The current Library exhibition, ‘Lines of Thought’, closes on Saturday. The next exhibition will be ‘Curious Objects’, and the September Slavonic item of the month is a Russian postcard that will be among a section of items in the exhibition from the Catherine Cooke collection.
This charming card shows a postman whose satchel is full of a cascade of tiny postcards showing the sights of St. Petersburg. Above the postman are the words “Hello from”, the greeting completed by the name of the city stamped on the front of the satchel. From top to bottom are: the People’s House, the Warsaw Station, the statue of Peter the Great, the Malyi Theatre, the arch of the General Staff Building, the Mariinskii Theatre, the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, Bol’shaia Morskaia Street, the Winter Palace with the Alexander I column in front of it, and finally St Isaac’s Cathedral and Konnogvardeiskii Boulevard.
Such postcards were not uncommon in the Russian Empire. A Google image search in Russian for the terms pre-revolutionary postcard postman greetings from supplies several variations on the theme. The keen-eyed reader will spot that the last on the right is our own postman again, now moonlighting in Kislovodsk.
The St. Petersburg postcard will be displayed in a wall-mounted case in the ‘Curious Objects’ exhibition, next to a large horizontal case full of Cooke ephemera. The miniature postcards will cascade down, supported carefully from behind. What we can additionally show in this blog post, however, is the card’s verso (below). Written in a rounded but slightly challenging hand, the card is addressed to a father in Ekaterinoslav (modern-day Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine) by his son, Sergei, in St. Petersburg, the Imperial capital.
Sergei writes, on the 2nd of August 1912, that he was on parade the day before in front of the Tsar. He reports that the parade went well and the Tsar was very pleased, and that he and his company went on to a meal at the People’s House (the first of the miniature postcards) arranged by the Tsar. Sergei goes on to say that he and his companions had sailed to Peterhof today, in heavy rain, and that they were due to depart in the evening for Vilnius. He reports that he will afterwards come on to Kiev and then home to his family.
In our copy of Nicolas II’s diaries, the entry for August the 1st, 1912, refers to two inspections the Tsar made that day. The first was a four-hour parade involving 9,200 juniors from across the empire. The content of Sergei’s card and his hand suggest that he was no longer a schoolboy, so his parade will have been the Tsar’s second that day – the inspection of newly graduated officers from the gymnast/fencing school. “The results were gratifying and impressive,” writes the Tsar.
Within a few years, military parades would turn into real hostilities. A Sergei Iakovlevich Skubitskii (and we know from the address section of the postcard that his father was Iakov Skubitskii) born in Ekaterinoslav appears in a list of those who fought in the White Army during the Russian Revolution and Civil War. It is overwhelmingly likely to be the writer of our card. An ensign in the southern Russian army, Skubitskii was captured and became a prisoner of war. He was subsequently added to the Ekaterinoslav Cheka’s “special list” in 1921. No further information is given, and the internet offers nothing more up about him.
Of Catherine Cooke’s hundreds of pre-revolutionary and Soviet postcards, many have not been used but dozens have. These are, as the postcard examined above hopefully shows, particularly to be treasured. They provide fascinating insights into lives lived in usually distant and often dramatic times. It is also exciting to try to track the correspondents and their activities further; to find mention of Sergei’s parade in the Tsar’s diary has been a gratifying example.