Many people associate Special Collections with old, rare books. Some know that they don’t have to be old to qualify, but still expect to see books here. I, however, never know what I’ll find in our collection: money, statuettes, novelty bookmarks, or records of Soviet disco from 1980s. They are usually referred to as “ephemera” (or “realia” if you are a cataloger). Because I process most of the Russian materials in Special Collections, and some things still scare me as a cataloger, they wait on special shelves in the uncataloged section of our stacks. This is not to say that they are forgotten. Anyone I have ever talked to about the de Saint-Rat collection probably heard me boast about the anarchist funeral ribbon.
The ribbon reads: “To the dear comrade, fallen for the idea of Anarchism, from comrades of the 1st Nezhinskii detachment.” It is torn at the edges and almost looks like it has burn marks. It was possibly used at a funeral of one of Makhno’s anarchist soldiers in 1919 in Nizhyn, Ukraine, though I wasn’t able to find any information about that particular detachment. Makhno, the leader of the Ukrainian anarchist movement, was of equally negative opinion of Bolsheviks, the White (Imperial) army, and the Provisional Government. Though he didn’t completely agree with the new Soviet regime, he fought on its side during the civil war. However, he grew increasingly unhappy with the Soviet politics and finally broke his alliance.
There are other interesting objects in the collection, as well. They are all fascinating, unexpected, and inspire speculation about their histories and provenance.
Head, Cataloging & Processing