The Cornish Rex breed began on July 21, 1950, in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. An
ordinary red and white farm cat, had just given birth to a litter of
kittens, one of them was a red tabby male and he was unlike any cat ever
seen before. Instead of being covered with normal hair like his litter
mates, the little kitten had tiny, tightly rolled curls all over his body.
As he grew, his unique appearance became even more striking. The British
domestic cat is a rather heavy, compact animal, but the little red male was
long and slender with a whippy tail, huge ears and a narrow head. In time,
his tight curls gave way to smooth, silky waves all over his body, and even
his short whiskers were curved and crinkly.
His owner, Mrs. Ennismore, decided he would make an unusual pet and took
him to her veterinarian to be neutered. Fortunately the veterinarian
recognized the kitten for what it was, a true mutation, and persuaded the
owner to propagate this new breed. The help of a geneticist, Mr. A. C.
Jude, was enlisted, and Kallibunker, the curly male, was bred back to his
mother. Several curly kittens resulted. The new breed was named after a
similar mutation among rabbits and it belonged to neither short hairs nor
long hairs. Many of the kittens from these early experimental breedings
were straight-haired, but this changed as soon as the number of Rex gene
carrying cats increased. Following the laws of genetics, when Rex was bred
to Rex all the kittens developed the characteristic curly fur.
Developing a new breed is usually costly and time consuming, and
Kallibunker's owner decided she could no longer afford to continue her
breeding program. Among the cats she had put to sleep were the original
Kallibunker and his dam. But fate seemed to intervene again in favor of the
Rex breed. A descendant of Kallibunker, La Morna Cove, had been exported to
the United States and would assure the continuance of the Cornish Rex
Breed. In England, the survival of the breed depended basically upon two
descendants of Kallibunker and would take a somewhat different development
from that of the Rex in the United States.
Although different in appearance from its stocky, heavy bodied domestic
shorthair ancestors, the British Cornish Rex retains some of their
features. Its head is rather round, with a short nose that shows a definite
indentation below the eyes and with ears set wide apart into the side of
the head. The fact that early breeders had bred Kallibunker and his son
Poldhu to domestic shorthairs undoubtedly added to the heavier appearance
of the breed in England.
Poldhu was a very unusual cat. Usually tortoiseshell and blue-cream cats
are female, and the occasional male of these colors is sterile. Poldhu,
however, was a fertile blue-cream male, and after Kallibunker's untimely
demise Poldhu sired a number of kittens. In order to find reasons for his
genetic oddity, tissue samples were taken from Poldhu which resulted in his
unplanned sterilization. It was now left to the only other surviving son of
Kallibunker, Sham Pain Charlie, to carry on the future of the Rex breed in
England. Relying heavily upon outcrosses to heavier breeds, the British
breeders almost lost the distinctive Rex type until Mrs. Allison Ashford
imported a great-great grandson of Kallibunker, Rio Vista Kismet, from
Canada. Within four years Kismet had restored the Cornish Rex type,
although even today there is a distinctive difference in type and head
between Rex from different sides of the Atlantic.
The first pair of Cornish Rex kittens brought to the United States was
imported by Fran Blancheri of San Diego in 1957. Two kittens arrived: a
blue female, La Morna Cove, and a red male, Pendennis Castle, who
unfortunately died before he could sire any kittens. La Morna Cove,
however, had been bred to her sire Poldhu before leaving England and two of
her four kittens-Diamond Lil and Marmaduke-can be found as foundation stock
in most pedigrees of American Cornish Rex. Marmaduke also helped establish
the well known Dazz-ling line.
Rex caught the interest of breeders and the general public, especially
after Life featured a full page picture of a saucy kitten with curly hair
and crinkly whiskers. Rex began to appear at cat shows and to achieve
recognition in the cat fancy. In 1968-69 a black Cornish female, Grand
Champion Rodell's Ravenesque, became the highest scoring shorthair female
in the United States. Yet the Rex was still a rare breed, and breeders were
limited to working with a few basic lines.