Early Color Photos of Russia

I don’t know about you, but I always tend to think about the world prior World War II as being in black and white. Buildings, landscapes and clothing only came in two flavors: light and dark. That’s why it’s so stunning to come across early color photos that show a world every bit a brilliant as our own. These were shot in Czarist Russia just prior to World War I by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who traveled the huge Russian Empire from one end to the other documenting its art, architecture, geography and people. One interesting aspect of his work is the surprising ethnic diversity of the Russian Empire of the time.

Prokudin-Gorskii used an ingenious process to capture the images in color that involved photographing his subjects three times in rapid succession through different-colored filters. They were meant to be displayed by a projector using similar filters.

The not-exactly true color images that resulted often had an amazing fairy tale quality.

You can browse Prokudin-Gorskii’s work and learn more about him and his photographic process at the Library of Congress.

Original fragments of the Star Spangled Banner Going Up For Auction

I got this press release the other day and I am not sure how I feel about this. It seems like they should be reunited with the flag or something. Here is the release. You can be the judge.

Two superbly documented fragments of the original Star Spangled Banner, the most iconic of all American symbols, expected to bring $60,000+ in June 21 Arms & Militaria auction in Dallas

DALLAS, TX – Two superbly documented fragments of the original Star Spangled Banner, which inspired America’s national anthem in 1814 as it flew in defiance of the British over Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, MD, and were later in the collection of a Philadelphia museum, are expected to bring $60,000+ when they come up for bid as part of Heritage Auctions’ June 21 Arms & Militaria auction.

It is the first time in modern auction history, to the knowledge of Heritage specialists, that any fragments of the flag have appeared in a public auction.

“There is no American symbol more potent than our flag,” said Dennis Lowe, Director of Arms & Militaria at Heritage, “and there is no version of our flag more important than the Star Spangled Banner. These fragments are a part of our collective history, and should be valued as such by serious collectors of Americana.”

The history of these amazing fragments, coming to auction from a high-end collector who has owned them for the last 30 years, is rock solid and indisputable. It’s common knowledge that the flag, which was commissioned in Baltimore by Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead in 1814, went home with him after the battle, where it stayed for the remainder of his life, passing to his wife upon his death and subsequently to, first, Armistead’s daughter and then to his son, who loaned it to the Smithsonian in 1907. In 1910 the gift was made permanent.

“When the Smithsonian got the flag and compared it to the original specs, they found that a full eight feet of the flag was missing on the fly end,” said Lowe. “The family had, over the years, snipped off pieces of the flag as souvenirs to give friends, family and visitors. That accounts for these fragments and the diminished size of the flag.”

The current fragments were donated in 1914 to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Museum in Philadelphia – a treasury of the holdings of that patriotic order organized just after Lincoln’s death in April 1865 by Union military officers who fought in the Civil War – by former Union officer, author and all-around Renaissance man John Heysinger, whose clean script details the fragments on the manuscript mount.

“These tattered and torn fragments are a part of the flag which flew on Fort McHenry on the night of September 12th 1812,” wrote Heysinger, in part, of the battle which actually occurred on Sept. 14, 1814. “The above pieces are positively a portion of that precious relic. The flag is now in the National Museum Washington D.C.”

Also accompanying the pieces is a booklet, printed in 1914 in Philadelphia by John Wanamaker, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle, in which are pictured these exact flag fragments, with the caption stating “A portion of the very Star Spangled Banner that inspired that song. A photographic reproduction of portions of the original Fort McHenry flag now in the possession of the Ridgway Library, Philadelphia.”

Further documentation on the provenance of the piece comes from an accompanying letter, dated April 4, 1969, from Smithsonian Institution representative Donald E. Kloster, to the Union League of Philadelphia, where many of the Loyal Legion artifacts were stored and displayed, concerning these fragments.

“We’ve had consultation from the most respected and well-known flag experts in the country,” said Lowe. “They all agree that this is unquestionably authentic.”

All of this does, however, beg the question: If the family gave away so many snips of the flag, shouldn’t there then be numerous other pieces of it to have surfaced from libraries, attics and bookshelves across the nation?

“I would certainly imagine that was the case at one point,” said Lowe, “but it’s likely that people have no idea what they have or had. For anyone that got fragments themselves, in person, from the Armistead family, there was no need to document it absolutely. They knew just what they had and probably threw it in a drawer or a book to take out occasionally to show friends. I would imagine many of the fragments simply got lost or thrown out by people who had no idea what it was they had.”

“That said, there must be some that survive somewhere,” said Lowe, “it’s just that no one knows where they are.”

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $700 million, and 600,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.

The Unknown War: WWII And The Epic Battles Of The Russian Front on DVD

I grew up watching lots of TV documentaries about World War II. Of course most of those were about the US and UK and their successes and failures. You would always here about the sacrifices of the Soviets, but no one had released a documentary that detailed for those of us outside of the Soviet sphere of influence until the late 1970s. That is when The Unknown War: WWII And The Epic Battles Of The Russian Front was first released but sadly as soon as it was released it quickly disappeared from US TV screens. Why?

Probably because we were still at the height of the cold war and the documentary is sympathetic to the Soviets role in World War II (and maybe it had something to do with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?) It is sad because this epic documentary had some interesting footage and reveals a history that is largely glassed over in the American classroom.

It took a while, but the Cold War ended and now Shout! Factory has re-released The Unknown War: WWII And the Epic Battles of the Russian Front in all of its epic 20-part documentary glory on DVD for the first time. Each episode of the series is between 50-52 minutes long and is narrated by the legendary Burt Lancaster. The footage, which is mostly Soviet, was edited from over 3.5 million feet of film taken by Soviet cameramen between June 1941 and May 1945.

The series like all biased documentaries does gloss over some Soviet indiscretions. So it is decidedly Soviet in perspective, but that actually makes it more interesting to watch for me as I try to spot the omissions and pull a balanced perspective all the while entranced by footage of an all too familiar War that I have never seen before.

World War II was an important event in modern history — a defining moment for all the countries who were sucked into it. It is important to recognize the sacrifice of soldiers who fought as our allies even if for years afterwards they became our enemies. Without their participation in this titanic struggle against fascism, who know how the WWII would have turned out. If this sort of stuff interests, or you know a World War II buff, why not check out The Unknown War: WWII And The Epic Battles Of The Russian Front. I think you will be glad you did.