Uniformed man in Kazan, Russia

Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Carte de visite (or perhaps a CDV-sized cabinet card) measuring just under 2.5 x 4.25 inches.

What I know about it:

If my transliteration is correct, the photographer is S. I. Ivanova of Kazan, Russia.  Click here to see the information on the back.


A reader joked yesterday that my research was getting good enough that I wouldn’t need the input of my readers.  Don’t worry, there will always be photos like this that send me on wild goose chases through the internet and still leave me stumped.  Sorting through my photos, I would see this one and notice the delicate face atop the uniform, and, of course, the Russian on the back.  I finally thought, “Just what IS that uniform?”, and decided to look into it.  I took just enough Russian in college that, decades later, I can decipher the location Kazan.  That turns out to be a city in Russia, over a thousand years old, currently the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, and the eighth largest city in Russia.  Unlike locations in republics that have broken away to become independent nations since the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazan has always been, and still is, Russian.  Since the uniform looked vaguely military, I figured it simplified things that Kazan hadn’t shifted allegiances, and since I figured this was a pre-Revolution photo, I started searching for Imperial Russia military uniforms.  But I couldn’t find a good match.  Similar in some ways, but not the same.  Finally I found this uniform, owned by the Tsar himself, and I thought, “There you go!  Strip off the epaulets and it’s the same uniform!  Wouldn’t it make sense that somebody less than the Tsar would wear a uniform that was less fancy?”  It turns out to be the uniform the Tsar wore as Colonel-in-Chief of the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Grey).  “Wait, WHAT!?”  Yes, it turns out that, upon his marriage to the German-born Alexandra in 1894, Tsar Nicholas II was appointed to this position by Alexandra’s grandmother, Queen Victoria.  Nevermind that the Scots regiment had fought the Russians just forty years earlier in the Battle of Balaklava.  Confusing enough?  (It’s been said that one of the great sad ironies of World War I was that its principle combatants, England’s King George V, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II, were all cousins.)  Nicholas apparently took this appointment seriously, and he is still honored to some degree in the regiment.  But while that meant there was a Scots-Russian connection, I wasn’t convinced that any Russian other than the Tsar would be wearing this uniform.  So might this be a visiting Scot?  Then why would he be so far afield in Kazan?  Does the extra writing offer a clue?  It could be anything from top-secret military plans to a shopping list.  Frankly, for all I know, this could be a guy proudly getting his photo taken displaying the outfit he wears in his job as a hotel doorman.  I’m really no closer to feeling like I have a grasp on this photo than when I started.  But oh, well, it’s still interesting to look at.

20 comments on “Uniformed man in Kazan, Russia”

  1. I do love a mystery!
    Have you tried translating the writing on the back? I had a similar situation with a German CDV with handwriting on the back, despite the wonders of google translate I couldn’t work it out. I found an ancestry message board that had others with similar issues, so I posted pictures of the writing and some lovely people managed to translate it! Maybe you could do something similar?

    • Thanks, Sarah! The handwritten Cyrillic is a little too hard for me to read to try transliterating and then translating, but if it were essential for me to figure it all out, I’m sure there are other avenues I could pursue. It’s great to hear that you’ve had success with something similar!

  2. Wow I am certain you spend more time researching pictures than I do taking them them Matt. I am being put to shame 😉 But I have to admit your pictures are addicting and make me want more. For me the mysteries are just a bonus 🙂

    • Ha! I’m sure I’m hardly putting you and your beautiful pictures to shame, but thanks for the compliment. I have to do SOMETHING to contribute to this blog, since there’s no great accomplishment in simply buying the photos. I’m really glad you enjoy the photos, and you’re right, the mysteries just add to the fun. I’m sure that a hundred years from now, people will be looking at your photos, trying to figure out where you took them, comparing the images in the photos to the way things are then, and saying, “And just who was this Charlie? What a fun mystery!” 🙂

  3. The back is at least as interesting as the front – well done posting it 🙂

  4. До ю спек Руссиан? И цан нот хелп ю он тэ транслатион. 😦

    И лике юр блог веры мух! 🙂

    • Oh no! Now my comments require research, too! 🙂 That’s funny. It took a moment to realize you were spelling English words phonetically in Cyrillic. I don’t speak Russian, but I took a couple semesters in college and can slowly pick my way through the alphabet and recognize certain words. фотография, for instance, is photograph. But antique handwriting can be hard enough in English. Of course, somebody might recognize the uniform regardless.

      • Just having fun with you! Your posts often make me smile, regardless of the research you add. What more can a reader ask for? 🙂

      • And thanks for making ME smile. 🙂 I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog.

  5. I just saw this post when WP said it was “related” to your newest post. I have a pair of CDVs of young men in the same uniform on my blog, but I couldn’t identify it either. My best guess is that it’s a cadet’s uniform at a military school of some kind. I can read Russian, but the writing on the back of yours is too hard to make out. I think the cadets exchanged photos of themselves at graduation. Have a look at mine if you’re interested: https://tokensofcompanionship.blog/2018/01/24/two-cadets-in-kursk-russia-before-1914/

  6. I sent a friend a link to your photo, and she was able to read the following on the back:

    Хорошему …..
    От хорошaго….
    Для хорошaго воспоминания
    Об хороших днях

    The other words are hard to read. The message above would be:

    To a good…
    From a good…
    For a good memory
    Of good days

    My theory would be that he gave this photo of himself to a friend at graduation.

  7. She just sent me some links to other photos from Kazan. By Ivanov:


    By early Kazan photographers, including Ivanov:


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