Snail's Postcard Post

You Say You Want A Revolution

IMG_7888(Note the “Passed by Censor” stamp)

Published by the Bodleian Library, this book presents about fifty postcards from the Russian Revolution, from propaganda to documentary photographs, with messages from people from Russian royalty to expats. The postcards are part of the library’s collection of thousands from the historical and political postcard collector John Fraser (British, but I don’t believe he’s the British actor of the same name). Here are the cards I found most interesting:


 “The Revolutionary Outbreak in St. Petersburg.” Evidently third in a series, the photograph captures the demonstrators’ optimism before they were fired on by the Imperial Guard in the event that became known as Bloody Sunday (January 22, 1905). This postcard was sent soon after, on February 3.

IMG_7890I can’t quite make this out, but it seems to be a joke between Englishmen about trying to find the addressee in the photograph. IMG_7911“His Imperial Majesty Sovereign Emperor Nikolai Alekseevich”
It’s hard to look like a capable huntsman for your public when the stag you supposedly brought down has a luggage tag on it with your initial, and is garnished with leaves in the middle of an otherwise pristine lawn. The real hunter went on to become Hollywood’s first prop manager.  


“The Children of His Majesty The Emperor” 1908
From left to right:
Maria, age 9
Anastasia, 7
Alexei, 4
Olga, 13
Tatiana, 11

Like many people, I find it hard not to be intrigued by these children who grew up in paradoxical circumstances of sheltered luxury and severe realities, circumstances over which they had no control, but for which they died. Who were these children?

An enthusiastic student and avid reader, Olga was a very smart girl with the moodiness and hot temper that often goes along with it. In another era, it seems to me that she would have been the perfect Tsarina, the next Catherine the Great. Despite her autocratic views as a child, she displayed compassion and a desire to help others. As a young woman in WWI (from 1914 to 1917,when the Romanovs were arrested), Olga worked as a Red Cross nurse at a military hospital with her mother and Tatiana. (When the stress ultimately got to her, she became a hospital administrator.) Olga took control of her own finances at age 20, and started giving to charity. One day when she was out for a drive, she saw a child with crutches, leading her to set aside an allowance for the child’s medical treatment. By this time, the eldest Grand Duchess’ marriage prospects were of popular interest. Though rumors involved leading young men of numerous countries, Olga hoped to marry a Russian so she could remain in her own country.  

The leader of the pack, Tatiana was self-posessed, practical, easily offended by coarseness, and generally most suited to the social expectations of a princess. She was the closest with their mother, the self-centered Tsarina Alexandra, and as a young woman, was more publicly visible than her siblings, heading many committees. 

Maria was an artist with surprising physical strength. Exceedingly good natured, her sisters sometimes took advantage of her kindness. Maria was cut out for a simpler life. Flirtatious and child-loving, she dreamt of marrying a soldier and starting a big family, if only the Tsar’s daughter could do such a thing (and if only she wasn’t a carrier of the hemophilia gene).
A mischievous comedian, Anastasia was the one always getting in trouble. Unconcerned with her appearance, the impish girl usually appears a bit disheveled. She and soldier-doting Maria, not old enough to serve as nurses in WWI, were instead official hospital visitors. One wounded soldier they often visited described how Anastasia’s quick steps and her laugh like a squirrel. Her liveliness was stifled under house arrest and exile. Not that any of the family was happy, but Anastasia, 16 years-old in 1917, grew particularly despondent.
Between his status as the long awaited male heir and his hemophiliac condition, Alexei was overwhelmingly doted upon, hindering his development. The Tsarevich came into himself more as a pre-teen living at army headquarters with his father in WWI. Afterward, during the family’s exile to Siberia, he started taking reckless risks. Aware since he was little that he might not live to adulthood, perhaps the teenager figured he might as well do the things he wanted to do now, since the family didn’t even know if they’d be able to escape to England. In captivity in Siberia, the boy who’d spent his childhood followed around by bodyguards in case he tripped decided to ride a sled down the prison house stairs. His groin injury hemorrhaged, confining him to a wheelchair in the weeks before his assassination, a month shy of his fourteenth birthday.    

IMG_7894Undated. Seems like they might be a year or so older than in the previous postcard, but appearing in the same configuration. 


“5 1/2% Military Loan. Our glorious army bleeding for the motherland is fulfilling its duty. You too can fulfill your duty by subscribing to the loan.”

IMG_7897Sent from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) to Sebastopol in December 1916.
In French:

December 28–
Beautiful dear Madame,
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your beautiful letter. Vera will have given you our news, and [nausmis nosfauve nirs?] Olga, Volodia and their child speak well of them. Voldia is waiting until he has a job and a much better [mirf?] We have some good news from Gino who we just visited only one month ago. But also I’m going to go to ________ under __________ and the next. The house is going to be a bit empty. I embrace you from my heart. Your [Johannes?]

Please comment if you can give a better translation! The book says, “the sender reveals that he himself is about to leave for the front,” which may explain the “I’m going to go to ______” line.

IMG_7899“Military 5 1/2% Loan”

Caption: “The soldiers at the front are dauntlessly holding the line against the enemy. Take part in this united action and subscribe to the loan.”

The day after the Tsar’s abdication, this writer breaks the news via postcard. (The dates are by the old calendar.)

In French:
March 4
Today we have learned that our Emperor has abdicated from the throne. On the night of 2-3 March Goutskov [Guchkov] and Choulguin [Shulgin] went to Pskov on behalf of the council of the Duma to submit the wish of the Provisional Government to him. He signed a paper which had already been prepared.”

IMG_7904“Governor’s House, Tobolsk”

The Romanovs were under house arrest here from August 1917 till April 1918 when they were exiled to Siberia. Still permitted to send and receive letters, Olga, the eldest daughter, wrote to one Peter Sergeivich Tolstoy in Odessa.

November 2, 1917
I send you my warmest thanks for your message and your good memories, O.


Russian troops defending a train


“American Army landing at Vladivostock” 64307-004-D304C7F6

“Following the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent peace agreement between the Bolsheviks and Imperial Germany, a number of the Allied powers sent troops to Russia, ostensibly to prevent the vast quantities of supplies that they had sent to support Russia’s war effort from falling into German hands. The Americans, who sent a force of over 7,000 men to Siberia, also hoped to rescue the troops of the Czechoslovak Legions who were using the Trans-Siberian Railway to reach Vladivostock, and then, it was hoped, go on to fight on the Western Front…”

The first American troops disembarked at Vladivostock between 15 and 21 August 1918, and the force remained in Siberia until April 1920…”

I liked the culture clash of this photograph. Further, the caption on the front is in English and Chinese, and the back says “postcard” in French and Japanese.IMG_7906“Lenin Chats with the English Writer H.G. Wells in his Study in the Kremlin, Moscow, October 1920”

“Wells visited Russia for two weeks in the autumn of 1920 and wrote up his experiences in a book called Russia in the Shadows,published the same year. A believer in evolutionary socialism, Wells was unsympathetic towards Marxism, but thought that the Bolsheviks, in spite of their fanaticism, were honest and might well succeed in their aim of revitalizing Russia.”


“Dispensing food to the hungry. A slice of bread is treasured more than you treasure a Sunday dinner” The side of the car says, “Feeding Train no. 3. Kitchen.”

In an often forgotten paragraph of the Russian Civil War, the American Relief Administration, headed by future president Herbert Hoover, brought food by train to masses of starving Russians. Hoover asserted that, “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics they shall be fed.”

This postcard was produced not by the American Relief Administration but by a similar and yet quite different organization, The Friends of Soviet Russia. With a workers solidarity view, the FSR appealed to American laborers to donate money in support of Russia’s working people. IMG_7908
Hope you ate this up!






This entry was published on June 25, 2014 at 3:13 pm. It’s filed under Historical and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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