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Other Currencies

Soviet Prison Slang and Tattoos

Sbornik zhargonnykh slov i vyrazhenii. Tatuirovki [A dictionary of slang terms and idioms. Tattoos].

Omsk: Ministerstvo vnutrennikh del SSSR, Omskaia vysshaia shkola militsii, 1979. Octavo (21 × 15.5 cm). Original blue cloth with title to spine and front board; 327 pp. Very good.

Intended for criminal investigators, this scarce handbook contains a 200-page dictionary of prison slang with nearly 8000 words and phrases and 100 images of prison tattoos across 38 pages of illustrations. The volume was printed for internal use only by the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs in Omsk (southwestern Siberia), and is unique for containing both a jargon dictionary and a visual guide for decoding tattoos, typically two separate areas of expertise. The author of this volume, Iurii Vakutin, taught at the Higher Police School in Omsk, heading its criminal investigations division in 1987-1991. He compiled the criminal jargon dictionary from similar publications dating back to the pre-revolutionary 1908 collection “Thug Music (Prison jargon)” by the Russian-Polish linguist I.A. Boduen de Courtenay, as well as many others from the Soviet period collected through interviews of prisoners all across the Soviet space ranging from Kazakhstan and Georgia to Ukraine and the Baltic States as well as Moscow.
The tattoo images included in the handbook range from simple acronyms with coded meanings to figurative drawings and intricate geometric designs. For Soviet criminologists tattoos revealed the interests of the incarcerated individual, their attitudes to life, the location and duration of their previous incarceration, the number of their convictions, criminal specialty and their place in the criminal hierarchy. More recently, curiosity about the dark and imaginative hieroglyphs of Soviet prison life spread beyond the strictly professional interest of this early handbook, with the publication of the acclaimed Russian Criminal Tattoo series (FUEL; 2004–2018) based on the similar collections of images assembled by Danzig Baldaev, a Soviet prison guard, and Arkady Bronnikov, a criminologist and ethnographer of prison tattoos. Their “visual encyclopedia of Soviet prison life” was also featured in art exhibitions in galleries of London, Berlin, and Moscow. This handbook, much like the Baldaev collection, is a scarce artifact of the inner workings of the Soviet criminological system. Copy no. 1387. Print runs were commonly manipulated, and our expert source in Russia believes that such publications were issued sequentially (rather than this being copy no. 1387 of the present edition). We cannot trace any copies in KVK or OCLC as of January 2021.

Book ID: 51149

Price: $1,250.00