Before Maine Coons were aristocrats of the showhall, they lived in barns and along the riverfront wharfs of Maine, where they earned their keep as working cats, clearing vermin for their human families. Polydactyls were common in the Maine Coon population, and they fared well in this environment, being at somewhat of an advantage as mousers. Sadly, hunting skills were not valued by the elegant members of the Cat Fancy– the trait was just one more evidence of the Maine Coon’s lack of nobility.
Breeders of that time were anxious to advance their breed, overcome their “barncat” reputation, and get Maine Coons accepted into Championship. The polydactyl advantage was now a disadvantage, and so the Breed Standard submitted for admission to competition matched the foot description of other breeds: 5 toes front and 4 back.
Evidence exists to indicate that there were intentions to add the polydactyl to the Standard once Maine Coons had established themselves. Somehow that never happened, and over time, polydactyl numbers dwindled to near extinction.
A few breeders maintained the polys in their lines, never quite letting the trait completely disappear. Now, renewed interest has led to increasing numbers, and a growing movement to see polydactyls join their littermates on the show bench in different cat associations.