An early breed of short-haired cat that has enjoyed many names: Blue, Russian, Maltese, Maltese Blue, Archangel Blue, Chartreuse Blue, Foreign Blue, American Blue, Russo-American Blue, Spanish Blue, Blue Russian and Russian Shorthair.
Domestic Breed. An early breed of short-haired cat that has enjoyed many names: Blue, Russian, Maltese, Maltese Blue, Archangel Blue, Chartreuse Blue, Foreign Blue, American Blue, Russo-American Blue, Spanish Blue, Blue Russian and Russian Shorthair. The official title of Russian Blue was finally agreed in the 1940s. It has sometimes been referred to as 'The Connoisseur's Cat'. In France it is the Bleu Russe; in Holland the Russisch Blauw; in Germany the Russisch Blau.
Appearance: Originally a robust cat with a strong build and rather average proportions, but more recently modified by the introduction of Siamese genes, making it more elongated and angular. Its diagnostic feature is its lustrous, plush, dense, but short coat of grey fur. It has a characteristic wedge-shaped head.
History: Like other domestic cats with a long history, this breed has a variety of supposed origins:
(1) The oldest tradition and the one which gave the cat its geographical name, states that the breed originated in the cold northern regions of Russia. It adapted to this harsh climate by developing, not a long furry coat, but a short, thick seal-like one. It is, in fact, a double coat, there being an outer coat of remarkably strong guard hairs and an inner coat of unusually water-resistant down hairs.
Because of this warm coat, the breed was hunted for its pelt in early times and may even have been kept, not so much as a pet or vermin-destroyer, but as a valuable source of clothing in the cold north. In this role, it is thought to have spread west through Scandinavia and became a favourite of the Vikings, eventually travelling with them to Britain and many other locations.
(2) An alternative version sees these animals being taken as ships' cats from the port of Archangel (now known as Archangel'sk), on the White Sea, to Sweden and from there further west to Britain.
(3) A third variation on this theme suggests instead that they came to Britain from Northern Norway. The earliest blue cats to reach England were certainly from that region, but they may not have been true Russian Blues. They were described at the time as 'Shorthaired Blue Tabbies' and were also known as 'Canon Girdlestone's breed'.
(4) Another story envisages them being collected from Archangel by visiting British sailors who acquired them for sale in their home country. One version of this story depicts them being brought back at a very early date - during the reign of Elizabeth I, in the 16th century. Another version suggests the much later date of 1860.
Whichever origin is the true one, we do know that by the end of the nineteenth century, the Russian Blue had become a popular short-haired breed at the early cat shows. Writing in 1889, Harrison Weir commented that he thought it might be just another form of Blue British Shorthair, but he had 'to admit that those that came from Archangel were of a deeper, purer tint than the English cross-breeds...they had larger ears and eyes, and were larger and longer in the head and legs, also the coat of fur was excessively short, rather inclined to woolliness, but bright and glossy...'.
At the turn of the century, Frances Simpson, writing in 1903, reported on the continuing clash between the British Blues and the Russian Blues. One owner complained bitterly that there should be separate classes for these two breeds: '...it is disappointing for a Russian owner, who seeing "Russian Blue" only given in the schedule, enters his cat accordingly and gets beaten by a short-haired blue failing in just the points that the Russian is correct in.'
Simpson provided a detailed description of the two breeds and the hint was eventually taken, the Russian Blue being given a separate class in 1912. Arguments about its origins, however, had it reduced to the rather colourless official title of 'Foreign Blue'. Russian Blue breeders were not happy about this, but it was not until a quarter of a century later, in 1939, that they managed to get the name Russian Blue officially reinstated.
During World War II, the Russian Blue nearly disappeared in Europe. In Britain, only one breeder, Marie Rochford, managed to keep a pure line going, and it was from her stock that the post-war re-development of the breed began. Unfortunately, because of the small numbers of pure Russian Blues available, it was decided to introduce other lines, supposedly to improve the breed. Blue-point Siamese were favoured and the result was that the Russian Blue became increasingly lanky and angular and less and less like the heavy, tough cat it had been in its early days. By 1950 the official description of the breed had to be re-written, making the cat little more than an all-blue Siamese.
In 1965/66 British breeders decided to reverse this trend and to work back towards the original type of the Russian Blue. The extent to which this reversal has succeeded has varied in different parts of the world, creating some minor inconsistencies in the breed, world-wide, at the present time.(For example, the British version is today slightly heavier and has a rounder head than the American.) In Britain, a Russian Blue Association was founded in 1867.
The Russian Blue arrived early in the United States and Canada, appearing there around the turn of the century. Some give the date as between 1888 and 1890, but others place it a little later. The first one for which there is a specific record is a male called 'Blue Royal', which was imported by Clinton Locke of Chicago in 1907. As in Britain, there was at first some confusion between the Russian Blue and the local blue shorthair.
For some reason, after being shown at early cat shows in the United States, the breed disappeared from the American scene. When the 'orientalized' Russian Blues started to cross the Atlantic in the late 1940s, there was a new surge of interest in the breed and in 1950 a Russian Blue Club was formed by a group of American enthusiasts led by C.A. Comaire of Buda in Texas, who had imported post-war stock from both Britain and Denmark.
According to one author, this breed was 'a cherished pet both at the courts of the Russian Tsar and of Queen Victoria of England.
Personality: Terms used to describe this breed include: affectionate, shy, pensive, intelligent, tranquil, timid, reserved, serene, placid, hardy, obliging, independent, unintrusive, quick-witted, acrobatic, elegant, resourceful, sensitive, temperamental, quiet, sensitive and loyal.
Colour Forms: The so-called blue colour is in reality a slivery-grey. In some countries there are three other, minor colour forms, white, black and red, but the creation of these variants seems rather perverse in a breed that is specifically named for its colour. For convenience, the variants are called Russian White, Russian Black, and Russian Red.
1983. Urcia, I. This is the Russian Blue. TFH, New Jersey, USA.
Russian Blue Breeders Association. Address: 53 Percy Road, Shirley, Southampton, Hants, SO1 4LP, England.
Russian Blue Society. Address: 1602, Southbrook Dr., Wadena, MN 56482, USA.
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