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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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Tuesday, Oct. 21


The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organizations office.


Take the opportunity to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing office@spiba.ru before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.


Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Centers series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this months lessons being visual arts.



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