I’m reading Catherine Evtuhov’s Portrait of a Russian Province: Economy, Society, and Civilization in Nineteenth-Century Nizhnii Novgorod, which, while frequently dry, has all sorts of interesting tidbits and creates a convincing portrait of both the city and province of Nizhnii Novgorod. Here’s a paragraph I can’t resist posting, for obvious reasons; it’s pretty representative and should give you an idea of whether the book is for you:
Hats were another matter. Their transcendence of local boundaries rested on fame and fashion. Seventy artisans and 250 workers crafted hats each year from September to February, and caps from February to July. Vladimir Dal’, whose most productive years of work on the dictionary were spent in this particular region (he wrote up to the letter “O” while there), adduces as the example for the word kartuz (cap): “V Kniaginine sh’iut kartuzy na ves’ krai” (Caps for the whole region are made in Kniaginin). Hat and cap makers worked at home; they bought materials and instruments at the Nizhnii Novgorod fair. Unlike some of the technically more primitive handicrafts, the hat business required a serious investment: sewing machines by Popov, Singer, or Blok could cost between forty and eighty rubles; blocks (bolvany), an iron, scissors, thimbles, measures, and needles, as well as a variety of materials and fabrics—sheepskin, wool (drap), broadcloth (sukno), velveteen (plis), corduroy, and so forth—added up to a total initial expenditure of eighty-five rubles. Hats and caps could be considered partial products, because essential parts—crowns for hats and also for caps—were bought at the Nizhnii Novgorod fair or in Moscow; this was for reasons of prestige as well as difficulty of manufacture: the crucial segments bore a much-coveted stamp of the city factories, making the final product that much more valuable. The types of hats also reflected fashion rather than practicality. There were nine types: Moscow, buttoned, Polish, round, semiround, boyar, Tatar, Slavic, and Persian.29 True to the example given by Dal’, the most prosperous artisans traveled as far as the Krestovskaia fair in Siberia, while others frequented the southern provinces and of course the Nizhnii Novgorod fair; only fifteen to twenty of them stayed home, though sales at Kniaginin and neighboring rural and urban markets flourished. Thirty families lived entirely elsewhere, maintaining their connection to Kniaginin only through their official papers.
Footnote 29 gives the Russian terms for the types of hats: “The types were described as moskovskaia, pod pugovku, po[l]’skaia, sharik, polusharik, boiarochka, tatarskaia, slavianskaia, and persiianka.” I love that kind of detail.
Addendum. Not worth a separate post, but I have to record for posterity this quote from p. 162 (she is discussing a meeting of the Arzamas district zemstvo in September 1881): “…the Poltava zemstvo’s fund-raising effort for a school named after Nikolai Gogol was rejected on the grounds that too few constituents would have heard of the accomplishments or even the name of this writer.” (Footnoted to pp. 8-9 of the Журналы XVII очередного Арзамасского уездного земского собрания 1881 года с приложениями, which, unsurprisingly, is not online.)