Download 650 Soviet Book Covers, Many Sporting Wonderful Avant-Garde Designs (1917–1942)

Circus 1931

Amer­i­cans like to pride our­selves on the numer­ous ways our pop cul­ture pen­e­trat­ed the Sovi­et Union and seduced its young­sters, send­ing them to bed with dreams of Mick­ey Mouse, Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Elvis, and Star Wars. Whether it’s jazz in the ear­ly decades after the rev­o­lu­tion, or rock and roll in the 50s and after, Sovi­et youth so craved the ways of the West, it seems, that they famous­ly boot­legged Amer­i­can music on used X‑rays, with results of wide­ly vary­ing degrees of qual­i­ty. That’s all well and good, but we rarely ask what Sovi­et cul­tur­al exports we were miss­ing while we trum­pet­ed our supe­ri­or­i­ty. (I mean, besides Ayn Rand or the com­e­dy of Yakov Smirnoff.)

Unknown Soviet Cover 1

A few of those exports have become high water­marks of cre­ative inno­va­tion and aes­thet­ic beau­ty, such as the film­mak­ing of Dzi­ga Ver­tov and Andrei Tarkovsky. At least one Sovi­et export, the Theremin, rad­i­cal­ized music with its haunt­ing elec­tron­ic whine. Much less well-known, how­ev­er, are the fas­ci­nat­ing devel­op­ments in ani­ma­tion and illus­tra­tion (such as these out­er space utopias). Now—thanks to the New York Pub­lic Library’s huge­ly expan­sive, free dig­i­tal image archive—we can view and down­load 650 exam­ples of Sovi­et book cov­er design between the years 1917 and 1942 (most date from the 30s). Many of these cov­ers are as unre­mark­ably vanil­la as some of their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, but no small num­ber offer unique looks into avant-garde Sovi­et design trends.

Two Years In Northern Lands 1935

Addi­tion­al­ly, the archive gives us a broad overview of the kinds of books that were pub­lished in the Sovi­et Union dur­ing these pre-Cold War years. It’s unlike­ly many of these titles saw trans­la­tion into Eng­lish and unlike­ly many of them ever will. In some cas­es, the author and title of the book rep­re­sent­ed have been lost to his­to­ry (as with the col­or­ful cov­er sec­ond from the top). Each of the images here links to a page on the NYPL’s online data­base, where you can see pub­li­ca­tion info and down­load high-res­o­lu­tion scans. Browse, and down­load, hun­dreds more pre-War Sovi­et book cov­er designs at the NYPL’s “Scrap­book of Russ­ian Book­jack­ets, 1917–1942,” or see a few more choice selec­tions at The Paris Review, who drew our atten­tion to this won­der­ful online col­lec­tion.

Takers 1933

The Grim River 1933

M. Lermontov

Big Universe 1936

via The Paris Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The New York Pub­lic Library Lets You Down­load 180,000 Images in High Res­o­lu­tion: His­toric Pho­tographs, Maps, Let­ters & More

Sovi­ets Boot­legged West­ern Pop Music on Dis­card­ed X‑Rays: Hear Orig­i­nal Audio Sam­ples

Sovi­et-Era Illus­tra­tions Of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hob­bit (1976)

Watch Sovi­et Ani­ma­tions of Win­nie the Pooh, Cre­at­ed by the Inno­v­a­tive Ani­ma­tor Fyo­dor Khitruk

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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