The German, Devon and Cornish Rex cats were discovered in the middle of the 20th century (around 1950). It was thought that these were the earliest examples of the curly coated cats (rex cats). However Sarah Hartwell, who I met today, tells me that:
“…the first rex (curly coated cat) ever exhibited in a show was back in 1892, and this takes the discovery of curly-coated cats back about half a century before the Prussian, German and Cornish varieties.”
Sarah came across this information when researching the history of cat shows. Sarah is a wonderful researcher of cat history and in particular the history of the cat fancy (the breeding and showing of domestic cats).
She says that the “Thibet” cat is the earliest record of a rex-coated cat. The importation of this cat by Mrs Mclaren Morrison was reported in the London Evening Standard on 19th October 1892. This less than 20 years after the first cat show.
“A unique specimen from Thibet, said to be the first of the kind ever exhibited. This animal, which is the property of Mrs. D. M. Morrison, is black, with a covering which is more like wool than fur.”
“Among the curiosities at the Crystal Palace Cat Show is ‘Lama’, imported by Mrs D Morrison from Tibet, the first of the kind seen in this country. It is a rusty black with half-curled coat, not unlike that of an Airedale terrier.” (South Wales Daily New, 20th October 1892).
Other reports in newspapers were as follows:
“The Thibetan cat, never before exhibited is a curious black animal with a woolly coat, as different from the long silky hair of the English cat as a negro’s crop is from a modern belle’s.” (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 20th October 1892).
“The cat from Thibet takes a first prize, due, perhaps, to its rarity, for such a specimen has never been previously exhibited. It is black, and its coat is more like wool than a cat’s fur.” (Nottinghamshire Guardian, 22nd October 1892).
“A very curious beast, says the correspondent of a contemporary, came from Thibet. There is a distinct species of cat in that country which is not domesticated, but this Thibet cat was simply extraordinary variation of felis domestica. It was long-necked and lean creature, with a grey black coat, the peculiarity of which was that it was just the texture of Irish frieze. ” (Preston Herald, 22nd October 1892).
“The only distinctly new variety in the exhibition was a cat stated to have been imported from Tibet. This was a small, dark, slate-coloured specimen with frizzy or curly hair very much like the short hair of a negro.” (Illustrated London News, 22nd October 1892).
There are no photos of the cat but a stud book entry exists and two newspaper clipping are shown on this page. Sarah was unable to find records of offspring of this first curly-coated cat. It is possible that the cat never bred or was sick in England. Another possibility is that he produced straight coated offspring. If this was the problem it could have been rectified by breeding the offspring back to him but breeders were unaware of this (and recessive genes) at the time.