Origin of the Russian Blue cat breed is murky

Origin of the Russian Blue cat breed is murky
Image: MikeB
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Introduction: I think that it is useful to take a realistic viewpoint about the origin of the cat breeds in general. For good reason, cat breeders like to create an interesting and definitive history of the breed but sometimes the reality is not quite so clear-cut and certain. This applies to the Russian Blue.

Early writings: thanks to the messybeast.com website we can read articles written by well-known cat fancy specialists and experts from the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th century: the beginning of the cat fancy.

Harrison Weir: For example, Harrison Weir, the father of the cat fancy, wrote the following about the early Russian Blue cats: “This is shown often under a number of names. It was at first shown as the Archangel cat, then Russian blue, Spanish blue, Chartreuse blue, and, lastly, and I know not why, the American blue. It is not, in my belief, a distinct breed, but merely a light-coloured form of the black cat.” The quote clearly indicates that the Russian Blue of the late part of the 19th century was a random-bred cat with a blue coat and with various names. Harrison Weir also wrote that in the early cat shows Russian Blue cats were “British-bred grey tabbies, with separate grey cats arriving from Archangel in Britain in the 1800s with features consistent with the modern breed”.

Frances Simpson: Another great expert of the early cat fancy is Frances Simpson who wrote two books about cats which are still available interestingly. In her book The Book of the Cat, Simpson wrote that, “there are two distinct types of these blue cats is apparent to anyone who observes the specimens exhibited at our shows. The foreign or imported variety have wedge-shaped faces, and are longer and larger in the head, with prominent ears; otherwise in colour and coat, they are similar to those bred in England, and which partake of the same formation as an ordinary British cat.”

Carew-Cox: Mrs Carew-Cox, a foremost breeder of the early Russian Blue which was not referred to as the Russian blue at that time but a shorthaired blue cat of the Russian variety said the following about this breed in the early years: “Blue short-haired cats – many of them imported from Northern Russia – make very desirable pets […] Kittens, however, require both care and patience to rear successfully, and strange to say, attain sounder constitutions when brought up by a healthy English foster-mother. […] A Russian cat should be of an even shade of blue throughout, even the skin itself being often – in fact, generally – of a bluish tinge. There should be no stripes or bars and – for exhibition purposes – there should be no white patches.”

RELATED: J.D. Salinger’s Russian Blue Cats

Unspecific and unclear: I think you will agree that these early writings indicate a non-purebred cat, blue in colour with an interesting appearance. It’s interesting too that in only one of these extracts do we see a reference to the cat breed coming from Russa.

Wikipedia: Wikipedia is more certain about its origins but the author does state that this cat “may” have originated in the port of Archangel in Russia. And they were called Archangel Blues. The authors’ research led them to state that sailors took them from the Archangel Islands to the UK and to Northern Europe in the 1860s. The first record of this cat in British print is from 1862.

Gloria Stephens: Gloria Stephens is an expert on the cat breeds and is the author of an excellent book on them called Legacy of the Cat. In that book she states that Russian Blue cats are “said” to have originated from the Baltic port of Archangel. She adds that the cats were carried as trade goods by merchant ships trading with England in the mid-1800s. The early cats were stocky in body conformation but through selective breeding they’ve become “foreign-type” which means slender.

Development: there’s no question that this blue cat started off as a non-purebred cat and then the cat fancy developed the breed through selective breeding. So, the origin of this cat really is the moment when the breeders took the random bred cats and developed and refined them through selective breeding.

Speculation: we can only speculate as to the true origin of this breed and we have to admit that its origin remains uncertain as several theories exist but none can be definitively proven.

Ships’ cats: I mentioned the theory that the breed comes from the port of Archangelsk which is located in north-western Russia. Some say that they were brought from the Archangel Islands on ships where they were ships’ cats.

Archangel: You will see other theories about the breeding of this cat. The point is that if you had travelled to Archangel in the North of Russia in the mid-1800s, at the so-called beginning of this cat breed, there would not have seen hundreds of blue shorthaired cats in Archangel waiting to be plucked off the streets and developed into being a purebred cat. It doesn’t work like that.

Conclusion: The true history of the Russian Blue is going to remain uncertain and frankly a mystery. But one thing we can be sure of is that, as mentioned, the cat fancy at one stage in the early 1900s decided to selectively breed from these shorthaired blue cats and create a distinctive breed called the Russian Blue which has been further refined over the decades thereafter.

Genotype: Genetically I would suggest that there is no connection between the modern Russian Blue and the original Russian Blue whatever that cat was and whether they originate in Russia or not.

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