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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

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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