Origins of the Russian Blue

submitted by- Carol McRee of Krasota Cattery

 

Origins of the Russian Blue breed

Very little is documented about the origins of the beautiful Russian Blue cat. Many believe that the breed originated in northwestern Russia in the Archangelsk region near St. Petersburg and surrounding ports. Here is a quote from an early Russian breeder, Frances Simpson- “On the Continent two main types of black cats are to be found, the short, thick set cobby type with round yellow eyes, and the slim, elongated, small boned type with pointed heads and almond shaped green eyes. These black cats threw blue sports occasionally. The green-eyed blues were to be found mainly in the Northern half of the Continent, and as the climate grew steadily more severe, they were found to have beautiful, thick, short, sleek hair which protected them from the rigors of the Northern winter.....Some of them were brought to England at the end of the last century (19th) and became the earliest ancestors of present day Russian Blues.” (Originally quoted in the Russian Blue Newsletter, England, 1968, F.H. Laugher, V.P. and Russian Blue Newsletter Editor).

These ancestors of the Russian Blue breed may have resulted from the mating of native cats in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia with cats of the Near East who had been brought to Russia via trade caravans (Simonnet,1990). Such mating’s could have indeed given rise to the slim, elongated, small boned, green eyed type of blue cat with thick, short hair as described by Frances Simpson. Arctic Russia and the Northern areas of the Scandinavian countries where the Russian Blue is said to have originated, have no natural boundaries and are not geographically isolated enough to keep Russian Blues breeding true.

The trading of furs between Russia and England continued throughout the 19th century (Simonnet, 1990). Legend has it that sailors believed gray (blue in the cat fancy) cats were lucky. This is most likely the first known way these cats may have found their way from Russia to England -on sailing ships. Arkhangelsk was Russia's first commercial seaport and its first sea route to the West. Merchants from many Russian cities came here to trade and sea routes from every European country led to Arkhangelsk leading to the development of Arkhangelsk as a major trading center. No other northern city in Russia enjoyed such importance as a commercial trading center and port.

It is interesting to note that the first Russian cats known outside the Archangelsk region in Russia were not just blue cats but blue tabbies, blue and white cats, and white cats. The blue cats were first shown in 1875 at the Crystal Palace in London, England as the Archangel Cats and competed in a class for all blue cats (Simpson,1903). Among the first Russian cats to be registered in England were cats of colors other than solid blue which is tremendously significant and validates the recent efforts by breeders to restore these other colors to the breed. Here is a quote from the book, “The Cat" by Grace Pond (1982), "The earliest registrations in the years 1898 to 1899 show that a Mr. Brooks imported a white Russian female, no name given; another white Russian was registered as "Granny". There was also "Olga", a Russian Blue with a white spot." In "The Book of the Cat", blue tabby cats are described as being imported from Russia around the same time (Simpson, 1903)

An early Russian Blue breeder was Mrs. Carew-Cox who lived in Essex, England. Fortunately, she left a diary in which she describes several of her imported blue cats from Arkhangelsk. In 1890, Mrs. Carew-Cox imported a female named Kola. Next in 1893, she imported Lingpopo, another female, from Archangelsk. Here is Mrs. Carew-Cox's description of Lingpopo in "The Book of the Cat" by Frances Simpson: “Lingpopo- an extremely beautiful blue - was imported from Archangel, very sound in color, rather long in face and legs, sleek, sinuous, and graceful, peculiarly lethargic in her movements, and dainty in her deportment.” Other female Russian cats belonging to Mrs. Carew-Cox were Olga, Fashoda and Yula, all imported from the
Archangelsk region of Russia. Olga was imported in 1893 or 1894 , Fashoda in 1896 and Yula in 1901. Ingeborg Urica writes “Eyewitnesses describe these cats as long, slender, graceful with thick silvery fur, apparently quite close to the present day standard of the Russian Blue” (Urcia, 1982). If this description is accurate, then it should not be a surprise that “Olga was a great winner in her time” as described by Mrs Carew- Cox.

Among Mrs. Carew-Cox’s boys were Moscow born in 1893 who was a very successful stud fathering many kittens. Moscow was also apparently a successful show cat winning many firsts and special awards. Muchado, another successful stud of Mrs. Carew-Cox, is the son of Lingpopo (one of her imported female cats) and CH Roguey (owned by Mrs. Herring). Muchado sired many prize winning kittens among whose descendants are many show winning Russian Blue cats of today. Bayard, son of Olga and King Vladimir born in 1898, is an early Russian Blue and is pictured here [Bayard pic]. Ingeborg Urcia (1992) writes “ The picture of Bayard ...shows a thick, dense fur of light silver that would please any modern breeder”. In England, those early Russian Blues were known for their plush, silvery coats. Many Russian Blues world-wide can trace their ancestry to one or more of Mrs. Carew-Cox’s cats.

During the early decades of the 20th century, other prominent breeders in England besides Mrs. Carew-Cox and Mrs Herring, were Lady Alexander of Ballochmyle and Lady Coryton. From inspecting available online pedigrees of these early Russian Blue cats (accessed via PawPeds.com), you can see how breeders in England used British Blue cats in their Russian Blue breeding programs with British Blue cats appearing in Russian Blue pedigrees and vice versa. For example, Prince Demidoff and Muffin are two registered Russian Blues, who are the parents of a registered British Blue male, Prince Pluto, born in 1911. Another example of this practice is Theydon Bunty, a registered Russian Blue female born in 1935, whose parents are British Blues. Interestingly, her litter sister, CH Silver Stream, is a British Blue. These are but two examples of what must have been a common practice of breeding these two breeds together given the recording of British Blues in many Russian Blue pedigrees and vice versa.

Two world wars in the first half of the 20th century decimated breeding stock. In post world war II Europe, breeders decided to use other breeds as outcrosses to save the Russian Blue from extinction. Such was the state of the Russian Blue breed after WWII. Former CFA president, Richard Gephardt, states in his book, “Breeders did what they had to do [ie outcross to other breeds and non-pedigreed cats] in order to expand the gene pool” of the Russian Blue (Gephardt, 1991) In England, the British Blue continued to be used as an outcross. Breeders in Denmark and Sweden worked to save the breed from extinction by outcrossing with blue point Siamese. From what Ingeborg Urcia writes, breeders also used non-pedigreed cats because so few pedigreed Russian Blue cats were available for breeding. One very famous female is Gelding Mokey, an non-pedigreed blue cat of unknown origin but with the appearance of a Russian Blue. She was bred to a blue point Siamese male named Lela Do. (Urcia,1982). The only Russian Blue male offspring of this pair is CH Dunloe Domokvitch who was born in 1951 and was a particularly prolific stud in the 1950s having 26 registered Russian Blue offspring. Several of his Dunloe descendants were
foundation cats for Russian Blue catteries in other countries as will be mentioned later.

The effort to restore the Russian Blue gene pool in Sweden after World War II began with a blue female cat named Pierette about whom very little is known. Pierette was mated to Long fellow of Annam, a blue point Siamese male. Pierette’s son, CH Casimir von Elsdorff, born in 1945, was a blue cat/Siamese hybrid. He was mated to his sister, CH Muzzette of Rossia, another blue cat/Siamese hybrid, which produced Anita of Finlandia, the first registered Russian Blue in Sweden. One of their descendants, International Champion Blue Bell of Finlandia, was influential in the development of the breed in the USA and will be discussed briefly later. Blue Bell’s pedigree show the use of the Siamese and non-pedigreed blue cats in developing the Russian Blue. While her parents are registered Russian Blues, her sire’s parents are Siamese. Blue Bell’s mother, Tanja av Olsenburg, is a daughter of Anita of Finlandia who is a daughter of Longfellow of Annam (Siamese) and Pierette (non-pedigreed blue cat) as mentioned above.

In her book, “This is The Russian Blue”, Ingeborg Urcia writes that “the bloodlines from Sweden brought the elegant, flat profile and deep emerald green eyes” into the Russian Blue breed in the USA. Unfortunately, another legacy of the outcross to the Siamese in the 1940’s and 1950’s is the occasional blue point Russian kitten in a litter from two Russian Blue parents, both of whom must carry the Siamese color restriction (cs) gene. These blue point Russian kittens continue to appear in Russian Blue litters in the USA despite the fact that the outcross to the Siamese was decades ago. Now, I will briefly discuss the development of the breed in the USA in general.

The Russian Blue in the USA

Russian Blue cats were imported to the United States as early as 1900. Ingeborg Urcia (1992) writes that “Mr. Clinton Locke had imported some Russian Blues from Mrs. Carew- Cox, but no one seems to know what became of them”. Indeed, very little is known about those early Russian Blues in the USA. Unfortunately, there is little recorded work with the breed until after World War II. In the mid 20th century, the breed began to attract attention again. What follows is a brief summary of breed development in the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) from the early decades of the 1940s and 1950s to today.

Two English Russian Blue cats, Dunloe Jan (Imp. UK) and Dunloe Blue Silk (Imp. UK) were imported into the USA in 1947 by Mr. C. A. Commaire of Texas and registered by CFA in 1949. They were litter mates out of Dunloe Aphrodite (dam) by Dunloe Blue Socks (sire). The pedigree of these two Dunloe cats, Aphrodite and Blue Socks, shows the typical practice of Russian breeders in Britain. Dunloe Aphroidte’s dam is a British Blue female named Sylvan Tinklebell. Dunloe Blue Socks is the great, great grand son of Theydon Bunty, the RB female mentioned earlier as having two British Blues for parents. Mr. Commaire also imported cats from Sweden among them Cassimir of Ellsdoff who has already been mentioned and will be described in more detail later.  
Other American Russian Blue catteries in the important in the early development of the breed were: Aberdeen, Beaver, Casa Gatos, El Rosario, Felinest, Flo-Mar , Hill Crest, and Hoeller. Among the first breeders to import Russian Blue cats were Howard and Blanche Warren of Casa Gatos who imported Dunloe Aphrodite and later Dunloe Blue Queen; Mr. Hoeller of Hoeller’s Cattery imported Dunloe Kabushin; and Florence Gate and Margaret Pusey of Flo-Mar Cattery imported Dunloe Rany
and Dunloe Natascha (Urcia, 1992). Other English catteries, such as Jennymay, and Sylphides, also provided foundation cats for US catteries and made significant contributions to the developing breed in the USA. A female cat of importance is Jennymay Astrii of Felinest an English Russian Blue female cat imported into the USA who made very important contributions via her offspring with an US male, GC Felinest Silver Dollar- more about this pair later. Work developing the Russian Blue breed continued with imported cats from Sweden beginning to play an influential role.

During the 1950s, US breeders were working primarily with either English or Swedish bloodlines. The English lines , such as Dunloe, Jennymay, and Sylphides, were noted for their pale, plush coats, silver tipping, and refined boning, while the Swedish bloodlines were noted for their beautiful head type, elegant bodies, and emerald green eyes. Well known Swedish Russian Blue lines that were imported into the USA such as Tinnerdalen and Kabbarps are descendants of the female, International Champion Blue Bell of Finlandia, a great great granddaughter of Longfellow of Annam (Siamese) and Pierette as already mentioned. Two important Swedish Russian Blue imports that were very influential in shaping the developing breed are CH Erosjina of Braheborg, a female, and International Champion/Grand Champpion Pavel of Braheborg, a male. Pavel of Braheborg and his sister, Erosjina of Braheborg, were imported by Dorothy Lech of Three Crown Cattery from her sister, a breeder in Sweden. These two siblings are grandchildren of International Champion Blue Bell of Finlandia mentioned above. Until breeders began combining imported English and Swedish bloodlines, Russian Blues in the show ring varied greatly in type, with few cats displaying all the qualities of the perfect Russian Blue.

In the 1960s, other catteries such as Three Crown Cattery and Pau- Nes Cattery in New Jersey (now in North Carolina), Velva Cattery in Ohio, Bobcat Cattery in Texas and various breeders in California began working with the breed. The hard work of Russian Blue breeders was beginning to be recognized in the show ring with the breed’s first Grand Championship title being earned by a Russian Blue male, Maja Acre Igor II of 3 R's, in 1964. CH Felinest Flying High of Velva was CFA’s best RB in 1965-66. Three Russian Blues, GC Felinest Silver Dollar, GC Selene’s Alexander of Marrakech and GC Tinnerdalen’s Njusia of Bobcat, earned their Grand Champion titles in 1966. In 1968, seven Russian Blues earned Grand Champion titles, one of whom
was the well known and widely used stud, Pavel of Braheborg. GC Pavel of Braheborhg was bred to eight Russian Blue female cats from several catteries and produced 12 offspring. GC Kit-Kin Peter was CFA's Best Russian Blue in 1968 and 1969.

Another Swedish cat, Pavel’s sister, CH Erosjina of Braheborg, was bred to Grand Champion Felinest Silver Dollar, a male cat descended from English bloodlines (Dunloe) via his sire and Swedish bloodlines (Kallerstad) via his dam. Silver Dollar has been described as the original light-coated Russian Blue. This pair, CH Erosjina of Braheborg and GC Felinest Silver Dollar, produced CH Pam-San’s Silver Token of Velva, a male foundation cat for the Velva Cattery of Diana Doernberg. Silver Token is described as “a large cat with beautiful eye color”. CH Pam San’s Silver Token of Velva was bred to his half sister, CH Felinest Tonya of Velva which produced a wonderful and very successful male for the Velva Cattery, Felinest Flying High of Velva.
Flying High is described as having “beautiful head type and lime green eyes” and according to his breeder, Diana Doernberg, the cat that really established the type that we see today. Before Flying High was neutered at a year-and-a-half, he was bred to five females who produced 21 kittens, of which six became Grand Champions, one a National Winner and two became Distinguished Merit dams. Flying High's most famous offspring was CFA's first Russian Blue national award winner: GC, NW Velva's Blue Viking. Viking was CFA’s 7th Best Cat in 1970-71. Flying High's two distinguished merit offspring were Viking's litter sister, CH Velva's Miss Behavin and GC Velva's Extraordinaire. Another Swedish import, CH Rasdedjan's Ninouschka of Velva, was a female foundation cat for Velva cattery. An important Velva female is Champion Felinest Tonya of Velva, another offspring of GC Felinest Silver Dollar by an imported English female, Jennymay Astrii of Felinest. During the 1970 season, eight Russians granded from seven catteries including GC Meri-Rose Mischa of Evinrude who was CFA’s Best Russian Blue that year. Velva Russian Blues have been quite influential in the development of the breed as many of Mrs. Doernberg’s cats were foundation cats for many successful US Russian Blue catteries including Hy-line, Miribu, Sereshka, and Tsar Blu.

As already mentioned, GC, NW Velva’s Blue Viking was the first Russian Blue national award winner in 1971. The next year, Velva’s Blue Viking was not only CFA’s best Russian Blue but he also made CFA’s 2nd best cat in 1971-72. A feat not repeated until 2008-2009 when another Russian Blue, GC Platina Luna’s Blade Runner was CFA’s best RB and 2nd best cat. The breed was becoming better known and appreciated in the cat fancy in the USA. Since 1971, rarely has a show season gone by without a Russian among the top 20 cats in CFA (ie national awards). During the 1970s, several new catteries joined the ranks of Russian Blue fanciers including Bluegenes, Blue Pride, Jontue, Katzenburg, Les Joy, Lov’n Blu, Nordic, Nuance, Roushka, Seeneekat, Silverton, Silver Acres, Tsar Blu, and Wynterwynd. As their popularity and show success increased, Russian Blue classes of 25-30 cats became common, but they were developing a reputation of being bad-tempered at shows due to their shy nature.

By the early 1980s, Russian Blues had declined in popularity, most likely due to the fact that they had established a reputation as being difficult to show. Only a few Russian Blues could be found at any show. Fortunately several determined Russian Blue breeders continued their work and were joined by several new breeders charmed by the beauty and affectionate personality of this breed. These new breeders included Azurski, Chaskara, Friday, Heartbeeps, Kaybill, Kiska, Pavlova, Roxanastasia, Shakbatina, Trianon, Tsarista, and Tylona. Russian Blues made six national wins from 1981 to 1990. GC Jontue’s Rhythm and Blues, DM, who was CFA’s 1981 10th Best Kitten and 1982 10th Best Cat, was one of the first Russian Blue ambassadors. He passed both his beauty and showmanship to 22 grand offspring, including several regional and national winners. A son of GC Jontue’s Rhythm and Blues and another national winner is GC Jontue’s Harmony of Silver Acres who was best Russian Blues three times, 1982-83, 1983-84 and 1985-86. Three of Donna Fuller’s Tsar Blu cats made national wins as well in the 1980s. GC Tsar Blue Zane Grey, DM was best Russian Blue in 1979-1980. GC Tsar Blu’s Zach was best Russian Blue in 1984-85 and GC Tsar Blu Zarin was best RB in 1988-1989.

In the 1990s, Russian Blue breeders continued to focus on show temperament and quality. Several new breeders were attracted to this beautiful breed including Bleuchip, Grisaille, Moontan, Platina Luna and Winterfest. From 1991 to 2000, Russian Blues made 23 national awards and 133 regional awards. Year 2000 proved to be an outstanding year for the Russian Blue, with five Russian Blues making national awards and the first Russian Blue making Best of the Best at the CFA International Cat Show. GC Velva’s Bulletproof of Heartbeeps was the 2000 CFA International Cat Show’s Best Shorthair Kitten, another first for the Velva Cattery that produced CFA’s first national winner in 1971. Donna Fuller’s Tsar Blu Cattery has produced more national winners than any other Russian Blue cattery (10) spanning three decades. The first national winner for Donna Fuller was one of her foundation cats, a Velva male, GC Velva’s Cobalt Baron of Tsar Blu, who was CFA’s best Russian Blue in the 1974-75 season. The most recent national winner for Donna Fuller is GC Tsar Blu’s Zhivago who was CFA’s best Russian Blue in the 2007-2008 season and 10 generations from Donna’s first national winner, Velva’s Cobalt Baron of Tsar Blu. In 2008-2009, another Russian Blue, GC Platina Luna’s Blade Runner was CFA’s best RB and 2nd best cat, for only the second time in CFA history.

The Russian Blue in TICA

The Russian Blue was one of the breeds that was immediately recognized and accepted upon formation of TICA in 1979. Those first Russian Blues registered in TICA were also likely to be registered in other US associations, ACFA and CFA. Early on, best Russian Blues came from already established ACFA and CFA catteries. For example, TICA’s best Russian Blue for 1979-1980, TICA’s first show season, is GC Blue Charms Alexandra. Best Russian Blue kitten for that season is J-Sun’s Woman in the Moon. Other early TICA breed winners, Best RB cat in 1980-81 and Best RB cat in 1982-83, came from the Ro-Lin Cattery of R and L. Lindsey. As TICA grew in popularity, other Russian Blue breeders joined TICA. Some noteworthy catteries that have produced at least two TICA best Russian Blue cats in the 1980’s and 1990’s, other than the two catteries already mentioned, are the following (years in parenthesis denote the year of the award): Castle Cats (88-89, 89-90); Chaskara (82-83, 91-92, 96-97, 97- 98); Chayat (85-86, 93-94, 94-95, 95-96, 99-2000 and 2000-01). More recently, catteries from all over the world that have earned best RB cat awards are: Rocky Blu ( Japan 04-’05), Starchild (Japan- ‘02-’03), Talisker (Canada -98-99,’03-’04) and Vert (Japan- ‘05-’06).