several people who were interested and set about breeding from the few Reds then available. With the help of the Abyssinian Cat Club and the great interest of both Miss Bone and Mrs. Menezes, Red Abyssinians came into the official register. At one time grey Abyssinians were identified and were invariably listed in catalogues as Silver Abyssinian or Aluminiums.

Eustace & Towe further write:

The Abyssinian is a very old breed, and has been exhibited for many years. As it is not a prolific breeder, and also as females are in the minority, it will never be overcrowded. In recent years the breed has become more popular, and type has improved, but there are still too many with white chins and lockets. Though it seems to be difficult to eradicate this fault entirely some breeders are managing to keep it under control. The recognition of the Red Abyssinian has added a new and special charm to the breed. Miss Yorke, writing in Our cats 1963 New Year Greeting's issue about a vision she saw in Paris said:

"Consideration for space prevents me from mentioning all the breeds in this my New Year message to you all. But I just cannot refrain from mentioning one cat I saw at a show in Paris which took my breath away. She sat in the palms of a steward's hands as a Golden Goddess, gazing into the past of some thousand years, aloof, dignified and unperturbed, alone with her thoughts and yet surrounded by a great throng of admirers. I was spellbound to such a beauty in a living creature. She was a Red Abyssinian - and how I wished to own her! The show was the Cat Club de Paris Exhibition."

Many of our most choice home-bred Abyssinians are exported and win high honours abroad. Mrs. Towe's Hillcross Tawny recently romped away with three Challenge certificates in a row and though barely adult, became an International Champion. Mrs. Winsor has bred and exported for many years and her Tranby prefix can be discovered in many Abyssinian pedigrees. Mrs. Menezes, Mrs. Oswald, Mrs. Earnshaw, Miss Bone, Miss Wiseman, Mrs. Shrouder, Miss Macpherson, Mrs. Towe, Mrs. Bradbury, Mrs. Macalister, are all breeders of note who have added fresh names of honour to this delightful breed. Mrs. Threadingham has had the honour of breeding the very first British Red Abyssinian Champion: Bernina Heidi.

Abyssinians were quite well established in Paris before the war, due again to English imports, notably Championship Woodroofe Zeus. Mademoiselle Rose Meyer showed about a dozen at the Amis des Chats Show in 1951. They were in an enormous pen, the floor being covered with golden sand with large rocks placed here and there. The top and sides of the pen were lined with thin green silk and with a clever lighting arrangement the whole effect was of small lions reclining in the desert.

Recently Madame Heyer of the Cercle Félin Club imported a good male Abyssinian from America and two from England, now known as Champion Taishun Tula and Champion Hillcross Tawny. From these cats she is building up a very good strain of Abyssinian with excellent type and colour. They attract great attention when shown reclining on pale yellow cushions.

A whole chapter was dedicated to the "Reds" in Grace Pond's Book "The Complete Cat Encyclopaedia", published in Great Britain 1972:

For as long as the Abyssinian breed has been officially recognised, there has, from time to time, appeared in a litter an odd kitten of other-than-normal colour. It will be held by some breeders that the new shades have been introduced intentionally, but my own conviction is that the Red Abyssinian did not originate in this way - indeed I have been given to understand that a red kitten appeared in a litter of Abyssinians as long ago as 1880, although nothing is known of the breeding.

The colour of today's Red Abyssinians is due to a special red gene which is recessive, which means that for a red to appear in a litter, this gene must be present on both sides. A queen with normal colour may carry red, and may never produce a red kitten because she has not been mated to a male carrying red. If the male is normal in colour but carries the red gene, the female will produce both red and normal progeny in the litter. In my experience, I have never seen a normal kitten born to two red parents - only by mating red to red can one be sue of producing an entirely red litter.

The strength in Britain today of the beautiful Red Abyssinian must be largely attributed to the pioneer work of the late Mrs. Dorothy Winsor, for it was mainly due to her untiring efforts ove many years, patiently breeding red to red, that the new breed gradually became known. In 1959, she acquired a red female, Merkland Yilma, from Lady Liverpool, and later another female, Merkland Sheba; she was also able to take a red male, Taishun Khepha, from Mrs. E. Menezes and, together, these formed the basis of the breeding programme, which progressed despite many setbacks, at a time when most breeders would give away any kitten with other-than-normal coat colour.

In 1963, the Red Abyssinian was officially recognised in Britain. In that same year, I obtained a red female in a litter of five, of which four were the normal colour, this from a normal queen mated to a red male. This kitten later became Ch. Bernina Heidi, the first Red Abyssinian to achieve championship status in the U.K. The Red Abyssinian was recognised by the larger American associations, too, in 1963, and the first All-American Red Aby (1964) and first Champion was Du-Ro-Al's Sorrel Sultan, owned by Alma Cowell of Detroit. In America, as in Britain, the Red Abyssinian is catered for by the same specialist associations as its "normal" cousin.

The Red Abyssinian is no harder to rear than any other pedigree cat and my experience is that they kitten and look after their young like good mothers. As soon as the kittens are born, their colour is easy to determine, for a red kitten always has pink pads while the normal has black: the black pigment is missing in the Red.

My own method of routine grooming is to administer a good rubbing-down with damp rubber gloves. This removes all loose hairs, and coats assume a glossy sheen. For special show grooming, I rub bay rum over the coat maybe a day or two before a show, as this removes all unwanted grease; bay rum should not be used regularly, however. Special care must also be given to ears. Then just before putting them in the show pen, I give my cats a final rub with the silk scarf that has been around my neck, which gives a final polish to the coat.

The British Standard for the Red Abyssinian is the same in every respect as that for the normal variety, except in regard to colour, which should be rich copper red on the body, doubly or preferably trebly ticked with darker colours. Lack of distinct contrast in the ticking is a fault. The richer the body colour the better - a pale colour is a bad fault. The belly and inside of the legs should be deep apricot to harmonize. The tip of the tail is dark brown and this colour may extend along the tail as a line. A spine line of deeper colour is also permissible. As with the standard variety, a white chin is considered undesirable on the show bench, while other white markings are definitely not permitted. The nose leather is pink; pads are pink, set in brown fur which extends up the backs of the legs. Eye colour, like that of the normal variety, is green, yellow or hazel.