Cool 1960s Soviet Calendars

These thick pads of pulpy newsprint propaganda are a treasure trove of graphic design

My grandmother (1901–2008) was born in Grodno, Belarus. She emigrated to the United States in 1921. She met my grandfather in Chicago when they were acting in the same play and were married in 1938. They ended up in Denver, Colorado, where they opened a motel and a barbershop.

My grandmother never learned to read English, but she had a lot of Russian books and magazines, which I liked to look at when I was a kid (for the photos and illustrations, as I couldn't read Russian). I especially liked her Soviet calendars. She had at least a dozen. I’m glad she didn’t throw them away. When she died at age 107, I got four of them. One is from 1962, another is from 1967, and two are from 1968. They’re printed on pulpy newsprint in black and red ink and are bound with a metal clip, painted black. There’s one sheet of paper for each day of the year.

The calendars remind me of a blog. Each day has little nuggets of information and entertainment: chess problems, biographies of Soviet heroes, cartoons, visions of space travel, ballet dancers, statues, tractors, etc. It’s exactly what you’d expect of mid-century Soviet propaganda. I now realize that the design and illustration of these calendars had a big influence on my taste in graphics. It could be that all my illustration, design, and publishing endeavors have been attempts to recapture the good feeling I got sitting on the floor of my grandmother’s living room studying these books.

I’ve tried searching for “Soviet calendars” online to learn more about them, but I can’t find anything about this type of calendar. Nothing shows up on eBay either. A friend who grew up in the Soviet Union at the time remembers these calendars and told me that they came in handy during frequent toilet paper shortages, so that could be the reason that not many have survived.

I posted photos of some interior pages of my grandmother’s calendars here.

Thanks for reading! The Magnet is written by Mark Frauenfelder and edited by Carla Sinclair.