I’ve written about !Productive Arts! a lot on Daily Heller. It is the amazing antiquarian bookselling team of Howard Garfinkel and Larry Zeman. Their ability to find rarities from the Soviet Union and affinities is enviable. Recently, I was given a peek at their collection of Soviet-era cigarette packages. The designs speak volumes about how “commercial” products were used in the service of ideology and state. I asked Garfinkel to tell us a bit about the material.
How did you find this collection of cigarette packages?
We travel to Russia and always look for exciting commercial design ephemera from the 1920s–’30s. Soviet-era cigarette boxes are hard to find, especially so when intact and in good condition. These boxes came to us mostly one or a few at a time here and there over the years. In assembling this larger group, we have been very discerning of the graphic, the brand association and the condition.
What is the time span?
Only a few have the year shown on the box. Some date back to the early 1920s. Most are from the 1930s. There is a Sputnik box from the late 1950s.
Were these produced through a Soviet agency or official entity?
The boxes were produced at state-owned tobacco factories (for example, “Glavtabac” or the State Tobacco Trust). Two of the boxes were produced by the “Trotsky” factory (1920s).
The graphics are fascinating. Some are very propagandistic. What appeals to your senses as collectors and documentarians?
The boxes are from all over the former Soviet Union … Moscow, Leningrad, Rostov-On Don, Odessa, Kerch, Kiev, Tbilisi, Kharkov, Sukhumi. We are intrigued by the diversity of the brands—Moscow Metro, Mosselprom, May 1, a brand purported to be Stalin’s personal favorite, the 1923 All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, Northern Palmyra, Revolutionary Youth, etc.
Are any of the brands still for sale?
Yes, to our knowledge, a few of the brands survive to this day!
These are for sale—so what are the terms?
There are 58 boxes in the collection, which is for sale only as a collection. The price is $9,500.
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