Russian Blue History
The origin of the Russian Blue is very vague. This vagueness you will also find in the many names this breed has had. Spanish Blue, Maltese Blue, Foreign Blue and Archangels Blue are only some of these names. Despite the vagueness there are strong suggestions that the breed has its origin in Northern Europe. Even from the beginning of the 16th century people have spotted real cats and pictures of cats that looked like the Russian Blue on the Kola Peninsula, in the Northern and Central parts of Russia, in Sweden, in Norway and in Denmark. That the cats have been in Russia for a long time is proved in the folkloristic pictures that the English sailors brought from the harbours of Russia. These pictures originally hung in the cabins of the local Russian people. There are pictures of blue cats that are, for instance, being buried by mice. The same sailors that brought these pictures to England have also brought the blue cat to England. They bought these cats in the harbour of Archangelsk and took them on their ships to the English harbours. In the harbours, many of these cats where sold to the locals.
The blue cat from Archangelsk was known for his mice hunting. The beautiful thick and gleaming fur with the same structure as beaver fur also made this cat a very popular house pet. Russian Blue’s are mentioned in the English Chronicles as early as 1860. It is possible that the cat was known in England as early as 1553. That was the time that the English merchants founded their trade colony in Archangelsk. They where there for timber and animal skins to export these products to England.
There are some legends in which the Russian Blue plays a royal part. It is said that Tsar Nicholas the Second has brought the Russian Blue to his palace. People believed that these cats had magical powers that would protect against evil spirits. For that reason the cats where placed in cribs of newborns. In a different story, Catharine the Great gave a blue cat to the British Royal Family. True stories or not, it is a sure fact that the blue cats from Archangelsk have been brought to England regularly from at least the second half of the 19th century.
Around 1870 the first breeders became interested in this blue cat. These breeders decided to use the blue cats from Archangelsk to upgrade the domestic British Blue. The fur of the British Blue was not as good as the thick, silvery fur of the Archangelsk cats. Interest from the breeders resulted in showing the first blue cats from Russia in the year 1880. As a direct result of this show, the interest in this cat soared up and from 1883 the number of imported blue cats from Russia increased lot in England.
One of the well-known breeders that imported the Russians was Mrs Carrew-Cox. She imported many cats from Archangelsk and was the first to describe the breed.
She wrote: “In 1890 I got Kolya. A beautiful blue and white cat. It was exported from the Kola Peninsula located between the White Sea and the Barents Sea. It changed several masters in the open sea and finally it was exchanged for a leg of mutton in London docks. Kolya was a very nice little cat. It had an absolutely round muzzle and very soft fur. It died in November of 1900” From this description you can deduct that there where bi-colours among the Russian cats. It could be that these bi-colours where bred side to side with the blue cats at first. Some people believe this to be the reason for the white spots that sometimes appear in the breed. Mrs Carrew-Cox kept on importing Russians. In 1883 she brought the Russian cat Olga from Archangelsk. Later on also the cats King Vladimir, Limpopo, Moscow, Odessa and Yula. The male Bayard, born in 1898 from Yula x King Vladimir, became a famous stud for Mrs Carrew-Cox’ cattery Together with the in 1901 imported Yula he became the forefather of many of the nowadays Russians.
Anyone who sees pictures of these two cats can see that there are not many differences between the Russians then and now. Bayard and Julia are a bit rounder and heavier, the whisker pads are more pronounced but the total appearance of the body, the fur and the ears, are very much alike those of the Russians we now see. The phenotype of these old cats is the same as the description of the blue domestic breed found in Russia. That alone could be proof of the origin of the breed. These domestic cats are, for example, even now found in Dubna and Archangelsk. In “The Book of Cats, published in 1903 by Mrs. Simpson, appeared a description of the Russian breed. This description was written by Mrs. Carrew-Cox. She Wrote: Blue short-haired cats from Russia are loved as home companions very much. In any season they look well groomed and they excel all the others in their intelligence and breeding… Most imported cats have heads of rather sharp than round form, some of them have not only narrow lean face but also big ears. The ears are gently fur-trimmed inside and covered with soft silvery hair outside. Some of the imported cats have more round muzzle and round head with small ears placed apart. These cats were given preference in shows.
The biggest difference between the domestic British Blue and the Russian cat was in the fur. The fur of the Russian was shorter and silky and has a beautiful silver gleam on it. Part of the Russians had amber colored eyes. Most however had green eyes.
Until 1912 the name Archangelsk Cat was used for the breed. In that year the Russian cat was for the first time showed in a different class from the British Blue cat. There was a division made between the more heavy and cobby type of the British Blue and the more Eastern type of the Russian cat. Because of that more Eastern type the Russian cat got his new name. In 1912 the official registered name of the breed became Foreign Blue. The number of people that appreciated or bred this cat grew. In the 1930’s they founded the Association of Fanciers of Russian Blue cats. The breed standard was rewritten and the green eye colour became mandatory for showing and breeding cats. The name Russian Blue is only officially used, when in 1939 the first generation of cats under that name was showed. This was the name the breed would keep until now.
The Second World War almost finished the Russian as a breed. Because of the war there where not many Russian Blues left. The English and Swedish breeders began inbreeding the Russian with blue-point Siamese cats.