To those who are not familiar with the marvelous diversity of breeds available to today's cat fancier, some of our modern varieties might seem a tad—well, unusual. However, even the most uninitiated cat lover can relate to the comfortably familiar American Shorthair, with its sturdy, middle-of-the-road body style and average all-American good looks. Looks can be deceiving, though, because the American Shorthair is a pedigreed breed with as long a history of selective breeding as many of the cat fancy's more exotic felines.
A true breed of working cat, the American Shorthair is solid, muscular, and medium to large in size. The overall appearance is of a strongly built, well-balanced, symmetrical cat with a conformation that indicates power, endurance, and agility. The head is large, with a squared muzzle, strong jaws long enough to successfully grasp prey, and a full-cheeked face that gives the impression of an oblong that's just slightly longer than it is wide. The chin is firm and well-developed, and the neck is medium in length, muscular, and strong. The nose is medium length and is the same width its entire length; viewed in profile, it has a gentle, concave rise from the bridge to the forehead.
Medium in size, the ears are slightly rounded at the tip and placed fairly wide on the head. The eyes are large and wide with the upper lid shaped like half an almond cut lengthwise and the lower lid shaped in a fully rounded curve. The outer corners are set very slightly higher than the inner corners. The eyes are separated by at least one eye width, and are bright, clear, alert, and contribute to the sweet, open expression of the face. Eye color depends upon coat color and pattern.
The heavily muscled legs are medium in length and bone, and end with firm, full, rounded paws with heavy pads. The tail is thick, medium long, and heavy at the base, and tapers to a blunt end. Fully grown males weigh 10 to 15 pounds; mature females weigh 8 to 12 pounds. However, quality is never sacrificed for size. This breed takes three to four years to fully mature.
This breed’s short coat is thick, even, and hard in texture. Regional and seasonal variations in coat thickness are allowed. The coat is dense enough to protect the cat from moisture, cold, and superficial skin injuries.
Any evidence of hybridization with another breed—including long or fluffy fur, a deep nose break, bulging eyes, brow ridge, kinked or abnormal tail, and the coat colors chocolate, sable, lavender, lilac, and point-restricted (the Siamese pointed pattern)—is cause for disqualification.
The breed comes in a plethora of colors and color combinations, and in many patterns: solid, shaded, smoke, tabby, patched, particolor, bicolor, and these patterns with white. The most popular color and pattern is the striking silver classic tabby with dense black markings on a pale, clear, silver ground color; more than one third of all ASHs possess this popular color and pattern. Next in popularity is the brown tabby, with black tabby markings on a rich brown background. The ASH has no allowable outcrosses.
It’s clear that domestic cats first set paw in North America when the Europeans did, since North and South America have no indigenous species from which domestic cats could have developed. Since it was a common practice to keep cats aboard ships to deal with the ravaging rodents, cats may have been aboard the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria when Columbus sailed in 1492. Cats were definitely present in Jamestown, the first permanent British colony in the New World; we know this because there is a written mention of cats dating from 1609. Who knows? Colonial cats might have snatched bits of turkey and venison off the table at that famous Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving feast in 1621.
At any rate, regardless of when they arrived and with whom, cats were working members of society rather than pampered pets, serving as perfect mouse traps in the barns and fields of colonial America. At this point, function was far more important than form, and folks paid little attention to the color, pattern, and body style of their mousers. Through natural selection—life was hard on cats and humans alike—these feline immigrants developed powerful muscles, strong jaws, and hardy constitutions.
In the late 1950s, Domestic Shorthair breeders secretly began crossbreeding Persians into their Domestic Shorthair lines to "improve" the body type and to introduce the striking silver color to their lines. As a result, the Domestic Shorthair body type began to change, becoming more Persian in style. Since Persians were (and still are) a very popular breed, these hybrids did well in the show halls.
As time passed, however, familiarity bred contempt for the breed. Fanciers became more interested in imported breeds such as the Persian, Siamese, and Angora than in the familiar Domestic Shorthair who had warmed their laps and served them faithfully for so many years. And as these imports were crossbred with the Domestic Shorthair, the pure bloodlines of the American native began to be adulterated. In the early 1900s, a group of people who loved the stalwart look of their valiant all-American cats began a selective breeding program to preserve the breed’s natural beauty, hardiness, and mild temperament. They did allow the silver coloration to remain, however, since it brought a popularity not previously enjoyed by the breed.
At first, it was slow going and the breed received little respect from other cat fanciers. In the early days, not only did Domestic Shorthairs not win in the show ring against the exotic imports, but often cages were not even provided for the breed and no trophies or rosettes were presented to the Domestic classes. It wasn’t until the early 1940s that the breed began—slowly and with difficulty—to gain some recognition.
In September 1965, breeders voted to change the breed’s name from Domestic Shorthair to American Shorthair (abbreviated ASH). With the new name came a new image. The same year, an American Shorthair silver tabby male named Shawnee Trademark won Best Cat of the Year in CFA, heralding a new era for the ASH. Today, plenty of fanciers pledge allegiance to this all-American breed, and you'll see the ASH competing beside the finest Persians and Siamese and winning their share of awards. According to CFA’s 2014 registration totals, the ASH is the third most popular shorthair in North America, and the sixth most popular breed overall.