Shelf Appeal is somewhat always about the real thing. The mass produced real thing perhaps. But searching out something touched itself with history is very often the ephemerist’s Achilles’ heel. Garnering much ‘it survived this long’ amazement.
But some things are very rare indeed. Or very expensive indeed. And anyway their beauty transcends the originality urge. The recent facsimile reprint of Ravilious’ High Street book is one such. And this Russian children’s book Baggage, from 1926, is another.
First reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in NY and now by our own Tate, it is available, as I type, in an art gallery bookshop near you. Now, Shelf Appeal is not so far removed from reality that I think £12.99 is an absolute bargain for a small hardback of some 12 pages. But this is a very nice thing indeed. Reproduced hardback, around the size it first appeared in and with a Russian publishers stamp on the inside cover, a translation and original version of the poem and a 2 page ‘history of’ at the back.
But it is the pictures that please most. A Google image search on the illustrator – Vladimir Lebedev – turns up a page of almost unimaginable illustration niceness (and the odd bare breast). His style is so up Shelf Appeal’s alley.
Russian children’s books of the 1920s and 1930s are often really lovely things. I have a few books about those books. The interesting propagandist political backdrop behind these books – forming young minds to be good comrades – imbues them with other readings if you want to go there. Yet it was undoubtedly their graphic greatness above all that made them much beloved of curators of the time. Quite a few museums and galleries have examples of these children’s books in their permanent collections. The style of the illustrators of the books continues to inspire a lot of contemporary illustrators too, especially Japanese ones. Although some of the inspiration is a little bit too literal, and borders on cheeky, in my opinion.
The poem by Samuil Marshak which makes up the text in this book is lovely too. Listing items of baggage stowed by a be-fured be-booted lady traveller. And the mistaken replacement of her lost ‘one cute little pooch’ with a different, much bigger, pooch. Simple pictures, simple words, yet all layered under with not so simple communist intent.