The Russian Blue
by Peg Johnson
Cat Fanciers' Almanac, June 2001
Russian Blues, with their silver coats, flashing emerald eyes, and shy smiles, have captivated cat fanciers since the late 19th century. Their first recorded show appearance was at a London cat show in the Crystal Palace. A newspaper account of the show notes “a very handsome cat, coming from Archangel…particularly furry…. They resemble mostly the common wild grey rabbit.” The primary sources of Russian Blue information in this period are the journals of Mrs. Carew-Cox, a British cat fancier who acquired her first "Archangel Cat" in 1890 and worked with them through the turn of the century. She describes blue, shorthaired cats from Northern Russia with short, silvery fur, large ears, wide-set eyes, and lean faces, who are both intelligent and sweet. This sounds very similar to someone describing today’s Russian Blues.
Little is known about the true origin of the Russian Blue. They seem to have originated on Archangelsk Isle in northern Russia. Legend suggests that they lived in the wild and were hunted for their soft, silver coats. This may account for their intelligence, keen senses, and cautious nature, which would have been essential to their fight for survival. The Russian Blue is also believed to have been a royal favorite in the homes of several Russian Czars and English Monarchs. Other folklore has the Russian Blue as a healing charm for an ailing Russian prince and riding with the Cossacks into battle. While a Russian Blue comforting his favored friend is entirely believable, this quiet, demure cat riding horseback into battle is highly unlikely.
Although several Russian Blue fanciers are actively searching for historical information, little is known about the Russian Blue in the early part of the 20th century. The focus of this article is to provide a chronological overview of the Russian Blue in CFA by highlighting Russian Blue achievements and breeders. Catteries mentioned were selected for their contributions including significant breed developments, consistent quality, and tenacity. Many others, too numerous to mention, have worked to promote and improve this lovely breed.
The two developments that had the most influence on our lovely breed were the combination of English and Swedish lines to produce a consistent Russian Blue look and the focused effort to improve the Russian Blue show disposition. These two efforts took place over a period of 30 years. This consistent look allowed breeders to strive to produce the perfect Russian Blue and the judges to easily recognize our most perfect examples. Many of us learned the hard way that a beautiful Russian that is bad-tempered at shows is not really a show cat, and may not be the best parent for the good-natured show cats we hope to produce. Without these changes, Russian Blues would never have reached the success they are currently experiencing.
Russian Blue breeders are also very persistent. There are several breeders who have worked with the Russian Blue for over 20 years, and a few who have been working with them for over 30 years. Many of these same breeders have proven their dedication to quality by consistently producing top CFA winners, numerous grands, and Distinguished Merit cats. They also like to promote their breed to the public and with new breeders who are interested in showing and improving this breed. Although they can be fairly competitive, Russian Blue fanciers often put aside personal interests and work together to keep this breed healthy and vibrant.
Modern Russian Blue history really starts after World War II in Europe. English breeders, such as Dunloe, Jennymay, Sylphides, and Windywhistle, and Swedish breeders, such as Molleby, Olsenburg, Finlandia, and Kabbarps, provided many of the foundation cats for American breeders. In 1949, CFA accepted the Russian Blue for registration. In that same year, two Russian Blues from the Dunloe Cattery were listed in CFA Stud Book Volume 34.
During the 1950s, American breeders were working primarily with either English or Swedish bloodlines. The English lines 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. Until breeders began combining these bloodlines, Russian Blues in the show ring varied greatly in style, with few cats displaying all the qualities of the perfect Russian Blue. Notable early American breeders included Casa Gatos, Flo-Mar, Hoeller, Three Crown, Felinest, Rindy’s Haven, Hill-Crest, and Aberdeen.
In the 1960s, breeders began combining the English and Swedish bloodlines to produce the cats that became the foundation for the modern Russian Blue. In 1964, GC Maja Acre Igor II of 3 R’s became CFA’s first Russian Blue Grand Champion. From only 117 registered cats in 1965 to over 700 registered by 1970, the Russian Blues were enjoying a surge of popularity as they became more uniform in appearance and more competitive at shows.
Important early Russian Blues included GC Felinest Silver Dollar and his son, GC Felinest Flying High of Velva. Sold as a pet, GC Felinist Flying High was bred only five times before he was neutered. These five breedings produced six Grand Champions, two Distinguished Merit females, and one national winner. "Flying High’s" son, GC Velva’s Blue Viking, was CFA’s first Russian Blue national winner. "Blue Viking" achieved two wins as CFA’s 7th Best Cat and CFA’s 2nd Best Cat in 1972. Diana Doernberg of Velva Cattery is credited with the winning combinations that provided foundation cats for many Russian Blue catteries including Hy-line, Sereshka, Miribu, and Tsar Blu.
During the 1970s, many new catteries joined the ranks of Russian Blue fanciers including Les Joy, Silverton, Seeneekat, Bluegenes, Wynterwynd, Silver Acres, Jontue, Nordic, Roushka, Blue Pride, Zatm, Lov’n Blu, Katzenburg, and Nuance. As their popularity increased, Russian Blue classes of 25-30 cats were common, but they were developing a reputation of being bad-tempered due to their shy nature. Despite this, ten Russian Blues gained national Championship wins from 1971 to 1980. An important change in the late ’70s was modification to the CFA Russian Blue standard to provide better definition on head structure and body type. In addition, the point distribution was modified to put more emphasis on body and head type while retaining emphasis on the distinctive Russian Blue coat and color.
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 Tylona, Heartbeeps, Kaybill, Chaskara, Tsarista, Friday, Pavlova, Shakbatina, Roxanastasia, Kiska, Trianon, and Azurski. Russian Blue breeders were producing beautiful examples of their breeds that were often hard to handle at shows while being sweet and affectionate companions at home. Judges began to ask why breeders were not doing something to improve the disposition of this elegant breed. As temperament became a bigger factor in show success, breeders began to focus attention on making the Russian Blue easier for judges to handle.
Environmental and genetic factors were evaluated. Most breeders focused on selective breeding and kitten training. Others played tapes of show noises, put crystals in cages, used herbal remedies, visualization, and relaxation techniques. No stone was left unturned. Some combination of these methods worked, and slowly Russian Blues began acting better in the judging ring. Although Russian Blue numbers at shows remained small, their popularity with judges and spectators increased as their attitude at shows improved. 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.
In the 1990s, Russian Blue breeders continued to focus on show temperament and quality. Several new breeders were attracted to this beautiful breed including Winterfest, Moontan, Grisaille, Bleuchip, and Platina Luna. Russian Blues were becoming more competitive at shows. They no longer had to be brought to the show ring by themselves with cages separating every cat. Their reputation was changing as they were being noted for exceptional show performance rather than bad attitudes. Russian Blues were purring in the ring. They were posing elegantly one minute and acting like clowns over a toy the next. Even though Russian Blue registration numbers are constant and show entries are still small, they are well represented in finals, regional awards, and national awards.
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.
The Russian Blue has also become extremely popular in Japan, and Russian Blue competition there is approaching the numbers found in the states during the ’70s. Champion classes of 10 to 15 are not uncommon. A recent show in Kyoto had over 20 Russian Blues entered. Japanese breeders currently working with the Russian Blue include Snow-Island, Lune-Soleil, Big Plane, Voce Gatto, Ice Cube, Esmeralda, Bluefox, and Fieldmoon, to name a few.
Few changes have been made to the CFA Russian Blue standard in the past 20 years. The Russian Blue Breed Council believes more in breeding to our standard than modifying the standard to match what we breed. This standard remains one of CFA’s most concise. Despite its brevity, it provides a clear description of a very distinct cat. The Russian Blue is extremely distinctive, with a unique head style, plush silver-tipped coat, emerald green eyes, fine-boned body, and “Mona Lisa” smile. Points are evenly balanced between TYPE and COAT/COLOR.
Russian Blue Type consists of head type, body, ears, and eye shape. The Russian Blue head, one of its most distinguishing features, is a smooth, medium wedge with a blunt muzzle blending into the wedge. The profile consists of two planes, with one angled from the tip of the nose to the brow and one, which is slightly longer, from the brow to the back of the head. The chin is perpendicular with the end of the nose. The ears are very important to the overall balance of the head. They should be rather large and wide at the base and set far apart, as much on the side as on the top of the head. Front-on, the Russian Blue face is broad across the eyes due to wide eye-set and thick fur. Eye aperture is rounded in shape.
The neck is long and slender, but appears short due to thick fur and high placement of shoulder blades. The Russian Blue body style is one that suggests grace and elegance with a long, lithe body, fine-boned legs, and small rounded paws.
Russian Blue COAT/COLOR features include coat, coat color, and eye color. The Russian Blue’s short, double coat, so plush you can write in it, is one of its most unique features. It has a distinct soft and silky feel. The coat color is a bright blue with lighter shades preferred and guard hairs distinctly silver-tipped, giving the cat a silvery sheen or lustrous appearance. Although lighter shades are preferred, it is important that the coat not become so pale that the tipping is lost. Ghost tabby markings may be found on kittens. Vivid green eyes are the goal of every Russian breeder. The shade of green varies from cat to cat, but there is nothing more striking than a pale silver cat with deep emerald green eyes. In the Russian Blue, coat texture, coat color, and eye color are usually at their peak in a mature cat of two or more years. Unfortunately, the show careers of Russians often end before they are in their prime for these features.
Recent changes to the CFA Russian Blue Breed Standard have been focused on maintaining the integrity of this breed. Other cat associations have changed their Russian Blue bstandards to incorporate new colors created by breeding Russian Blues to domestic cats. As CFA allows no outcross for the Russian Blue, the current breed council has changed our standard to disqualify for colors other than blue and for long coat.
Russian Blue statistics reflect the dedication of breeders to quality and consistency. Russian Blue registrations show a slight upward trend over the last 10 years. Kitten registrations are up about 15% since 1990, with 1,229 kittens registered in 1999. With only 117 Russian Blues registered in 1965, a total of 14,526 Russian Blues have been registered in CFA from 1966 to 2000. The number of Russian Blues achieving Grand Champion and Grand Premier titles has been over 35 per year since 1989. Russian Blue Distinguished Merit Cats include nine males and 36 females. Since the first Russian Blue CFA national win in 1971, Russian Blues have achieved a total of 39 national awards.
Russian Blues continue to mesmerize the cat fancy with their elegance and beauty. In fact, once they capture your heart, you are hooked. Many Russian Blue breeders have worked with this breed for over 20 years, and our love affair with this affectionate, intelligent, lovely cat is likely to continue for many years.
1. "Breed Profile: The Russian Blue" by Diana Doernberg, CFA Almanac, March 1994.
2. "America’s Russian Blue" by Ingeborg Urica, Cat Fancy, July 1993.
3. The Russian Blue Cat by Dr. Ingeborg Urica, PhD, 1992.
4. Russian Blue Association Newsletters 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 Editions.
5. Russian Blue Judges Workshop Material, 2000, Annette Wilson.
6. Breed Council Questionnaire, CFA Yearbook 2000, Peg Johnson.
7. Talisker Cattery Web Site, 2001, Amanda Bright.