Soviet era is known for its many bizarre instances of censorship. Vanishing of the commissars may be the most famous, and you can find more in the Wikipedia. However, that’s all about photographs, and I’d like to share with you a bookbinding-related story.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (GSE) had three editions from 1926 to 1978 and the last updates to the GSE in the form of Yearbook of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia were published in 1990, just a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
They started to publish the second edition of the GSE in 1949, four years after the World War II — many additions and corrections had to be made. Not only the country, but the whole world has changed along with many intergovernmental relations. The last volume was published in 1958, five years after the death of Josef Stalin and some of his comrades.
I’d like to tell you about the fifth volume of the Encyclopedia. It went to print in September 1950, but in the end of 1953, after conviction and execution of the former Minister of Internal Affairs Lavrentiy Beria, subscribers of the GSE received several new pages with a following note.
To the Subscriber of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia
State Scientific Publishing House Great Soviet Encyclopedia recommends to decontaminate the fifth volume, pages 21, 22, 23 and 24, and the portrait pasted in between the pages 22 and 23. In exchange we provide you with new pages with a new text.
You should cut the designated pages with scissors or a razor, keeping a margin, to which new pages should be pasted on.
State Scientific Publishing House Great Soviet Encyclopedia
I love the style, how the publishing house officials offered an advice to the readers on how to proceed with simple bookbinding procedures to obscure some information not anymore considered being appropriate for a true soviet citizen. Naturally, pages 21, 22, 23 and 24 held an entry on Lavrentiy Beria, and the paste in between the pages 22 and 23 was his portrait. Accordingly, the entry on the Bering Sea received something like a ten-fold expansion with no less than four photographs.
Copies of the fifth volume with an entry on Lavrentiy Beria are considered collectibles today.