On a recent trip to a used book store, I came upon a wonderful find in the architecture section. I visit the store periodically to hunt for research books, and because the various employees tend to classify things differently, there are several sections I check, including: history, fashion, furniture, architecture, travel, and art. The treasure I found was, St. Petersburg, A Portrait of a Great City by Vincent Giroud. The book showcases Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s collection relating to St. Petersburg, including rare accounts of early visitors to the capital of the Russian empire.
An eight volume account of Russia called Rusland was anonymously published in 1804, and the beginning and end of each book has woodcut vignettes of various places and people. According to the appendix, they are the work of Amsterdam painter Harmanus Fock (1766-1822). Fock also designed two folding plates, engraved by Jacob Ernst Marcus (1774-1826) in 1804. The subject of the plates is public amusements in winter and summer.
This winter plate shows iced glissoires (slides) set atop the ice on the Neva River. Similar slides were installed in the imperial residences of Oranienbaum and Tsarskoe Selo. The buildings in the background are the Academy of Sciences and Peter the Great’s Kunstkammer (the first museum in Russia).
This summer plate shows a balancoire (ancestor to the Ferris wheel), which were traditionally built on St. Isaac Square at Easter and remained in place throughout the summer.
I was thrilled to discover these pictures and descriptions of everyday life during this time period. Locating any information about early 19th century Russia is difficult, and locating primary sources is even more difficult, but this book has provided me with many titles to research.
How about you? What sort of treasures have you discovered at a used book store?