Products from the former Soviet Union

New York's Kiosk Gallery has a show on of products from Soviet state-stores. Stark, poorly made, and mass-produced, there's something romantic about these unlovable lumps.
Once Russia turned capitalist in the early 1990s, it was only a matter of time before “the weeds” got cleared out. Presently, most Soviet products are extinct, or at least endangered; perhaps they still could be found on flea markets, or far in the provinces. We picked them at random during our early visits to Russia, driven, in part, by collectors’ instinct, in part – by a desire to amuse our American design colleagues.

Today, these products may still amuse someone, but their unpretentious simplicity can also teach us a few design lessons. Eventually, they will pass into the realm of historical artifacts. In November 2008, part of our collection has been presented in a small exhibition at KIOSK Gallery in New York City. A few highlights are shown below.

Extinct: Products from the Soviet State Store (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. I was wondering what is the ‘Kazbek’ product in the lower right, does anyone know?

    There is still a beer in Georgia (Republic of) with the name Kazbegh (a mountain in the Caucasus range) and the writing above seems to imitate the Georgian alphabet.

  2. Kazbeks were a type of cigarette. They were two thirds of which were a cardboard tube the remaining third was tobacco encased in thin paper like an ordinary cigarette.

    So you had all the length of a real cigarette, but only a fraction of the smoking material. Ah the economics of scarcity.

  3. For those interested in industrial design in former Eastern Bloc states, Taschen published a book called SED by Georg C Bertsch & Ernst Hedler with ISBN 3822804037. It’s a compendium of photos of products made in the former DDR.

  4. Hmmm…that referenced blog post must be one of the most poorly made online promotions for any kind of exhibition…unless of course that exhibition would be as pointless as that collection of pictures suggests.

    Isn’t “poorly made, and mass-produced” applicable to most consumer products in the global economy?

  5. I have a soviet era chess clock that I love to use – it doesn’t have the polish of a contemporary North American or European product, but it is built like the proverbial tank and will withstand almost any abuse.
    oh ghod, I hear the proverbial tanks coming…

  6. Stuff from Russia usually lasts forever. I have a set of titanium screw drivers and hammers from Russia that still work as well as they did when my grandfather bought them for the equivalent of five US dollars.

  7. I bought a pack of those Kazbek cigarettes in the early ’80s because I loved the package. The description above is correct except I’d add that the flammable material was not conclusively identified as tobacco when I smoked one. It could have been pretty much anything that would burn.

    I use Russian vacuum tubes all the time in stereo and guitar amplifiers. Particularly prized is the GM70 power triode, made during the Soviet era. They’ll run at a highly dangerous 1,400 volts, glow bright yellow and produce amazing sound in an audio amp.

  8. Thanks for the information Ross. I did own a pack of these once, but I never managed to work up the courage to actually smoke one.

  9. In NYC there’s always some guy at flea markets selling Soviet era wares. In fact I grew up in Brighton Beach (in Brooklyn, NY) and in the early 1990s one of the first “dollar” stores was an amazing place that sold true quality close-outs… And TONS of Soviet era stuff. I bought a few things and still have a toy tank.

    Also in the late 1990s, American Science and Surplus had Soviet era knock-offs of erector sets for sale. The quality was quite good. Bought two but sold them to a collector a few years back.

  10. Six years ago I bought two Zenit model 122 35mm SLR’s in a second hand shop for a few bucks.

    I still use them.

    Primitive, heavy, noisy *skla-klunk!* but nice optics, and they will most likely still be around when the 35mm format finally expires…

  11. Well, when they say “poorly made” they forget, that most of this stuff was made in 70s and 80s. If you look at european and american mass produced goods of the period the quality will not be that much better. And as it was already mentioned here most of this stuff is made to survive a nuclear blast :)

    To all those people who own Kazbek. DO NOT SMOKE IT! Yes, there is tobacco in this product, but it is of extremely poor grade and mixed with all sorts of stuff that you do not want to know about. lets just say heavy metals and stop there.

  12. Just a correction on KIOSK (it’s my wife’s) – it’s not technically a gallery. It’s really a store, but I guess people feel we are too artsy fartsy… And, don’t come for the russian show — it was over yesterday… But more shows are coming up – tonight we open our Uglycute mini-exhibition for example. If you are in NY, come by for a beer, nice people and some awesome furniture.

  13. I bought a pack of Kazbeks in the late ’80s just for the sheer novelty. The college kid who sold them to me gave a wicked grin and said “they’re mostly tobacco.” Fired one up anyway~ tasted like mattress stuffing cut with floor sweepings. Took a pitcher of beer to wash out the ‘flavor’.
    They had the cardboard tube part then, too.

  14. I’d be up for giving the Kazbeks a go, as I had a packet of Belomorkanal and loved them. Just the best bit of the cigarette, the bit when you first spark it up. They’re finished before you can get bored of them. I’ll have to see if I can get some more fetched over.

  15. We have that toy! Ours is red and has dark hair. My SIL is Russian and she gave it to our daughter for Christmas about 6 years ago. My girls loved it when they were babies. It’s weighted and has bells inside, and they would push it across the floor and scoot after it.

  16. i had one of these dolls when i was four… the one on the picture looks exactly the same as mine! i gotta find mine… if it wasn’t thrown away…

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