The Tonkinese: The 10th Anniversery

by Sharon Roy, Shanfoo Cattery

CFA Almanac May 1994





February, 1984, San Diego, Ca.--The Tonkinese Breed was accepted into championship status with The Cat Fanciers Association culminating many years of dedication and perseverance of Tonkinese breeders and enthusiasts coast to coast.




Throughout their history, the Tonkinese breed has always been the subject of much controversy.  It is not my intention to discuss the very early history of the breed.* Rather, I would like this article to be a brief overview of the Tonkinese Breed during the past twenty five years including the cats and the people who helped shape this very popular breed. Hopefully, this article will show just how far the Tonkinese have come in becoming vital    contributing members of the Cat Fancy Community.

This history cannot be complete without the mention of a few early breeders whose excitement for the young breed helped shape their style and their future.   Today's breeders and exhibitors owe much of the success they enjoy today to these early pioneers.

Margaret Conroy, of Canada, helped to write the first standard for the breed.   She guided the breed's acceptance into the Canadian Cat Association, the first major registry to accept the Tonkinese for full championship status in 1971.

In the United States, much credit for the early development of the breed belongs to Jane Barletta of Trenton NJ.  Jane helped establish communications between breeders from coast to coast.  She collaborated with Margaret Conroy to draft the early written standard.   In addition, she helped link the efforts being undertaken on the West coast with those on the East coast, when, in 1969, she placed an advertisement in Cat Fancy magazine.  This led to communication with Mary Swanson of Fresno Ca. who was also developing her own line of early Tonkinese.

Jane Barletta also appeared on the original daytime "Jeopardy" show in the early seventies.  When asked for a personal profile, she told the television audience that she was breeding Tonkinese cats.  Watching that show was Joan Weber of Derry, NH.  Joan was also breeding Tonkinese and working closely with other early New England Breeders, Hope Tremblay, Madalyn Dakin and Judy Penna.   Joan Weber wrote to the network and her letter was forwarded to Jane Barletta.  It was this correspondence that led to the first organized Tonkinese meeting in Boston MA. in 1971. This meeting was the beginning of the Tonkinese Breed Club and of an organized effort coast to coast to achieve show status in all associations.   It was the beginning of the Tonkinese Community.

I purchased my first Tonkinese in 1976 and attended my first Tonkinese Breed Club meeting in 1977.   Also attending her first meeting was Joan Bernstein of Long Island, NY.

In October 1978, under the guidance of the Tonkinese Breed Club, Joan Bernstein volunteered to represent the Tonkinese at the October Board Meeting of CFA. It was at this meeting that CFA agreed to accept the breed for registration.   The paperwork to register all known Tonkinese was completed in May 1979 and Tonkinese began showing up in CFA shows across the country.   In the summer of 1979, The Tonkinese Breed Association was chartered as a CFA club.

The Tonkinese experienced setbacks along the way.   The Breed Association planned to ask for Provisional Status at the February 1980 Board Meeting.  The then new "Five Year Rule" for the advancement of New Breeds and Colors passed at the October 1979 meeting.  This rule established the non-competitive Miscellaneous class where it was expected a new breed would remain for five years before being considered for advancement into the Provisional class.  It was generally believed that this rule was written specifically for the Tonkinese as an attempt to hold them in abeyance until they could prove themselves or maybe just disappear.  "Zonk the Tonk" buttons appeared and the Tonkinese became the most controversial breed to come about in many, many years.

What the opposition hadn't counted on was the zeal and abundant energy of those dedicated breeders.  The Tonkinese attended shows in great numbers, fastly becoming one of the most popular breeds in the showhall.  The public loved the breed!  Even pet owners supported the cause by joining the breed club, attending local shows as a sign of support and some even providing monetary donations to keep the effort alive.  It was truly amazing to see the Tonkinese breeders put aside their personal differences and combine their energies to work for what seemed to be an unattainable goal.   Finally, in October 1981, The CFA Board advanced the breed to Provisional status.  February, 1984 saw the final advancement into championship.


What's become of the breed since May 1984, when the first Tonkinese took their place in the CFA competive ring?  All has not been smooth sailing.  Although many came close, the first season, 1984-1985, saw only one Tonkinese achieve Grand Premiership, Solano's Marina Del Sol of Risu, a Blue Mink spay bred by Jean Cole and owned by Susan Mundell.   The first Grand Champion, Connacht's Shenanigan, a Platinum Mink male bred and owned by Frank Yaccino and Larry Rhinard occurred in the first show of May 1985.  Following closely, during the second weekend of May, was Shotoku Glimour, a Platinum Mink female, bred and owned by Joan Bernstein.  This was only the beginning of the dominance of the Platinum Mink.   Throughout the next nine years, the Platinums have continually dominated the show ring wins for Tonkinese.  Other distinguished Platinums include the following:

Shotuko Maggeia, a Platinum female bred and owned by Joan Bernstein, the first Tonkinese to receive the prestigious Distinguished Merit Award.

Honeypointe Uptown Girl, a Platinum female, bred and owned by Rico and Barbara Honey, the First and Only Tonkinese to achieve a National Top Win.   This win was in Premiership in the 1990 show season.

Spielzeit Watch the Chrysis of B4, a Platinum male, bred by Bruce and Fran Nickerson and owned by the Nickersons and Ken Burke who, to date, is the highest scoring Tonkinese in history.



The following Tonkinese merit recognition and should be remembered if the recorded history of the breed is to remain intact:

Connacht's Durty Nellie, a Natural Mink female bred and owned by Frank Yaccino and Larry Rhinard, the first NationaL Best of Breed with CFA.

Shanfoo's Maxwell Nathan, a Natural Mink male, bred and owned by Norma and Sharon Roy, the first Tonkinese male Distinguished Merit winner, sire of 17 Natural Mink Grands.

Sonham Chat o Nerf Brut, a Champagne Mink male, bred and owned by Mary Mosshammer and Ann Sanson, A National Best of Breed who also went on to become a DM.   Brut is also the second highest scoring Tonkinese in CFA history.

Shermont Bonnie of Sonham, A Natural Point (AOV Non-championship color), the first Tonkinese AOV to achieve a Distinguished merit.

BiHo Meiling, a Natural Mink female, bred and owned by Hope Tremblay, the first Tonkinese to achieve a grand championship in any association.  Meiling received her award in 1981 with Cat Fanciers Federation.

Chatain's Nathan of Shanfoo, a Natural Mink male, bred by Mary Swanson and owned by Norma and Sharon Roy, the first alter to achieve a Grand and the first Tonkinese to achieve a National Top Ten win, with Cat Fanciers Federation in 1982.




Many years of selective breeding have given the Tonkinese a style and a look all their own.  The breed has developed an overall consistency in type.  For the past ten years, the Tonkinese breeding program has allowed Tonkinese to Tonkinese crosses only.  With championship status came the elimination of all first generation Siamese to Burmese outcrosses.

Ideal Tonkinese have no extremes.  They should never resemble either of their parent breeds.   Their body is medium in length, with the height of their legs approximately equal to the length of their body.  Ideal tail length should be equal to their body length.   The head is a modified wedge (not round) and should be slightly longer than it is wide.  The muzzle is blunt. The eye shape is open almond (not round) but slightly rounded along the bottom, slanted upward along the cheekbone, medium in size in proportion to the head.** The ear set is oval, set as much on top as on the side of the head.

Currently, Tonkinese are accepted for championship in four colors, Natural Mink, Champagne Mink, Blue Mink and Platinum Mink.  Although early breeders did not recognize the Platinum color, Cathy Rokaw, in 1978 suggested the Platinum would have to exist if we were to be consistent with our Siamese/Burmese heritage.  In 1979, the first Platinum was officially produced.   The original standard used the word "Mink" to describe the look and feel of the Tonkinese coat. Over the years, its use has become synonymous with the intermediate range of championship colors.




Two AOV colors are recognized for each accepted color, a Pointed (Siamese) color and a Solid (Burmese) color.   According to the genetic ratio, 50% of all Tonkinese produced are AOV's and are not showable.  Breeding Mink Tonkinese to Mink Tonkinese should produce a ratio of 25% pointed, 25% solid and 50% mink colored Tonkinese.  Breeding a Pointed AOV to a Solid AOV will produce 100% mink Tonkinese.

The AOV's are a natural output of our breeding programs and have proven to be a valuable asset.  The question of their future status as show colors has been put on hold over the past years as our focus has been placed almost entirely on perfecting type and consistency.  Many times an AOV has been the "pick" of a litter.  In these days of a tight economy, greater show expenses and animal restrictions in many communities, perhaps it is time to rethink our view of the AOV and the acceptance of these colors into championship.   Whatever the outcome, this is a controversial issue within the breed that will most likely spark debate in breed council discussions for years to come.




The Tonkinese has always been popular with the general public who visit and support our shows.  The spectators are initially attracted to the unusual color and the unique aqua eye color.   But it is the Tonkinese personality that usually hooks them into becoming lifelong devotees of the breed. In reality, most Tonkinese breeders have a waiting list for their available pet kittens.   The Tonkinese seem to crave attention, affection and companionship.   Their playful antics can melt the heart of even their strongest critics.  They can be happy playing with a group of children one minute and curling up on the lap of citizen the next.  The Tonkinese may grow old but rarely do they grow up.

* An informative article on the early days of Tonkinese can be found in the 1980 CFA Yearbook, "Those Terrific Tonkinese” by Joan Bernstein.

** In 1991, the Tonkinese Breed Council added a penalize for “round eyes” in an attempt to stop the growing trend of judges and breeders to select for the rounder eyed cat.


I would like to thank Mary Swanson and Jane Barletta for sharing with me their early memories of the breed, to all the breeders who sent me pictures, to Lisa Gosselin and Larry Rhinard for their proof reading and to Jack Ryley for his help with display graphs.

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