Igrushka gor'kovskogo kraia [Toys of the Gorky Region].

Gor'kii: Gor'kovskoe kraevoe izdatel'stvo, 1934. Octavo (20 × 14 cm). Original decorative paper-covered boards, with decorative endpapers; 85, [3] pp. With four leaves of chromolithograph illustrations and numerous black and white illustrations throughout. Light soil to spine; else very good. Item #5895

This history of the handcrafted toy industry of the Gorky region (today and historically Nizhny Novgorod) is an attempt to rebrand and thereby save a centuries-old handicraft tradition in the Soviet context. Prior to mass industrialization most toys in the Russian empire were made by kustari (handicraftsman), and several regions in the empire were especially famous for their handcrafted toy traditions. The author celebrates the age-old tradition but also critiques the kustari of the Gorky region for their tendency to reflect the social structure and class divides, making toys that represented luxury items (furnishing and tea sets), and dolls of the gentry rather than the peasant workers. The book calls for the toymakers of the region to reflect contemporary reality in making more contemporary toys, all manner of machines, tractors, pulleys as well as simple blocks that teach children to build. Dolls are also critiqued for having the wrong physique, “incapable of modern labor.” The ample illustrations in this volume show the transition form old to new subjects of the handcrafted toy.

Handcrafted industries had a mixed reception in the early Soviet period. Much like factory workers, kustri worked in production groupings, each making a different piece or performing a different function that was later assembled into a whole. Because of this group assembly method kustari were held up as exemplars of group production in contrast to the artisans, who worked entirely on their own. The New Economic Policy helped expand the kustari as producers. According to Roger Pethybridge: “At the apogee of their power, in 1929, the kustri comprised roughly 4,500,500 people” (The Social Prelude to Stalinism, 1974). Because of this association with NEP handcrafted industries were branded as anti-Soviet in the 1930s and their production decreased steeply. This appears to be the only book by Maria Iakubovskaia (1902-?), who was arrested for anti-Soviet activities in 1938 and sentenced to five years of hard labor, released in 1943.

KVK and OCLC show copies at UCL, Victoria and Albert Museum, Harvard, Yale, Cleveland, Michigan, and Urbana Champaign.

Price: €575.00