In the Soviet Union, books were published in millions of copies. A bookcase is an indispensable attribute of the interior of a Soviet apartment. Books were expensive; the book was collectible and prestigious. Not all publications are appreciated in our time. What books are in demand among bibliophiles today and which USSR books are the most expensive: how much do they cost today?
The most banned books are the most expensive
1. The first lifetime editions of famous authors are highly appreciated. Books whose authors were repressed or persecuted by the Soviet regime are of high value. Intravital editions of the works of Leo Trotsky are very expensive. For example, the first edition of 1918 «October Revolution» is sold in a second-hand online store for 300 thousand rubles. Volume VII of the collected works «Political Silhouettes» (1926) is sold for 65 thousand rubles.Such a high cost is due to the fact that Trotsky’s books were actively destroyed in the 30s. They were taken out of the libraries, and people were even afraid to keep them at home: for storing Trotsky’s book in his home library, the owner could be imprisoned for an impressive period or even shot.
2. The books of Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rakovsky and other repressed leaders are also highly valued in the art market. They have a high price for rarity and fall on the Russian market mainly from abroad. For example, most of the editions of Rakovsky’s works are sold by the heirs of the Frenchman Marcel Béquié, a collector of revolutionary literature. Few copies come to the market from library storage facilities.
3. The books that were published under the Soviet regime are expensive, but then, for various reasons, were banned. The book by G. Vyatkin «Altai Tales» of 1926 was of interest at that time, since it was the first collection of fairy tales of the peoples of Altai. Today the book is a bibliographic rarity, as both the author and artist Gurkin were repressed and shot. «Altai tales» are offered for sale for 36 thousand rubles. John Reid «10 Days That Shook the World» has been published many times in the USSR. But publications until 1940 were on the banned list, as they contained photographs of Trotsky and other repressed politicians. Therefore, books released before the war are estimated at 20-30 thousand rubles.
4. From prose and poetry, publications that have survived to our time in single copies are highly valued. For example, a set of the newspaper of the Petrograd futurists «The Art of the Commune» for 1918 sold for 180 thousand rubles. The newspaper first published many poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Elena Guro, articles by Marc Chagall, Victor Shklovsky, Osip Brik and many other prominent personalities of the early XX century.
5. In Soviet times, the lifetime editions of Nikolai Gumilyov, a poet who was shot in 1921, are highly valued. The cost of collections can start from 20 thousand rubles. But his books are rarely sold, because they are part of the bibliographic value.
6. The first lifetime editions of Silver Age poets, futurists, symbolists also arouse the interest of collectors. A high price can be offered for books published in small publishing houses in small runs.
7. Some private publishing houses survived the last days under Soviet rule. For example, «Hyperborea» ceased to exist in 1918, «Musaget» — in 1917. Over the years of its existence, only 44 books were published in it, and the maximum circulation did not exceed three thousand copies. Therefore, some books of this publishing house, especially the books of 1917, are part of a bibliographic rarity. Symbolist publishing house «Alkonost» existed from 1918 to 1923. Its books are rarely seen on sale. The books of the «Dom na Pesochnoy» («The house on the Pesochnaya Street») publishing house (the former «Zhuravl» («Crane») publishing house) are unique; it also survived until 1918.
How much does the most expensive book published in the Land of Soviets cost? The most expensive book published in the USSR was the publication by Alexei Kruchenykh «Zamaul 4» (Baku. 1920). It was sold at Sotheby’s auction for 105 thousand dollars. The book is only in the second hundred of the most expensive books in the world. But it received the prize «Auction Surprise». The fact is that its initial cost was 7 thousand dollars.
Preservation of the book is the key to its high cost
The better the book looks, the higher its cost. Preservation depends not only on storage from previous owners, but also on the printing house that published the book. Expensive pre-revolutionary publications were issued on expensive tissue paper. After the revolution, many publishing houses could not afford such luxury and used cheap paper, that is why, books were issued in softcover.
It’s a paradox, but books that are 150 years old look better than books printed a century ago. On paper of poor quality, «fox spots» (foxing, red-brown stains of various sizes) appear more quickly. It is not completely clear what determines the appearance of foxings: either from humidity in the room where the folios are stored, or from iron salts. But on poor quality paper, fox spots appear faster. Foxings lower book value.
Also, the price is significantly affected by the presence of stamps, marks, dirt, abrasions, loss or tear of the spine, frontispiece, and pages. Such defects can reduce the cost of the book dozens of times!
And vice versa, if an antique book has excellent preservation, it is richly illustrated, has a beautiful appearance – its value increases every year. This is especially true of books that were published in the early years of Soviet power.
The partnership of R. Golike and A. Vilborg was engaged in book publishing until 1918. Usually, books were stylized as 19th century editions. The roots were decorated with bandages, gold lettering. Books were printed on expensive paper and decorated with vignettes and other printing delights.
In the first years after the revolution, such a publishing house could exist for very short period of time, but now the books of Golike and Vilborg have a good value. For example, «Eugene Onegin» by Pushkin, published in 1918 in a luxurious grape cover, is sold in one of the second-hand online stores for 50 thousand rubles.
«Old Landed Estates in Kharkov Province» by Lukomsky is offered for 70 thousand. The book has 116 illustrations; its high cost is largely due to the fact that it was released in 1917, when the world of estates was finally destroyed.
The Soviet Children’s Books
How much does the book for children cost? View ads, prices will impress you. The lifetime edition of «What is good and what is bad?» by V. Mayakovsky issued in 1925 is sold for 350 thousand rubles. The first publication of «Moidodyr» by Chukovsky (1923) at one of the auctions of the Literary Fund in 2016 was offered for 80 thousand rubles.
But «Moydodyr» was not sold, and Mayakovsky also did not find a buyer. And here is «The House That Jack Built» by S. Marshal – the first edition of the famous book was sold at auction for 100 thousand rubles. The initial price was 30 thousand. Boris Pasternak’s book «Carousel» went for 300 thousand, «Radio-tale» by Lev Nikulin – for 80 thousand rubles.
Books for children relatively recently began to be in demand. Rare editions until 1940 are valued in good condition with illustrations, preferably in binding. If this is a rare edition that was released in the provinces in a small print run, then it makes sense to keep it as a rarity.
Thus, at the auction of the Literary Fund, the book «Doggie-Golden Nose» (1925), written by Voinov, was sold for 32 thousand rubles. The book «Chinese family house» written by S. Vazy (1925) was sold for 80 thousand rubles. Neither one nor the second book has ever been reprinted, so they have such a cost.
Books for children were published in large quantities, and they are now being auctioned, but, as a rule, half of the lots are not for sale, since there is no demand. But the value of rarity is growing every year. And in the future, a little book for children will increase in price.
But the stable demand for primers and textbooks with portraits of leaders. The price of the primer issued in 1937 can start from 15 thousand rubles, post-war primers with portraits of Stalin and Kaganovich cost from 7-8 thousand.
If a lot of money is being asked for a book put up for sale, this is not an indication that it will be bought right away. A publication may wait several years for its customer.
Book collectors and second-hand bookers say that now is not the best period for selling books, especially books of the Soviet period. Bibliophiles in Russia are a narrow circle of people, many of whom collect books on topics. Someone is interested in military subjects, and someone collects books decorated in the same style.
The book is bought not only by collectors, but also by enterprises. For example, the book «Sausages and Smoked Meat» with photographs (1937) was bought for 300 thousand rubles by one of the manufacturers of sausages.
What books published in the USSR can be of value:
- The book is over 50 years old; it is in good condition, released on quality paper in a small print run or at a little-known publishing house. Well, if the publication has illustrations.
- The presence of expensive binding, gold stamping on the roots, color illustrations, chromolithographic and woodcut screensavers. If the book is a masterpiece of printing art — it will be expensive.
- Photo albums, almanacs, catalogs. Even if today these publications are of no interest to anyone, in the future they can be sold for a serious price.
- Unusual topics: Olympic Games, local history, mountaineering, water supply, etc.
- Notes. Books on musical subjects.
- Complete works of classics published before 1959.
A good book should be kept in appropriate conditions. It should not wait for better times in boxes in the country, because a book will become damp and lose its appearance. The best place to store folios is in a closed bookcase, away from sunlight and damp.