I am most delighted to offer this page! It is 3 postcards showing spoon carvers from 1900 to 1905 in Russia.
I have enlarged them about 2x so folk could make out important details.
This came about when Norman Stevens, the spoon collector, told me of these in the Russian postcard collection of Marshall Winokur.
Marshall is a Professor Emeritus of the University of Alabama. He was most kind to get them scanned and offer them now to the rest of the world.
“Maksim Petrovich Dmitriev (1858-1948) was a master photographer who resided in Nizhnii Novgorod for most of his long life. His remarkable pictures present everyday life in Nizhnii as well as in the towns and villages along the Volga, Russia’s main river. He captured as no one before or after the great beauty of cities and towns flanking the Volga, their historical and architectural monuments and places of interest. He photographed a variety of people, the Old Believers along the Volga, craftsmen, and working people. Dmitriev called himself a photographer-ethnographer. His extraordinary work preserves an era in Russian history, architecture, and society that has, in large part, vanished.”
Marshall’s notes on the above postcard:
“Trans-Volga craftsmen. Spoon making in the village of Chernukha. (Trans-Volga refers to the location of the craftsmen who lived on the left-bank of the Volga south of Nizhnii Novgorod, the most important city along the Volga. The city hosted a celebrated annual fair, where Russian goods [cotton, woolen, linen, silk, iron, corn, tea, furs, salt, wine, fish, pottery, and manufactured goods] from all over the Russian Empire were bought and sold. The photographer and publisher is Maksim Dmitriev.)”
Note the two women with a crosscut saw, cutting birch? I used one of these cutting firewood as a boy in the 1950’s , a wonderful tool.
Marshall’s notes on the above postcard:
“The spoon market in the town of Semenov. (Semenov was located northeast of Nizhnii Novgorod. The photographer and publisher is Maksim Dmitriev.)”
my notes: I count 5 other large split-pine baskets in the above-left background – added to the three in the fore-ground – represents a lot of spoons!
Marshall’s notes on the above postcard:
“Spoon making in the village of Deyanovo. (Deyanovo was located in the Nizhnii Novgorod province. Deyanovo appears to have disappeared under the Soviet regime. The photographer and publisher is Maksim Dmitriev.”
My comments: Note the adze in use on the left. I have no idea what the 2 objects on the stump are (where the fellow is using an axe). One looks wrapped with leather, the other with a peg in its center, suggestions anyone? Note the large deep hook knife being used by the center carver.
Professor Winokur has now taken the considerable effort to translate the following text on historic Russian spoon carving. Many thanks from all spoon carvers to you sir!
Historical Information on the Creation of the Russian Spoon and Artistic Spoon
Production in Russia and in the Nizhnii Novgorod Province (Trans. from Russian)
The production of spoons and their common, everyday use dates back thousands of years. Their history is closely connected to that of mankind. The origins of the first primitive spoon can be traced to a simple, hollowed-out vessel, made with the aid of stone tools (the Stone Age). The first mention of wooden spoons occurs in the Russian Chronicles of 996 A.D., namely in the Primary Chronicle, written by the chronicler Nestor. Corroboration of this information is provided by other documents. In the book Ancient Novgorod, published in Moscow in 1985, the author states that the earliest wooden utensils were found in the archeological stratum dating back to the 10th-12th centuries (see illustration 219-a photograph of a spoon on ). In I. I. Goldin’s book, The Handsome Spoon, published by Prosveshchenie in Moscow in 1994-95, the author comments that “the beginning of the long genealogy of wooden vessels goes back 2000 years ago. This period can rightly be called the beginning of the “Wood Age.” In excavations in Kiev and Novgorod not only were remnants of wooden spoons, ladles, scoops, and other vessels discovered, dating back to the 10th-12th centuries, but also likenesses of tools made of iron, from which the vessels were made.” The beginning of the second millennium is characterized by the creation of spoon manufacturing and [hand-made] mass production. The spoon carved from ordinary wood is turned into an artistic, i.e., painted spoon. In the Primary Chronicle it says “According to Novgorod monastic entries in 996 A.D., even the “druzhinniki” (members of the prince’s armed force) were indignant when they were offered (plain) wooden spoons to eat with at the feast. And then Prince Vladimir gave the order to procure silver (=painted) spoons.” That tells us that the wooden spoon did not suit people of a higher class. Wood with gilding was quite another matter. In I. P. Golding’s book he writes that the material and shape of the tool, from which spoons were carved, points to the possibility of mass production of carved and hollowed-out vessels and most likely the origin of [spoon] craftsmanship.
Spoon production in Nizhnii Novgorod province also dates back to the end of the 10th century. In D. V. Prokop’ev’s book Artistic Trades of Gor’kii Province, published in Gor’kii in 1939, on pages 55-56 it states that “traces of paint were discovered on the linden (lime-tree) spoons, made by the Volga Bulgars, found in a grave that dates back to the end of the first millennium, i.e., to the 10th century A.D.” (Marshall’s note: In 1932, the Soviets renamed the city and province of Nizhnii Novgorod “Gor’kii” in honor of the famous Russian writer, Maksim Gorky. In 1990 the city and province reverted to their former name.) The Volga Bulgars lived in the southeast section of Nizhnii Novgorod province of the Chuvash Republic. In the 17th and 18th centuries populated areas became centers of spoon production. They were located in the following regions: Kovernin, Gorodets, Semenov, Balakhna, and Varnavin. The rise of spoon production, followed by the wide-spread development of handicrafts in the northern areas of Nizhnii Novgorod Province, can be explained by the abundance of trees. Substantial progress in spoon making occurred at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. In the ethnographic notes of the Russian historian, I. I. Usov, published in 1884, he comments that “wooden vessels and spoons purchased at the market in Gorodets have not only spread to all of Russia, Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Kirgiz steppes,” but also to Bukhara, Afghanistan, and so on. At the All-Russia Art-Industrial Exhibition held in Moscow in 1882, experts noted that the collection of wooden spoons made in Semenov were “of very high quality” and merit “full approval.” In particular, they noted that in all fairness, Nizhnii Novgorod Province was considered the center of spoon production in Russia. It was also noted that only in the Semenov district were up to four million pieces of wooden spoons made. The spoon trade achieved its greatest growth in 1912 when 18,000 people were engaged in this craft. Two hundred million spoons were produced that year. Relying on historical documents, we can draw the following conclusions:
The wooden spoon in Russia, in its everyday use, in its raw form and not painted as an artistic spoon, appeared in the Stone Age.
The spoon as an artistic craft appeared in Russia at the beginning of the eleventh century. This is confirmed historically by the very first written documents (Nestor’s Primary Chronicle). Based on this, the celebration of this event should be regarded on the same level as the government of the Russian Federation. It would make perfect sense to name this event the “one-thousandth anniversary of the creation of the artistic spoon trade in Russia.”
Historic documents confirm that the Nizhnii Novgorod province was the center of spoon production both in the past and in the present. Consequently, the province should be, by right, at the forefront of all research to be conducted.
At the present time, spoon making in Russia and in the Nizhnii Novgorod province is on the verge of being liquidated. There are practically no master carvers left, the volume of spoon production decreases every year and now in the region we only produce about 400,000 spoons a year. With the goal of reviving the craft, a class has been created to train (spoon) carvers at Semenov College.