Nearly all Soviet banknotes since mid-1920s were designed by an artist Ivan Dubasov. Thanks to his talent, the Soviet money became so unique and recognizable. He worked in Goznak, an entity that created banknotes, coins, stamps and medals, for almost half a century, including four decades as the chief artist.
A brush and a rifle
Ivan Dubasov was born in the town of Odintsovo near Moscow in 1897. His father served as an assistant inspector at the Moscow Chamber of Control, but he drew caricatures for various magazines in his free time, so we can say that Ivan inherited his talent.
In 1908, Ivan’s parents sent him to the Imperial Stroganov College of Arts and Industry (now the Moscow State Academy of Arts and Industry) to study decorative and applied arts. In 1915, Dubasov was awarded the first-degree diploma and the title of an academic draughtsman, similar to a drawing teacher nowadays.
The young artist was searching for a job as a teacher at some private grammar school, but the World War I and the Revolution interfered with his plans. Until 1922, Dubasov served first in the Tsarist troops, and then in the Red Army, where his talent was recognized and he was assigned with cultural and educational tasks. As Dubasov himself noted, he changed his brush for a rifle “only in disturbing moments when the gangs of Father Makhno were approaching.” In 1922, the artist was released from service for health reasons and returned to Moscow.
The sketch of the Revolution
In 1922, Dubasov decided to take part in the contest by the People’s Commissariat of Posts and Telegraphs for the best sketch of a postage stamp dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution. He depicted a worker carving the inscription “RSFSR. 1917-1922” on a stone slab. The artist could not afford to buy paints and ink, so he used manganese solution found in his father’s medicine cabinet, and persuaded his neighbor to work as a model. Despite the difficulties, his sketch received the first prize, and the anniversary stamp sold thousands of copies across the country.
Dubasov created more than 150 stamps in his career. One of the most interesting pieces was the “mourning” stamp in memory of Vladimir Lenin. The sketch was executed in just one evening. Thanks to such speed, the stamp was printed and delivered to the Central Telegraph for sale on the day and hour of Lenin’s funeral — at 16 o’clock on January 27, 1924.
Dubasov himself said that his best works were stamp series with portraits of Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky, as well as the ethnographic series “Peoples of the USSR” created in 1933 together with other artists.
Drawings of national importance
In 1922, the talented artist was invited to work in Goznak. At first, Dubasov was an engraver, then a compositor of drawings, a senior artist, and from 1932 until his retirement in 1971, he held the position of the chief artist.
One of his landmark projects was participation in the design of the state emblem of the Soviet Union. Dubasov was the one who added the slogan “Workers of the world, unite!” to the nearly completed project by Vladimir Adrianov and Vsevolod Korzun. The inscription was placed on the ribbon that wraps the bundles of ears that enframe the globe with a hammer and sickle on it.
Dubasov created the first design of the Order of Lenin, the highest award in the USSR. The original design was in use for only four years, and then the industrial background and a tractor were removed, while a red star, the symbol of the Red Army, was added. The artist also drew sketches of the Order of Maternal Glory, medals “For Labor Valor”, “For Distinguished Labour”, and “Gold Star”.
Rubles en face and in profile
Ivan Dubasov took part in the creation of almost all Soviet banknotes that went into circulation since the mid-1920s. For example, he was the author of nearly all sketches for the 1937-1938 series of rubles and chervonets. Images of a miner, a Red Army soldier and a paratrooper were placed on rubles, while the face of Lenin was put on chervonets. Some say that the soldier on the three-ruble bill resembles the author himself. However, the funds of Goznak hold photographs of Red Army soldiers taken in the summer, and of them is clearly a prototype of the soldier depicted on the bill.
An even more exciting story refers to the creation of a five-ruble note. Most likely, the artist initially was tasked with depicting a woman on the bill. At least five unrealized projects of a five-ruble note with female images have been preserved. However, eventually the 5-ruble bills was printed with the image of a pilot on it.
During the World War II, Dubasov continued to work on sketches for new money. In particular, he contributed to the design of banknotes with images of generals of various historical eras.
Ivan Dubasov also had a hand in designing the bills of the Khrushchev period. Preparations for the issue of new bills began in the late 1950s and, as always, were kept top secret. During that time, the artist often worked in his room well into the night, and even his family had no idea what he was working on. The new bills entered circulation in 1961. The reverse side was designed by Ivan Dubasov, whereas the faces were designed by artists Sergey Pomansky and Yuri Lukyanov. The bills had a long life staying in circulation for over 30 years.
Dubasov also designed banknotes and treasury notes for some other Socialist countries, such as Bulgarian levs, the Deutsche Mark, Chinese yuan, Mongolian tugriks, etc.
The career of an artist who creates sketches of banknotes and state awards usually does not imply any wide acclaim: their works are known to everyone, but their own names ring a bell only for connoisseurs. However, Ivan Dubasov, who initially wanted only a modest job as an art teacher, could hardly complain about it, because today his works are exhibited at the Russian Money Museum located in the Anninskiy Cavalier in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.
Vera Berezina, candidate of historical sciences, leading expert at Goznak Exhibition Complex.
Images courtesy of JSC Goznak’s Fund