REX AND WIREHAIR CATS Copyright 2002, Sarah Hartwell
Reproduced with the permission of the author
Curly coated cats have appeared in Europe and America from time to time. Some have been bred, some were considered curiosities and have been lost. Several have proved to have the same type of mutation, others look similar but are genetically different. Curly coated cats are known as Rexes after the Rex type of rabbit. This term has therefore been applied retrospectively to early curly-haired cats which died out within a single generation as a recessive gene became hidden again.
A curly coated cat now known as the Prussian Rex was discovered in Konigsburg, East Prussia in the early 1930s. Called "Munk" his name has been linked to the first German Rex cats which appeared in 1946. Another Rex-type, known as the Karakul Cat, appeared in the USA also in the 1930s. Though a novelty, the trait was never established as a breed in either case.
Perhaps the oldest established Rex variety (as opposed to breed) is a curly coated Russian variety which has been found in the middle Urals region since the Second World War, but which was not recognised as a breed until 1991. The Urals Rex has a wavy coat of short or medium length, body is strong and muscular. The gene causing the Urals Rex has been shown to be dissimilar to the Cornish Rex; its relationship with the gene for Devon Rex is unknown. The Urals Rex may have a tufted tail tip. The semi-longhair version has a looser coat, but is less popular.
According to some sources, the German Rex may initially have occurred in 1946 and had it not been for interest in the Cornish Rex, the German Rex and Urals Rex would probably have been lost. The Italian Rex discovered in Italy in 1950 also vanished after three Rexed kittens were born to a non-Rex mother (probably recessive gene). The Ohio Rex occurred in the USA in 1953 (other sources indicate 1944) but was lost.
So although curly coated cats have appeared from time to time, the first formally recognised Rex breed was developed from a curly-coated cat discovered in 1950 in Bodmin, Cornwall, England. Kallibunker became the founding father of the Cornish Rex breed. Cornish Rexes are lean with whip-like tails and a long, large-eared face. The fur falls into close-lying ripples as though the whole body surface has been crimped. The Longhaired Cornish Rex exists but is not very popular; longhaired cats turn up from time to time as the gene for longhair is recessive. To avoid confusion, these are sometimes known as British Cornish Rexes or European Cornish Rexes since the American version has diverged greatly from the original Cornish Rex. It was originally known as the English Rex until the Devon Rex appeared a few years later.
In America, the Cornish Rex has been developed to be quite different to the ancestral British Cornish Rex. The American Cornish Rex has a different look and different genetic history and should, perhaps, be considered a separate breed. It started as a hybrid between Cornish and German Rexes but this lost the Cornish Rex body type so it was crossed with Orientals resulting in a more delicate and long-legged version than the British Cornish Rex. This also produced the Si-Rex which is recognised as a separate breed in America. In the UK, colourpoint Rexes are simply a colour pattern.
The German Rex was discovered a year later in 1951 at Berlin's Hufeland Hospital. A curly-coated stray cat known as Laemmchen (Lambkin) had reared kittens in the hospital grounds. Some reports give 1946 as the date, which pre-dates the Cornish Rex. If so, Laemmchen was then just a curiosity and there was no attempt to deliberately breed curly-coated cats until the 1950s, probably prompted by the discovery of the Cornish Rex. In any event, Laemmchen mated with one of her own sons in 1956, producing more Rex-coated cats. Test matings demonstrated that the German Rex was caused by the same recessive gene which caused the Cornish Rex. It is similar to the Cornish Rex but with a thicker coat and different body shape from mating with European Shorthairs. The Angora German Rex (Longhaired German Rex) is an important part of the German Rex breeding programme.
A Rex-coated black and white male cat turned up as a spontaneous mutation in Sieburg in 1979. Named Pushkin (renamed Kater Preu) he was used in the German Rex breeding programme but turned out to have a different mutation to the German Rexes he was bred to. As a result, Kater Preu was neutered. Sadly, no-one thought to investigate his mutation further and the Sieburg Rex was lost.
The California Rex (better known as the Marcel Cat) was first discovered in California in 1959 cats in a rescue centre in San Bernadino. These were a female odd-eyed Tortie and her Red Tabby son. The California Rex had a wavy-haired coat, but with longer fur, giving it the look of 'marcel-waving' hence its alternate name. The Marcel Cat mutation was found to be the same as the Cornish Rex and it was not pursued as a new breed. The Oregon Rex found in the USA in 1959 is another vanished mutation. It proved to be a recessive gene, but cross-breeding with both Cornish and Devon Rexes produced non-Rex kittens.
The second Rex breed to be formally recognised was the Devon Rex (formerly the Butterfly Rex) discovered in Buckfastleigh, Devon, England in 1960 and named Kirlee. This was a curly-coated grey male kitten in a litter born to a tortie female. Its discoverer had previously seen a cat with tight curls in and around a tin-mine in the area which suggests it was the kitten's father.
For some years a local variety known colloquially as the "Buckfast Blue" was reported in the area of Buckfast Abbey, Devon. This was a strain of free-ranging (mostly stray and feral) grey-blue cats with slightly woolly, wavy coats. These were apparently a familiar sight in the 1950s and considered nothing more than an attractive curiosity by locals. The Buckfast Blue may have been longer coated versions of the Devon Rex; the colour was probably coincidental though it is interesting that Kirlee was grey. The Buckfast Blue strain has since been lost through random breeding - the one reference I found was a reminiscence in an old Cats Protection League newsletter and lamented its disappearance.
Kirlee was initially assumed to be a Cornish Rex since the two are neighbouring counties, but when mated to a Cornish Rex, only straight-haired kittens resulted. This meant it was a different genetic mutation. The Devon Rex has very large, low-set ears and a short face giving it a gremlin-like appearance. The body is slender with a broad chest. The wavy coat is a looser and less rippled than the Cornish and the whiskers are twisted. The Longhaired Devon Rex, caused by a recessive gene, has a shaggy coat but is not currently pursued as a breed. Some consider its thicker coat to be more attractive than the sometimes sparse coat of the traditional shorthaired Devon Rex. Note for US readers: the proper name of the English county is "Devon" not "Devonshire".
The American Wirehair was discovered in Vernon, New York, America in 1966. The founding father was Adam and the breed was recognised in 1977. Unlike the Cornish, German and Devon, the wirehair is due to a dominant gene and therefore does not always breed true. The fur is crinkled and coarse like that of a Fox Terrier dog and this breed does not seem to have attracted the same popularity as the Cornish and Devon Rexes and has grown slowly.
The Dutch Rex first appeared in the Netherlands 1969 but vanished. This (or a similar type) reappeared in 1985. A curly coated cat was discovered in the Victoria area of London, England in 1972, but this Victoria Rex was never established as a breed. The Bohemia Rex first appeared in 1981, but not established at that time.
The Poodle Cat (Pudelkatze) was developed in 1987 (a date of 1994 is also given) in Starnberg, Germany from crossings between Devon Rexes and Scottish Folds. It is a large, healthy cat with folded ears and a curly coat resembling lambswool. It is chunkier than the Devon Rex and has a denser coat. Recent German rulings prohibiting the breeding of cats with defects (the Scottish Fold may suffer skeletal defects) may curtail the breeding program in Germany, but there is interest in Poodle Cats elsewhere in Europe. The next stage of development is to use Manx cats to introduce the tailless trait. Some interested breeders have proposed crossing the Poodle Cat with the short-legged Munchkin to produce a breed to be known as the Poodlekin, but this is currently theoretical only.
The Selkirk Rex is a chunky cat with a thick coat. Selkirk Rex Longhair and the Selkirk Rex Shorthair arose from Miss DePesto, a cat discovered in Wyoming, America in 1987. This is also due to a dominant gene. Selkirk Rexes were bred with Persians and Exotics to produce a chunky cat with loose wavy curls and a plush, thick coat. It was recognised in 1990 and is now a well-established, popular breed.
The Czech Curly Cat or Bohemia Rex was discovered in 1981 in Liberec, The Czech Republic but not recognised until 1994. Persian breeders discovered curly kittens in pedigree Persian litters. The parents of the kittens traced back to two blue Persian males imported from Germany in the 1970s. Either the gene arose from a spontaneous mutation or because Persian cats had been used in a German Rex breeding program and some of their progeny had been registered as Persians. Like the German Rex, the gene is recessive. Czech Curly cats are basically Persians with the fur falling in tight ringlets and crimps on the body and looser curls on their backs. At first there was little interest in longhaired Rex cats because the fur was untidy and unruly. Following the success of the Selkirk Rex Longhair, there seems to be renewed interest in the Bohemia Rex.The LaPerm (formerly the Dalles LaPerm) also comes in Longhaired and Shorthaired varieties. These trace to a group of farm cats in Oregon. A kitten born in 1982 was bald at birth, but developed a coat of curly fur and was named Curly. Curly's offspring inherited this trait and as more and more curly kittens arrived, a serious breeding programme began. . The LaPerm was recognised in 1995; the names Indian Rex and Native American Rex having been rejected. LaPerms are lean semi-foreign cats with silky single coats. The longhaired variety has ringlets while the shorthairs have tight curls.
Like the Devon and Cornish Rexes, the LaPerm has become a foundation breed in another variety. The Skookum (formerly LaMerm) was developed by crossing LaPerms and Munchkins to produce a Rex-coated Munchkin with either long or short hair. It is described as the Shirley Temple of the cat world.
The Dutch Rex (Wirehair Rex) reappeared in 1985 and has a bristly, wavy coat. It was reported in Dutch cat fancier magazines but little has been heard about this variety in recent times. Meanwhile, the Si-Rex achieved recognition in the USA in 1986, but is simply a colourpointed Cornish Rex. Elsewhere it is necessary to define whether a "Si-Rex" is A Cornish Si-Rex or Devon Si-Rex since both exist as colour varieties of the main breed.
The Maine Coon Rex or Maine Wave appeared in pedigree litters in a number of breeding lines in the 1980s, causing huge controversy in the very conservative and inflexible British cat fancy and Maine Coon Cat Club. It has fine, frizzy, crinkled fur. Many were immediately neutered by breeders despite the interest shown by others and by the public. Maine Waves is a pet name for those Rexed Maine Coons born from test-matings in a Rex elimination Programme. The Rexed Maine Coons appeared in a number of breeding lines and the few test matings with Devon and Cornish Rexes were inconclusive, but indicated that this was either a recessive or incomplete dominant gene and was not a result of recent outcrossing to established Rex breeds. Several imported cats were implicated as carriers but were no longer available for testing, besides, only British breeders had encountered the trait. There were accusations of undeclared crossing with Cornish Rexes even though test matings suggested different genetics.
Where widely used breeding cats are retrospectively found to carry a recessive anomaly, inter-breeding will already have resulted in a rash of the same anomaly and can expect to see more. Breeders are faced with trying to preserve the breed while eliminating the undesirable recessive gene. By the time the link to the original carrier is established, it may be impossible to eliminate the gene. The British Maine Coon Cat Club declared the Rex gene to be deleterious on the basis of one or two early deaths in Rexed Maine Coons (others remain healthy). In the 1990s, it was decided to neuter male carriers (no test matings allowed) and restrict female carriers. Due to the use of undetected carriers in several breeding lines, the recessive "taint" will persist, hidden, in the breed. It will skip generations, only to resurface by chance years later.
Under UK cat fancy rules, they cannot form a New Breed because they are 100% pedigree Maine Coons and can therefore only ever be recognised as a Maine Coon New Variety. This is a shortcoming of the British system (highly inflexible and also inconsistent). In America, the new variety of Maine Coon would probably have been greeted with some enthusiasm and kept separate from mainstream Maine Coons and given an appropriate name which may or may not have referred to its Maine Coon origins. In Britain the matter was to be swept under the carpet. Even more ludicrously, the club demanded that breeders should declare in writing that the term "Maine Wave" should not be used in any publication in any context. Maine Waves have been shown on the Continent and won certificates. They are very attractive cats and, regardless of cat club politics, bureaucracy and short-sightedness, they deserve recognition in their own right as a breed separate from the Maine Coon. The opportunity to develop this gene may have been lost as a result. It can only be hoped that the mutation will show up again (due to undetected carriers), but will do so in a country with a more progressive attitude to the appearance and handling of new mutations.
The Urals Rex finally achieved recognition in 1991. Previously it had been a long-established informally recognised variety, but only when Russia developed a cat fancy following glasnost and perestroika, could cat breeds be properly developed, recognised and shown competitively. Under the strict communist regime, cat breeding was seen as a capitalist affectation. With its long history, it is considered to be the first homegrown Russian breed. Urals Rexes occurred as spontaneous mutations in feral cat populations in and around Yekaterinburg. Both occurrences were developed separately as breeds and not interbred, but they may prove to be genetically identical. Both breeding populations are reported to be highly inbred. The gene involved is known to be different to the German/Cornish Rex gene.
The Missouri Rex appeared in the early 1990s. it is shorthaired cat with smooth wavy fur, a semi-cobby body, large low set ears and "loopy" non-brittle whiskers. Its coat is due to a recessive gene. By the late 1990s there were only three Missouri Rex in existence due to financial mismanagement of the breed which led to most being destroyed. Missouri Rex have been test-bred to Devon and Cornish producing only straight-haired kittens demonstrating that it is a different mutation to either of these. If it still exists, its future is uncertain. The Dakota Rex also appeared in the late 1990s and there are plans to establish this breed although breed development is very much in its infancy.
The Iowa Rex mutation was reported in 2001 when a male cat sired curly coated kittens in several litters, including longhaired Rexes. The longhaired version has fur which hangs in "dreadlocks". Iowa Rex have long whiskers and are large, muscular rangy cats. They have a distinct head type with well developed broad muzzles. The discoverer hoped that an experienced breeder would take over these cats as foundation cats for a new breed.
The Ruffle appeared in the early 2000s among pedigree American Curls. Investigation showed it to be derived from the Cornish Rex. According to one source, in an attempt to improve the ear size of American Curls, one breeding line introduced the Cornish Rex. This had the side-effect of introducing the recessive gene for curled fur. The gene lay hidden, resurfacing as curly coated American Curl kittens some generations later. The rippled effect of the fur reminded the breeder of a type of potato snack hence the name Ruffle. Unfortunately the breeder's circumstances changed and further development of a ruffle breed could not be funded. According to a different source, it resulted from a deliberate attempt to create a new breed combining the curled ears with a curled coat. Regardless of its origins, it is a Rexed version of American Curl (longhair and shorthair) apparently having the Rex gene from the American Cornish Rex. It has curled ears and a curled coat. Face is a modified wedge curled ear and a curled coat. Hind-legs are longer than forelegs. The description suggests a curl-eared Cornish Rex rather than an American Curl with curly fur.
A rexed version of the Himalayan (Colourpoint Persian) has also occurred; either as a spontaneous mutation or due to carried from a historical outcrossing to cats carrying Rex genes. In 2002, a Dutch source mentioned the Scottish Rex, which might refer to a Rexed Scottish Fold or Pudelkatze.
In 2002/2003, several curly-coated cats were found at a farm in Saskatoon, Canada. A colony of curly coated cats had apparently been breeding for up 10 years. Being farm cats, they were healthy and vigourous. A LaPerm breeder took on the cats. Since the mutation has not been identified, it is not advisable to introduce the gene into the LaPerm breed. At present it isn't known whether it is a new mutation or identical to an existing one (and therefore valuable new blood for an existing breed).
There is one other possible historical Rex. In the 1800s, the term "Cypress Cat" or "Cyprus" cat was used in East Anglia (Norfolk/Suffolk area of Britain). This was reported by Frances Simpson in 1903 as being the local name for tabby cats. Cyprus/Cypress was defined in the mid 1700s as being a fine curled stuff, similar to hair or fur and reddish or reddish-yellow in colour although "Cypress Cat" was not restricted to orange tabby cats. Though it is far too long ago to know, it is possible that this term might originally have been applied to a curly-haired cat.
Finally there are two mistaken identity "Rexes". The Colorado Rex and Tennessee Rex appeared as names on a survey of Rex cats. There is no record of either of these occurring as feline mutations.
Potentially, any of the Rex breeds could be crossed with any other breed of cat to produce Rexes with bobtails, no tails, extra toes, different ear shapes, Abyssinian Rexes, Hemingway Rexes, Rex-Bobs or any other combination of physical traits. Whether these are desirable is another matter entirely and many experimental cross-breedings are not pursued as breeds.
Meanwhile, curly-coated cats continue to appear in unexpected places - some as a result of mis-matings many generations ago and others as entirely new mutations. Some are picked up by breeders while others go unnoticed. A few prove to have mutations identical to established Rex breeds. Only time will tell which of these goes on to achieve the same sort of popularity as the pioneering Cornish and Devon Rex breeds.