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The town of Kirillov and its district on early twentieth centure postcards

Dedicated to the 225th anniversary
of the town of Kirillov


The postcard in Russia was born on January 1, 1872. Two years later the Russian Empire became one of the co-founders of the World Post Union, which included 22 European countries that accepted a single system of mail rates and standard postcard size (9x14 centimeters). The first Russian picture postcard appeared in 1894 in Riga. That same year the right to print postcards was given to private individuals.

A picture postcard is a sheet of paper of fixed size, one side of which is a reproduction or a photograph and the other can be used for writing a letter and for placing some text commenting the picture. There are marked and unmarked postcards. At first the address side of the postcard was intended only for writing the address, but after February 1904 it is being divided in two by a vertical line: one the left of it the sender could write some message and on the right was the address, stamp and postal marks. After September 1908 the inscription «Open Letter» was changed to Postcard. The first picture postcards were printed in lithograph technique. In late 19 - early 20 century this was replaced by phototype.

The open letter became an integral part of early 20 century urban culture. Not only cities, famous for their history and architecture, but small towns and even some villages were being portrayed in a series of postcards, illustrating their past and present.

Among the latter we can name a collection of postcards showing some views of Kirillov and its district. Today it includes about a hundred photographs. For the most part they represent central streets and squares of the town itself, with some close-ups of the local Kazanski Cathedral, district seminary, certain houses of the wealthy merchants. A number of postcards is devoted to the famous Kirillo-Belozerski Monastery, situated in the town's center. Kirillov's environs are represented by the pictures of the canals of the Mariinskaya Water System and the Canal of Duke Alexander of Wurttemberg. Several postcards show the Goritski Resurrection Convent as well as villages Blagovesheniye and Tsypino.

About 50% of the postcards from the local museum collection are printed by the Book-store of M.P. Lapina. It seems that production here was well-organized and lasted for a substantial period of time. The quality of the picture, date-lines, international standard, different colors used for the address side, surcharges, second editions - all point to that. Fourteen types of postcards were made by P. Puryshev. These are also marked by high quality and had several editions. On the picture side of some of the cards one can read Christ has Risen (traditional greeting of the Feast of Easter).

Two cards showing Goritski Convent were made by the book-shop of V.A. Shuliatikova. This store, which also sold writing utensils, was located on Voskresenski Prospect in the town of Cherepovets. It occupied the ground floor of a two-story building, adjoining the Chapel of Philippo-Irapski Monastery. A public library was opened in the same building. In late 19th century the library, because of the growing number of books, was moved to Shuliatikova's own house on Sadovaya Street (now Engels Street, 26). One of the postcards, showing the Krokhinskaya Dam, was released by I.P. Shuliatikov, a relative of V. A. Shuliatikova.

In early 20 century color postcards were still a rarity. More frequent were toned ones, when instead of black brown, green or blue paint was used. One example is a view of Goritski Convent, made in Kolomenski printing-house, with the addition of some blue color.

Local entrepreneurs also showed interest in producing postcards. Four cards from the museum col¬lection were made by phototype in a small private printing-house in Kirillov, belonging to the Malkov family.

By the beginning of the 20 century it became so easy to print postcards, that any photographer, book-store owner or a charitable organization could afford to produce some (even though of not very high quality). This became quite a profitable occupation, since postcards were always and almost everywhere in demand. This determined the character of many cards - they show well-known and easily recognizable sites. Some local landmarks were reprinted dozens and dozens of times by different publishers, other editions were limited to a hundred or less. Special photographic paper with lines set for writing on the reverse side gave almost anyone an opportunity to join the postcard business-print one or several pictures and then mail them. Probably this was how views of the villages Blagovesheniye and Tsypino came to life. Among this group we can even encounter some portraits. For instance, senior clerk of the merchant Z.I. Markelov Dmitri Vissarionovich Aphonin; professor of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, a native of Tsypino, Ivan Ivanovich Brilliantov, postman Makin (?). Some materials found in the archives of Kirillov Museum indicate that it was D.V. Aphonin who made the photos for the cards showing the village Blagovesheniye and the Canal of Duke of Wurttemberg. Other photos, depicting the Iliinski church cemetery and the village Tsypino, were done by the brothers Brilliantov and, most probably, by Ivan Ivanovich Brilliantov, who, as his relations remembered, had a serious interest in photography.

Postcards made by or with the help of local photographers are usually printed on low-quality paper and do not have date-lines. These features make them a separate group. Today some fragments of these pictures are lost, but, nevertheless, their historical value is high. Often they are the only documents that bear witness to life in certain early 20 century villages, showing their inhabitants not just poising for a portrait but in the midst of everyday life: working, resting, praying.

Of special interest are those postcards, which were made in the times of important historic events: during the First World War and the Revolution. Among these we can point out a card, showing a group of activists gathered together on the porch of merchant Zaitsev's house (Village Blagovesheniye) on the day of the first anniversary of the 1917 revolution.

Studying the address side of postcards, one can find out their approximate date of production and their provenance. 32% of the museum collection belong to the Open Letter group, 6% are postcards proper, 22% have no date-line, 45% have inscriptions in two languages (Russian and French), just like the World Post Union demanded. In the majority of cases the size is also standard - 9x14 centimeters, but there are also examples of ranges from 8,7x13,7 to 9,5x14,5.

Wars and revolutions came and went, one political system replaced another... A momentary photograph, shown on a postcard, became a disinterested and reliable witness of these events, helping us better understand history as it really was.

I.A. Smirnov

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