Sphynx History

Hairless cats have been described in many regions of the world, but the first successful breed was the Sphynx. The earliest Sphynx was born in 1966, and the cat was named Prune. However, Prune’s line died out without descendants. In 1967, hairless kittens, and their longhaired mother cat were rescued in Toronto. The kittens were neutered; the mother, however, had other kittens. Two were exported to Europe, where one of the kittens was bred to a Devon Rex. The cat had hairless offspring which implied that this recessive gene was at the same locus as the Devon gene. One, named E.T., was presented by Vicki and Peter Markstein at the Madison Square Garden cat show in the 1980s. Although there are written accounts from the 1830s of a Paraguayan "scant-haired cat", the first properly recorded hairless "breed" was the now-extinct Mexican Hairless (also called the New Mexican Hairless). In 1902, a couple from New Mexico received two hairless cats from local Pueblo Indians. It was claimed that these were the last survivors of an ancient Aztec breed of cat. This claim is, however, highly suspect since the domesticated cat did not exist in pre-columbian America. The Mexican Hairless cats were litter-mates and noted to be 25% smaller than local shorthair cats.
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The following historical documentation was written by and published with permission from it's author, Dr. James Thoene of Senspelo Sphynx.

Although there are written accounts from the 1830's of a Paraguayan "scant-haired cat," the first pictorial account of hypotrichosis (relative hairlessness) in the domestic feline came to us courtesy of Mr. J. Shinick, an Albequerque, New Mexico man who appeared in pictures in the 1903 edition of Book of The Cat with two hairless felines he coined "the New Mexican Hairless" breed--these feline siblings, gifts from local Pueblo Indians, were noted to be 25% smaller than the local Domestic Shorthair (DSH) cats (males, 10 lbs.; females, 6 lbs.), normally whiskered and seasonally coated with a ridge of fur down the mid-back and tail during the colder seasons.  Mr. Shinick showed these cats in side shows but never allowed them to be bred before their deaths.  In April, 1935 Vie A La Campagne, a French magazine, featured pictures from a prior Parisian cat exhibition which had featured two hairless cats called "le chat nu" (the naked cat).  These cats were born to two separate domestic queens in the same Kremlin Bicêtre, France household in 1930 and both died without reproducing in 1931.  Also reported in this same article were stories of a hairless kitten born to a full-coated DSH queen in Fêz, Morocco and the occasional sightings of hairless cats around Western Europe.  The Journal of Heredity made two pictorial reports of hairless cats in the 1930's:  one born to a normal coated DSH queen in Wilmington, North Carolina and the other to a Siamese in Paris.  Interestingly, the North Carolina "cat-dog" was born with open eyes, no whiskers and the ability to crawl, characteristics noted to be rare in this area's DSH population but commonly observed in today's sphynx kittens.   The hairless Siamese cats were characterized by veterinary professor E. Letard who noted the presence of whiskers, a variation in hairlessness among littermates and the existence of three distinct stages of hair expression from birth to age six months.

The Journal of Heredity displayed its last two articles on hairless cats in 1973, with a review of the Bawa line (see below), and in 1984, with a review of ten hairless Birman kittens born in England over the period from 1978-1982.  These Birman kittens, noted to have short or absent whiskers and greasy skin, all died from various disease processes by the age of ten weeks.  A prior review of this Birman line in Genetica (1981) had suggested an association between this hairlessness and a lethal gene while separate reports to the CFA Board in the early 1970's by sphynx breeders Houston Smith and Rita Tenhove described a morbid characteristic in the Bawa line whereby some breeding aged females suffered secondary effects from atraumatic, spontaneous intracranial swelling.  Despite these reports, there have been no such subsequent reports made by any sphynx breeders, no use of these above mentioned lines in today's line of sphynx and, except for spasticity in the Devon Rex, no other note of a lethal gene associated with any spontaneously appearing hairless feline reported during the latter half of the 20th century.

The origination of a breed of hairless cats being referred to as the "sphynx" began in the mid-1960's with the birth of a hairless kitten (Prune) to a black and white domestic shorthair queen (Elizabeth) in Ontario, Canada.  After purchasing these cats in 1966 and initially referring to them as "Moonstones" and "Canadian Hairless," Mr. Ridyadh Bawa, a science graduate of the University of Toronto, combined efforts with his mother Yania, a long time Siamese breeder, and the Tenhoves (Kees and Rita) to develop a breed of cats which was subsequently renamed the sphynx.  It is apparent that the Bawas and the Tenhoves were the first individuals able to determine the autosomal recessive nature of the sphynx gene for hairlessness while also being successful in transforming this knowledge into a successful breeding program with kittens which were eventually capable of reproducing.   The Tenhoves were initially able to get the breed Provisional showing status through the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) but ultimately had the status revoked in 1971 when it was felt by the CFA Board that the breed lacked both a consistent standard and an adequately broad gene pool.  The breeding program of these pioneers withered after this time with the final traceable Bawa line cats--Mewsi-Kal Johnny, Mewsi-Kal Starsky (Hugo Hernandez, Holland) and Prune's Epidermis (David Mare, California)--unable to produce sustainable lines prior to being altered in the early 1980's.

The present day sphynx line, like so many other feline breeds, has been a creation of the simultaneous work performed by mother nature and many committed, competent individuals.  Two different sets of hairless felines discovered in North America in the 1970's provided the foundation cats for that which was shaped into the existing sphynx breed.  The first noted naturally occurring foundation sphynx riginated at the Wadena, Minnesota farm of Milt and Ethelyn Pearson, who identified hairless kittens occurring in several litters of their Domestic Shorthair (DSH) barn cats in the mid-1970's.  The other set of foundation sphynx was identified by Siamese breeder Shirley Smith in Toronto, Ontario in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

The three hairless cats identified by Ms. Smith derived from three separate litters of a single black and white DSH queen bred to different males each time.  The first of these three kittens Bambi, a black and white male born in 1978, was neutered and eventually went to live with Linda Birks (Aztec Cattery; Waterloo, Ontario) where he died in 1997 at the age of 19 years.  The subsequent two sphynx progenitors (Q Paloma and Q Punkie, females born in 1979 and 1980, respectively) went to Dutch breeder Dr. Hugo Hernandez.  When Dr. Hernandez was unable to develop viable kittens from the breeding of these queens to Mewsi-Kal Starsky (a cat from the original Bawa sphynx line), he had Starsky neutered and outcrossed Q Punkie to a relatively hairless Devon Rex (Curare van Jetrophin) yielding a litter of sphynx ittens with varying degrees of hairlessness.  Utilizing two males (Q Ramses and Q Ra) from this litter, Q Punkie's half-sister Q Paloma and future progeny in a systematic, selective inbreeding program, Dr. Hernandez and contemporaries Tonia Vink (Ajahanda Cattery, Holland), Hanna Nathans (Calecat Cattery, France) and Phillippe/Aline Noel (Amenophis Cattery, France) were able to expand the breed over the next three years while also having the breed recognized by TICA (1985) at the Championship level.

While Dr. Hernandez and others worked in Europe on the sphynx line, Kim Mueske (Z. Stardust Cattery; Tigard, Oregon) did the same in the United States.  After purchasing two of the hairless Pearson queens--Epidermis (born 1975--not the same as that cat owned by David Mare) and Dermis (born 1976), both daughters of the Brown Classic Tabby DSH queen Jezabelle--Ms. Mueske spent five years (1981-85) developing her sphynx breeding program by outcrossing these two hairless cats to the American Shorthair (ASH).  At the same time Georgiana Gattenby (Jen-Jude Cattery; Brainerd, Minnesota) was using other hairless Pearson cats in outcrosses with Cornish Rex to develop her own line--the last cats of this line which had been acquired and bred by Brenda Pena (Winelocket Cattery, New York) were incorporated into the Rinkurl Cattery (Lisa Bressler, New York) breeding program in the late 1980's.

In 1985 Walt and Carol Richards (Britanya Cattery, Texas) bred their Devon Rex female (Britanya's Aida Lott) to European sphynx International Grand Champion (IGC) Chnoem de Calecat at the request of TICA Genetics Chairwoman Dr. Solveig Pflueger, who was employing the knowledge gained through Dr. Hernandez's historic outcross breeding.  The result of this breeding was a litter of four sphynx including Britanya's Lady Godiva, who became TICA's first Supreme Grand Champion (SGC) and first Best International sphynx in the Spring of 1987, and QGC Britanya's Lord E., I'm Naked!, who became TICA's first sphynx Outstanding Sire.  Three months after this litter, Kim Mueske's accidental breeding of Epidermis with the relatively hairless Devon Rex Cantaur's Hercules produced two sphynx including Z. Stardust Winnie Rinkle who became TICA's first sphynx Outstanding Dam after being purchased and bred by Lisa Bressler.

During the next decade the sphynx developed a deeper gene pool as the result of selective outcrossing with the Devon Rex and ASH, the fine guidance of outstanding catteries such as Amenophis, Britanya and Rinkurl and the addition to the line of newly registered foundation sphynx including Desert Storm of Gunzhof (Pat Stevenson, New York), Gidget Goes Naked of Kattewyk (Donna Roberds, Arkansas), George Burns of Jinjorbred (Sherry Jordan, Arizona), Hari of Grandpaws (Pat Depew, Mississippi), the Mexican Natural (Dr. Sierra Bernal, Mexico) and Misty of Britanya (Walt/Carol Richards, Texas).

The breed continued to gain in popularity among fanciers in the 1990's and gained acceptance into the ACFA Championship class (1994) and CFA Miscellaneous class (1998) while reaching other milestones such as SGC Mar-Rob's Double Delite (Bob Mullen/Marc Costa, Los Angeles) winning TICA's Best International Shorthair Cat for the 1991-92 show season, SGC Belfry's Ted Nude Gent (Michelle Berge, California) appearing as Mr. Bigglesworth in the 1997 Hollywood motion picture Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Rinkurl cats being utilized by artists as models for the cover of Aerosmith's 1997 rock album, Nine Lives.

~ Bibliography of article written by Dr. James Theone of Senspelo Sphynx

Bressler, L.  The Sphynx:  The Best Cat in the Whole World.  TICA Trend. 19:2-9.  12/98-1/99.
Hendy-Ibbs, P.M.  Hairless cats in Great Britain.  J. Hered. 75:506-507.  1984.
Letard, E.  Hairless Siamese Cats.  J. Hered. 29:173-175.  1935.
Mellen, I.M.  The Origin Of The Mexican Hairless Cat. J. Hered. 30:435-436.  1939.
The Canadian hairless or Sphinx. J. Hered. 64:47-48.  1973.
The Rex Mutants of the Domestic Cat.  Genetica.   42:466-468.  1991.
Sternberger, H.  A "Cat-Dog" From North Carolina.  J. Hered. 28:115-116.  1937.
"Nonesuch" Has A Birthday--And Kittens.  J. Hered. 28:310.  1937.