The Havana Brown is the color of burnished mahogany, with a coat so smooth and glossy that it gleams in the light—a virtual reddish-brown beacon of lustrous color. Truly distinctive, the Havana Brown’s unique muzzle shape, lovely coat, brilliant green eyes, and large, forward-tilted ears make this breed stand out.
The Havana Brown is a graceful, medium-size cat with a firm, muscular body and an overall moderate body type—midway between cobby (like a Persian) and svelte (like a Siamese). This breed is surprisingly heavy for its size.
The Havana Brown’s head is distinctive—it’s longer than it is wide, narrowing to a somewhat narrow, rounded muzzle with a pronounced break on both sides behind the whisker pads. When viewed in profile, a distinct stop is evident at the eyes. The muzzle looks more like a protrusion than an extension of the head; some fanciers say the rectangular shape looks like a corn cob or the base of a light bulb. The end of the muzzle appears almost square and this optical illusion is enhanced by the well-developed chin. The somewhat narrow muzzle and the whisker break are distinctive characteristics of the breed and must be evident in show-quality cats. Allowance is made for somewhat broader heads and jowls in unaltered males.
The wide-set ears are large but not flared, rounded at the tips and cupped at the base. They are tilted forward, giving the cat an alert appearance. The ears are sparsely furred inside and out. The medium-sized oval-shaped eyes are set wide apart and are brilliant, alert and expressive. Eye color is any vivid shade of green—the deeper the color the better.
The Havana Brown stands relatively tall on straight legs. The females’ legs are slim and dainty compared to the more powerfully muscled legs of mature males. The tail is slender, not whiplike or blunt, neither long nor short, but medium in length in proportion to the body. Overall balance and proportion is more important than size. Males weigh 8 to 10 pounds; females weigh 6 to 8 pounds.
The coat is smooth and glossy, short to medium in length. In UFO, the Havana Brown Longhair is accepted, which sports a silky semi-long coat with minimal undercoat. UFO is the only association to accept this hair length so far. The breed comes in two colors in TICA and CFF, brown and its dilute color, lilac (lavender in CFF). The brown color is a rich and even shade of warm brown, tending to red-brown or mahogany rather than a black-brown or sable. A dark, sable-type brown coat is considered a fault. Lilac is a pinkish gray tone with matching lilac whiskers. Whisker color must match coat color; white whiskers are a disqualifying trait.
The origins of this breed go back many years—the Havana Brown is as old as the Siamese and comes from the same mysterious land. Siam, now Thailand, is the ancestral home of the Siamese, Burmese, Korat, and Havana Brown, as evidenced by the illustrations and descriptions in a manuscript called The Cat-Book Poems. The manuscript was written in the city of Ayutthaya, Siam, sometime between 1350 and 1767. (No closer estimate is possible since, lacking copy machines in those days, manuscripts were painstakingly hand-copied from previous versions when they wore out.)
Solid brown cats were among the first cats to be transported to Britain from Siam. Records in the late 1800s describe them as "Siamese, with coats of burnished chestnut and greeny-blue eyes." They were exhibited in Europe in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. A solid brown took first prize at a cat show in England in 1888. However, as the Siamese’s popularity rose, the solid brown’s fell. In 1930, the British Siamese Cat Club released a statement that said, "The club much regrets it is unable to encourage the breeding of any but blue-eyed Siamese." Without the club’s support, fanciers lost interest in green-eyed solid browns. World War II helped eliminate any remaining breeding stock.
Solid browns began their comeback in 1952. Five English breeders, working separately and then together, sought to reproduce solid brown cats with the all-over coloring of the chocolate points on a Siamese, rather than the sable brown of the Burmese. They used seal point and chocolate point Siamese cats, black domestic shorthairs, and, to a limited extent, Russian Blues. In 1958, the British registry, Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), accepted the new breed for championship competition under the name Chestnut Foreign Shorthair. In 1970 the name of the British breed was changed to Havana. (The North American Havana Brown looks very different from the British Havana, which the North American cat fancy would call a chestnut Oriental Shorthair.)
A female named Roofspringer Mahogany Quinn reached the United States in the mid-1950s, and all North American Havana Browns can trace their ancestry back to this cat. In 1959, the breed was recognized by the now defunct United Cat Federation under the name Havana Brown. In 1964, CFA granted the Havana Brown championship status. Today, all North American cat associations accept the breed.
Despite its many years in existence, the Havana Brown is one of the more uncommon breeds. According to CFA’s 2014 registration totals, the breed ranks 36th out of the 41 breeds CFA recognizes for championship. Still, this rare gem with the emerald eyes has many fans because of its unique conformation, lovely burnished color, and great personality.
Two stories exist about the breed’s name. One claims the breed was named after the Havana rabbit, whose color is similar to the breed’s and is considered by some to be the mink of the rabbit family. The other maintains the breed was named after the color of good Cuban cigars. No one knows for sure which story is true—or if either is.