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The Western Manuscripts Collection

The National Library's collection of Western manuscripts and autograph documents has no equal in Russia. It contains about 6,000 codices and more than 70,000 documents ranging from the 5th to 20th centuries. The collection covers Latin, French, German, Spanish, Italian and other European languages. Petersburg's holdings include material of distinguished importance for all periods, all West-European countries, and especially for France.

The history of the national repository of manuscripts and private papers and archives in West-European languages began with the outstanding collection of Piotr Dubrovsky (1754-1816). He amassed the items at the latter part of the 18th century while serving as the secretary and interpreter with the Russian Embassy at Paris. The collection had arrived in Petersburg even before the Imperial Public Library was open. The second notable collection of Piotr Sukhtelen (1751-1836), the Russian ambassador at Sweden, was purchased at his death. Both collections held manuscript books and extensive documental material ranging from early Middle Ages to the first quarter of the 19th century. They were brought together in 1836. These passed into the founding collection of the Imperial Public Library.

The morocco binding of the Idyl of Regnault and Jeanneton made for Piotr Dubrovsky
The morocco binding of the Idyl of Regnault and Jeanneton made for Piotr Dubrovsky
Ex libris for Piotr Sukhtelen
Ex libris for Piotr Sukhtelen

The collection began to expand rapidly. It was further augmented by the codices and originals from the private royal library, founded by Catherine II, which was also known as the Hermitage collection.

After 1917 individual manuscripts came in from the royal suburban palaces at Pavlovsk and Peterhof and the town palaces of Stroganov and Yusupov families. The documental part of this repository was increased with numerous foreign autographs. Most of them (about 3000 items) were added at the acquisition of P.L. Vaksel-E.P. Yurgenson's collection in 1919.

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