Unopened Yiddish Avant-Garde

TCHAIKOV, Joseph (artist) and Mendele MOCHER-SFORIM

Dos Kelbl

[The Calf]

Publication: Kiyever Farlag, Kiev, 1919.

TCHAIKOV, Joseph (artist) and Mendele MOCHER-SFORIM, Dos Kelbl

A fine illustrated production of the Kultur Lige, published in Kiyv in 1919. A scarce Yiddish children book, especially unopened without significant restoration.

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First illustrated book edition, with striking designs by one of the founders and most active members of the Kiev Kultur Lige.

An attractive example, unusually unopened.

This is the first separate edition of “Dos tosfos yom tov kelbl” (The Tosfos Yom Tov’s calf), a chapter from “Seyfer Habeheymes” (The Book of Beasts) by Mocher-Sforim. Meaning “book-pedlar” in Yiddish, Mocher-Sforim was a pseudonym for Sholem Yankev Abramovich (1836-1917), one of the founders of modern Jewish and Hebrew literature. Born in Kapyl (modern Belarus), he first studied in yeshiva (religious schools). In 1854, having settled in Kamenets-Podolsk (modern Ukraine), he studied secular culture under the influence of the writer Avrom Ber Gotlober, before becoming famous thanks to his allegory on the hardships of the Jewish people, Di klyatshe oder tsar bale-khayim (The nag or cruelty to animals), published in Vilnius in 1873. Sholem-Aleykhem dubbed him “Der zeyde”: “the grandfather” of Yiddish literature.

Mocher-Sforim first published his Seyfer habeheymes (The book of beasts) in 1902 in the Yiddish Zionist periodical Der yud (pronounced “der yid”, issues 26-29). Launched by the Hebrew publishing company Aḥi’asaf in January 1899 to promote the political and cultural program of the newly founded Zionist Organization, Der yud was edited in Warsaw but published in Kraków to avoid tsarist censorship.

This scarce Kievan publication was designed and illustrated by Joseph Moisevich Tchaikov (1888-1979; also spelled Chaikov), a talented Jewish artist, being a sculptor, graphic designer, painter and theoretician. Born in Kiev, Tchaikov studied in Paris during the years 1910-14 and participated in the Parisian Salon d’Automne exhibition in 1913. After World War I, he was one of the founders of the Kultur Lige organisation in Kiev, taught sculpture, illustrated books – mostly children’s – and, in the years after the revolution, also designed propaganda banners and posters. In 1921, the Melukhe-farlag publishing house in Kiev published his treatise “Sculpture”, which is considered the first Yiddish book on sculpture, focusing on avant-garde and the place of sculpture in Jewish art. During the years 1923-30 he taught cubist sculpture inspired by Russian futurism in Moscow, at the Vkhutemas – Higher Art and Technical Studios (alongside Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky) and was also appointed the head of the union of Russian sculptors.

Published by the Kiyever Farlag, whose logo was designed by El Lissitzky, Dos Kelbl is representative of Tchaikov’s cubo-futurist period within the Russian avant-garde movement. His illustrations and cover designs were influenced by the spirit of the times and historical events – pogroms, wars and revolution; yet they also show a spirit of innovation and hope.


Uzi Agassi (Israeli historian, critic and publisher, collector of illustrated books, esp. avant-gardes).


Wisse, Ruth R. 2010. Yud, Der. YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe; Literaturnaia entsiklopediia v 11 t. — [M.], 1929—1939.

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Physical Description

Landscape 4to (22.5 x 28.5 cm). 16 pp. incl. title, with 7 illustrations in text.


Unopened in publisher’s printed and illustrated wrappers.


Wrappers a bit soiled and minimally repaired, mostly at edges; block with light vertical fold line, occasional minor tears, often restored.

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