Caught in a desperate struggle for survival, the new Soviet government continued to use imperial stamps with an overprint of the hammer and sickle on top of the double-headed eagle. The first Soviet stamps echoed revolutionary art, circulating the symbols of the workers’ victory over capitalism. The very first stamp issued in 1918 was the Chain-breaker. The stamp, rich in symbolic meaning, was created by the former artistic director of the imperial Office of State Documents, Rikhard Zarrinsh. Even more dramatic than the Chain-breaker, is the Dragon-slayer, depicting a worker slaying the dragon of Tsarism, breaking out of a cave of oppression, and seeing the sun of freedom rising over the land.
In 1922, the Soviet government issued its first series of definitive stamps featuring depictions of sculptures by the artist Ivan Shadr of a worker, a peasant, and a Red Army soldier. (Definitive stamps are stamps issued for regular postage in a range of denominations.)
Early Soviet stamps were full of allegory and symbolism, but a great change came in the late 1920s when symbol-rich designs were replaced by realistic depictions of the country’s grand, if somewhat unrealistic projects. These stamps were abundant in minute detail, and included microscopic slogans for the most devout of communists. This design style would last for decades. The first forty years of Soviet rule saw the issuing of 50 billion stamps devoted to 2,150 different subjects.