5½% War Loan. Russian WWI Propaganda Postcards, 1914-1916.

5½% War Loan. Russian WWI Propaganda Postcards, 1914-1916.

We all know that propaganda was a part of WWI in Russia, and posters and postcards were among the most popular forms of it. An example of this is a fantastic postcard series, 5½% War Loan of 1916, popular among collectors due to its high artistic quality and rarity. 

War has traditionally required a lot of money. In 1914, Russian military spending amounted to 1.6 billion rubles, and one year later, in 1915, 9 billion. At the usual source for loans, the foreign market, it was impossible to get these amounts. The collateral for loans given by the Imperial Russian government was gold (from the gold reserves), but the funds could not cover even a quarter of those costs. The situation was terrible; the international money market went into total disorder, and trade plummeted. Under those circumstances, the country's central bank was forced to raise money for the war in any way possible.

In 1916, the Russian government created two issues of the War Loan to cover the military. In the same year, due to increased military spending under the same conditions as the previous loan, they released a second issue of the War Loan at 3 billion rubles. It became clear that interest income on loans was virtually zero under growing inflation. Citizens of the Russian Empire gave money to the state, in fact, free of charge. The main impetus-patriotism - an essential indicator of the moral condition of a country at war, even farmers from distant villages invested.

Until 1916 a subscription campaign for loans was carried out with the help of text ads in newspapers and on street kiosks. In 1916, the State Bank solved this problem using the experience of foreign countries that were Russia's allies, where the poster and postcard propaganda was so popular.

The State Bank's 1916 report clearly states that they "have printed a large number (more than one million for each loan) of colorful posters." Thus, the total circulation of the posters in 1916 and the beginning of 1917 exceeded 2 million pieces. The total circulation of the postcards is unknown.

 Deltiologists are familiar with the complete set of twenty-seven postcards, including different variations by publishers. Many talented artists, including those closely associated with the State Bank Department of State Securities (engaged in the production of banknotes and securities in the Russian Empire), created artworks for the War Loan postcards and posters.

The figure of Richard Germanovich Zarrin (1869-1939), designer of Russian banknotes, stamps, and posters, stands out among collectors. He was a native of the town Knegali in Livonia (Latvian spelling of his last name - Zarins). After graduating from the German School in Dvinsk (now Daugavpils), he enrolled in the Central School of Technical Drawing in St. Petersburg, where he studied from 1887 to 1895. This educational institution was created by the first money manager of the State Bank, Baron Alexander von Stieglitz. Here the artist received excellent training, supplemented by internships in private engraving workshops in Munich (1896) and the studio of the etcher B. Unger in Vienna (1897-1898).

In 1899 Zarrin started working as an artist in the engraving and art department of Expedition Harvested Government Securities and soon became a senior assistant in the artistic and technical department. He helped the artist G. I. Frank who was invited to Expedition from Vienna.

In 1905, Zarrin became technical director of Expedition. During 1908-1909, he made sketches of state bank notes for 100-ruble (sample 1910) and 500-ruble (sample 1912) denominations, which Nicholas II approved. The artist was also engaged in book design and illustration for magazines, stamps, and posters.

By order of the Provisional Government, Zarrin produced a sketch of a postage stamp, "Russian Liberation," already released under the new government in 1918 and known as the first Soviet stamp. In the spring of 1919, he returned to Latvia, becoming one of the first Latvian ex-libris artists. He created mostly etchings (mainly on folklore and historical subjects), drawings, colored lithographs, and watercolors. From 1919-1933 Zarrin was a manager of typography in Riga, teaching at the Art Academy of Latvia (1919-1936), where he led a workshop in graphics and received the academic rank of professor in 1934. During this time (1921), he designed a national emblem for the Latvian government.

Zarrin was the author of at least four War Loan posters and postcards. One of these postcards depicts a knight raising the fighters in an attack. The inscription on the postcard leaves no choice: "Who does not reflect the enemy with his chest must buy the War Loan." On the other postcard - a mechanic grinds an artillery shell and reads the laconic inscription: "Patriotic and Profitable!" There are two other postcards in the same style – one showing a heroic helmet and a sword, the second showing a symbol of the Russian Empire, the double-headed eagle with ribbons.

Alfred R. Eberling (1871-1951) was also invited to design some posters and postcards. Born in the Polish town of Zgierz, he received his artistic education at the Higher Art School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1899-1900). After this, he trained with the famous German artist F. Lenbach in Munich. Eberling spent most of his life in St.Petersburg. In 1924-1925, he completed a portrait of Lenin, later engraved on a series of gold coins in 1937. Eberling was the author of the postcard with an image of combat aircraft and carried the inscription: "Sign up for the War Loan - Make Your Way to the Victory."

Efim Cheptsov (1874-1950), working in the Soviet era, was the author of a spectacular postcard with an image of the military preparing a canon in the background.

Postcards were also done in the realistic style, much like Cheptsov, by Ivan Vladimirov, Gregory Semenov, Sigizmund Vidberg, Michael Olkone, and Vladimir Varzhanskiy.

At that time, there were also postcards created in the national-romantic style, such as the one designed by Jankowsky depicting St. George striking a snake. Another postcard by Alexey Maksimov designed in a similar style shows a hero on a horse with a banner in his hands on which appears a double-headed eagle.

The War Loan postcards, due to their high artistic level, won the love of many people. In 1917, The Department of Posts and Telegraphs released a series of non-postal stamps carried by posters and postcards on the same subjects. The Petrograd conductors used the stamps in place of small change for travel on trams.

It is difficult to say how much those posters and postcards influenced the success of the loan (revenue for the first issue was 1.5 billion, and for the second - 1.6 billion rubles). At least the series provides the best examples of foreign postcards and poster propaganda during WWI.

 We know that some of the postcards were reproduced in France and Japan. The French liked the image of the mechanic R. Zarrin, and Japan produced «Russian Hero on a Horse» by A. Maximov, which was perhaps evocative of samurai to them.