Russian Blues have been part of the show scene since the 1890s. Their history has, at times, been intertwined with the Blue British Shorthair and the Siamese. They have also been know by other names: The Maltese and The Spanish Blue. They are thought to originate from the Arkhangelsk region of Russia traveling to England on the sailing ships and are written about in many of the early cat books. Mrs. Carew-Cox is the lady most associated with the beginnings of today's Russian Blue and we have excerpts from her diaries documenting how she obtained some of her cats.
Step back in time with me to where the cat fancy as we know it first makes its acquaintance with these enigmatic blue cats and share the fascination all Russian Blue owners have with this aristocratic breed. Imagine yourself in the great, bustling port of London in the 1800s -- the sailing ships arriving from around the world with precious cargoes. And as you walk around the port you see a cat smiling down at you -- a cat like no other you've seen. A blue cat shimmering like watered silk in the sunshine staring down at you with eyes like glowing green emeralds -- a slender build and an enigmatic smile indicating it knows more about the world than you ever will. You're fascinated by this magnificent cat and learn the ship it travels on is from Russia -- the land of the Tsars with their great paalaces and the colored turrets and domes of the Kremlin. As you learn more, you find the ship comes from Arkhangelsk and these blue cats bring good luck -- and that they are the pets of the Tsars. Your heart and imagination are captured -- you have to have one of these blue cats and bring them to the great shows at London's Crystal Palace. But how? You talk, you bargain and finally the sailors exchange this great beauty for a leg of mutton and you have your heart's desire.
Fiction and fairy tale? Maybe. However we do know that at least some parts of this origin are true thanks to Mrs. Carew-Cox and her diaries. We do know that the first Russian Blues did come into port on sailing ships and we do know that at least one cat was acquired for a leg of mutton and we know the dates when at least some of these early cats were acquired:
"It is many years ago since I first made acquaintance with the Russian Blue breed; but I find I made no notes at the time, so cannot give full particulars. In 1889, however, I had purchased a smooth blue, whose owner declared her to be a Siamese -- she certainly resembled a puma shaped Siamese in her body outline and movements -- and I believe I entered her in the stud bbook as such. "Dwina" won many prizes at Crystal Palace and other shows in "any variety" classes, was a most faithful creature, reared many families, and lived until June 1901."
1890, Mrs. Carew-Cox also owned a blue female (with heavy tabbying) that
came from Norway along with a male. However, these were not Russian
Blues from Arkhangel but blue cats identified as Canon Girdlestone's breed.
Both finally died and they do not appear to have been used in any breeding
program. We do know that her Kola was the famous cat exchanged for
the leg of mutton in 1890:
"She was imported from Kola, and after changing hands more than once, whilst at sea, was finally exchanged at the London Docks for a leg of mutton! A very lovable little cat was Kola, with very round face and very soft fur. She lived until November 1900 ..."
Lingpopo is one of the cats that we know came from Archangelsk and her description still sounds like today's Russian Blue although she was not used in any breeding program: "Lingpopo, an extremely beautiful cat, 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. I bought her in 1893."
The first cats that we consider part of the history of Russian Blue
breeding programs are:
"Moscow (1893) was a very successful sire of many kittens; he won many firsts and special prizes.
Olga came to me in 1893 or 1894 and still lives. She was imported, and has been a great winner in her time, but is getting an old cat now. She is the mother of my stud cat Bayard, who was born in 1898 and whose sire was King Vladimir.
Fashoda was born in 1896, and was imported. She is a large, strong cat and a winner of many prizes. Odessa is a daughter of Fashoda by Blue Gown.
Yula came to me in 1901 and was imported from Archangel."
We are fortunate enough to have pictures of Olga and Bayard -- and they can both be seen on today's Russian Blues: the smile, the planes heads and the ears set as much on the top as the sides.
Did Queen Victoria really have a pet Russian Blue? Were they really in the palaces of the Tsars? Certainly we know the British Aristocracy had blue cats because Mrs. Carew-Cox's diaries state that Lady Marcus Beresford gave her a blue cat with "a very thick, yet close coat" in 1895. And we have word of mouth of cats coming from the Tsar to England:
"The late Mrs. Fosberry, one of the Fancy's most popular judges and breeder (though not of Russian), was as a child given a perfect example of a Russian cat which had come direct from the Palace of the Czar. Before the Revolution there was a lithograph, executed in Moscow, and very popular among the peasants for adornment of their cabin walls, which depicted the burial of the household cat, an animal slate-grey in color and long in body. ..." (Source: Kit Wilson's Cat Encyclopedia", 1951)
If this is true, then it is certainly conceivable that a cat could have
come from the Czar to Queen Victoria as a gift. However, this is
just one of the legends that appear to be lost in the mists of time.