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History of St. Petersburg Museum: Rumyantsev Mansion

 

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A Peek Inside the Soviet Union's Secret Collection of Erotica

Published: June 24, 2014 (Issue # 1816)



  • There are 12,000 items in the collection, from Japanese engravings to 1970s romance novels.
    Photo: Joy Neumeyer / For SPT

  • The collection includes erotica and modern novels owned by aristocrats.
    Photo: Joy Neumeyer / For SPT

In the depths of the Russian State Library, Marina Chestnykh takes the creaking elevator up to the ninth floor. She walks past stack after stack of books behind metal cages, the shelves barely visible in the dim light from the frosted-glass windows. This is the spetskhran, or special storage, collection of material deemed ideologically harmful by the Soviet state.

She arrives at a cage in the floors back corner. When she inserts a key in the padlock, the door swings open to reveal thousands of books, paintings, engravings, photographs and films all, in one way or another, connected to sex.

It was the kinkiest secret in the Soviet Union: Across from the Kremlin, the countrys main library held a pornographic treasure trove. Founded by the Bolsheviks as a repository for aristocrats erotica, the collection eventually grew to house 12,000 items from around the world, ranging from 18th-century Japanese engravings to Nixon-era romance novels.

Off limits to the general public, the collection was always open to top party brass, some of whom are said to have enjoyed visiting. Today, the collection is still something of a secret. There is no complete compendium of its contents, and many items remain uncatalogued.

We chose to preserve it intact, as a relic of the era when it was created, Chestnykh said.

Chestnykh, who traverses the drafty stacks in a purple knit poncho, is the collections main keeper. She only learned of its existence in the 1990s long after joining the library in the 1980s when she was asked to help reassign its holdings to a different department.

Did its contents come as a surprise?

Yes and no, she said. There was a special collection, so I knew something pretty unusual had to be kept there.

The collections story begins in the 1920s, when the Bolsheviks turned what was once the Rumyantsev arts museum into the countrys national library. As the newly founded Lenin Library began amassing literature, it also opened a rare book department to house compromising materials, acquired primarily from the confiscated libraries of the nobility.

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Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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