The Cornish Rex has a distinctive slender, athletic build; curved contours; arched back; and long, lean body. Don’t let the willowy form fool you, however—the Cornish Rex is no weakling. Under that ultra-short, wavy hair is strong bone and muscle, as well as teeth and claws for those foolish enough to vex the self-assured Rex.
The Cornish Rex is small to medium with fine, delicate boning. Adult males weigh 6 to 9 pounds and adult females weigh 5 to 7 pounds. The torso is long and slender but not tubular like the Siamese, and the chest is deep but not broad. The general outline is comprised of graceful arches and curves. The back is naturally arched and clearly apparent when the cat is standing. The C. Rex stands high on its legs. The trunk follows the upward curve of the backbone, forming a tuck-up at the smallish waistline. The legs are very long and slender, ending in dainty, slightly oval paws. The hips and thighs are muscular and feel heavy in proportion to the rest of the body, giving this breed the ability to leap very high. In the cat Olympics, the Cornish Rex would surely break records in the high jump. The tail is long and slender, tapering toward the end, and is extremely flexible.
The head is comparatively small and egg-shaped, with the length about one-third greater than the width. The breed has high, prominent cheekbones and a strong, well-developed chin. The neck is long and slender. There is a definite whisker break, and the muzzle narrows slightly to a rounded end. The medium to large, oval-shaped eyes slant slightly and are placed a full eye-width apart. Eye color should be clear, intense, and appropriate to the coat color. The nose is Roman and is one-third the length of the head. The ears are very large and full from the base, erect and alert, and set high on the head.
The coat is short, extremely soft and silky, and relatively dense, with a tight, uniform wave lying close to the body and extending from the top of the head across the back, sides, and hips, continuing to the tip of the tail. The size and depth of the wave may vary. The hair on the underside of the chin and on the chest and abdomen is short and noticeably wavy. Even the whiskers are curly. The coat comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, including the pointed pattern. In CFA, no outcrosses are allowed, but TICA allows outcrossing with the American Shorthair, British Shorthair, and European Shorthair.
This breed lacks the long, stiff guard hairs that usually make up the top layer of a cat’s coat. The coat is entirely composed of unusually short awn and down hairs, also called the undercoat; that’s why it’s so short, soft, and silky. The Cornish Rex’s curious coat is governed by a recessive gene called rex gene I, while the coat of the Devon Rex is governed by a recessive gene called rex gene II.
The first Cornish Rex was born July 1950 in Cornwall, a county in southwestern England. Located in one of the warmest and rainiest parts of England, Cornwall is home to what’s left of Tintagel Castle, allegedly the site of King Arthur’s Camelot. Serena, an ordinary tortoiseshell and white barn cat, gave birth to five kittens on a farm in the Bodmin Moor area of Cornwall. This now-famous litter contained four ordinary kittens and one extraordinary cream-colored, curly-coated male. Nina Ennismore, Serena’s owner, named the kitten Kallibunker. He was very different from his littermates: His hair was short and curly, and instead of possessing the stocky body of his littermates and his mother, Kallibunker’s body was long and lithe. He had large ears, a slender tail and an egg-shaped head. This cat was destined to become the father of the Cornish Rex breed.
Ennismore recognized that Kallibunker’s fur was similar to the wavy fur of the Astrex rabbit, since Ennismore had previously raised and exhibited them. Ennismore talked to British geneticist A.C. Jude, who agreed that Kallibunker’s fur was similar to the Astrex rabbit’s.
On Jude’s advice, Ennismore bred Kallibunker to his mother, Serena. This mating produced a litter containing one straight-coated kitten and two curly-coated kittens. One of these curly-coated kittens, a blue-cream male named Poldhu, went on to sire kittens. Ennismore decided on the name Cornish Rex due to the breed’s Cornish origin and the resemblance to the Astrex rabbit.
For a trait governed by a recessive gene to manifest itself in the physical appearance of a kitten, the kitten must inherit two copies of the gene—one from each parent. If the kitten inherits only one copy, the kitten will always have straight hair, because straight hair is dominant over rex hair. However, a straight-coated cat with one copy of the recessive rex gene can produce Rex offspring if bred to another cat with at least one copy of the rex gene. So two ordinary looking cats could produce extraordinary Rex kittens, if it’s so written in their genes.
In 1956, Ennismore stopped breeding because of financial problems and euthanized a number of her cats, including Kallibunker and Serena. By then, other British breeders, including Brian Sterling-Webb, had become interested in the Cornish Rex and continued the breeding program. However, because of bad luck and mishaps (for example, Poldhu was castrated in a botched procedure to take a tissue sample), only one fertile Cornish Rex male, Sham Pain Charlie, remained in England by 1960. Only by breeding Sham Pain Charlie to other breeds and domestic shorthairs did the Cornish Rex survive in its native land.
In 1957, two Cornish Rex were brought to America by Frances Blancheri of California. One, a red tabby male named Pendennis Castle, never sired kittens. The other, a blue female named Lamorna Cove, who arrived pregnant by Poldhu before his unfortunate encounter with the scalpel, produced a Rex litter that included two curly-coated kittens: a blue and white female named Diamond Lil, and a blue and white male named Marmaduke. These cats became the foundation stock for virtually every Cornish Rex line in the United States.
Since the gene pool was so small and no additional Rex cats were available from England, the Cornish Rex was an endangered species. American breeders bred Diamond Lil and Marmaduke and their offspring to Siamese, American Shorthairs, Burmese, and Havana Browns. Although this changed the body and head type temporarily, it widened the gene pool and provided the wide selection of colors and patterns available today.
Later, a curly-coated cat showed up in a California animal shelter and was acquired by breeders Bob and Dell Smith. Where she came from no one knows, but the odd-eyed calico named Mystery Lady brought needed new blood to the breed, once test matings determined she possessed the Cornish Rex gene. Slowly but surely, the breed flourished and attained the diversity and popularity it now enjoys. According to CFA’s 2014 registration totals, the Cornish Rex is the eighth most popular shorthair, and the 11th most popular breed overall.