Tomasz Szwaciński


In the mid-1840s, the so-called Collection of Autographs and Documents (Collectio Autographorum, Коллекция Автографов и Грамот) was created at the Imperial Public Library (IPL) in St. Petersburg from a part of the library’s manuscript holdings. It formed an important basis for research for eight decades. The reborn Polish state reclaimed a part of it, large enough to determine that at that point it ceased to exist as a separate collection. 

The Collectio Autographorum has not been studied yet individually as a historically formed collection.1 Thus, providing an overview of its origins as well as a guide to its contents and the history of its components upon liquidation may prove to be a valuable contribution to studies on historical library collections. 

The basic groundwork of the Collectio Autographorum and the history of its creation at the IPL have been retraced based on materials from the Department of Archival Documents of the National Library of Russia. 

The fundamental source for any research on the contents of the Collectio Autographorum is its old catalogue, held at the Manuscript Department of the Russian National Library. This item has no individual shelf mark and is not available to readers under an ordinary loan procedure.2 It is a codex in a cardboard binding with leather back and corners, and a dust jacket of well-worn marble paper. It has a 37 cm long back, a 22 cm large panel and is 10 cm thick. The foliation covers 293 leaves, however, the numerous blank ones have been left unnumbered. The 19th-century binding is typical of the manuscript catalogues produced at that time at the IPL. On the back, the titles of particular volumes have been embossed with golden letters on a black background. The back of the old autograph catalogue became detached some time ago and most likely has not survived to this day, therefore we cannot be absolutely certain as to the historical title of this item. The two 20th-century “manuscript use cards” (“Лист использования рукописи”) inserted into the item bear the title “Inventory of Autograph Collections” (“Инвентарь собраний автографов”), but there is also a loose 20th-century leaf with a hand-written title “Old Autograph Catalogue” (“Старый каталог автографов”). The latter title will be used in the present study. 

The old catalogue of the Jan Pieter van Suchtelen collection represents a similar kind of source. Likewise, this item bears no shelf mark. Its binding and size resemble the previous publication. The back fell off, but has survived to this day. The title “Catalogue of Autographs from Count van Suchtelen’s Collection” (“Каталог Автографов Коллекции Графа Сухтелена”) is embossed with gold letters on a black background. The item has two foliations: one up to f. 235 and the other up to f. 272.

Apart from the above, another valuable source is the “List of manuscripts and documents from the ‘Autograph’ Department of the Russian Public Library in St. Petersburg restored between 1924–1925,” drawn up by Witold Suchodolski, representative of the Polish Delegation, on 27 October 1925.3

Also, modern library and archival aids from the National Library of Russia, the National Library of Poland in Warsaw and the Central Archives of Historical Records (AGAD) in Warsaw are important for studies on the contents of the Collectio Autographorum.


In 1795, Catherine II made a decision to establish the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg,4 and on 27 February/11 March 1805, pursuant to a special rescript by Emperor Alexander I of Russia, a Manuscript Depot was founded at the library, managed by the famous book collector Peter Dubrovsky.5 These events, so beneficial to Russian culture, coincided in time with one of the most devastating tragedies in Polish history: the Third Partition of Poland and the annihilation of the Polish state. Many Polish collections taken from the defeated country were brought to St. Petersburg to form part of the IPL holdings.

The core of the newly created St. Petersburg book collection were the holdings of the “Library of the Commonwealth Also Called Załuski”.6 In 1796, Mikhail Antonovsky, assigned to the preliminary sorting work, identified 10,425 items in the manuscript collection brought from Warsaw. Subsequently, from June 1806 through September 1807, the Załuski manuscripts were transferred to the Manuscript Depot. It was then that the first lists of manuscripts of the Załuski Library were drawn up in Russia; the provisional shelf marks assigned in this process were often put on the manuscripts, indicating the number of the relevant box (Caisse) or the letter which designated the cabinet (A–G).7

Together with the Załuski manuscripts, parts of the Niasvizh collections were transported to St. Petersburg, while some items from the Radziwiłłs’ Archives were taken there as a consequence of their temporary loan to Puławy, where they were seized by the Russian authorities following the November Uprising.8

In 1795, the Archives of the Crown of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania were removed to St. Petersburg, and from there a considerable part thereof was handed over to Prussia four years afterwards. In 1809, certain documents were selected from the Polish archival materials stored in St. Petersburg for transfer to the Manuscript Depot of the IPL.9

1 Here, we can only list a short sketch by Józef Korzeniowski, “Zapiski z Rękopisów Cesarskiej Biblioteki Publicznej w Petersburgu and Innych Bibliotek Petersburskich” [“Notes on the Manuscripts of the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg and other Petersburg Libraries”] in: Archiwum Do Dziejów Literatury i Oświaty w Polsce [Archives of the History of Literature and Education in Poland], vol. 11, Kraków, 1910, pp. 359–360.

2 A small fragment of this catalogue can be found in a microfilm kept in the National Library of Poland (mf No.A 1942).

3 A copy of this document from the National Ossoliński Institute is held at the National Library: BN rps akc. 6617.

4 Ц. И. Грин, “Екатерина II и основание Российской Национальной Библиотеки” in: Петербургские чтения 97, С.-Петербург, 1997, pp. 566–569.

5 Т. П. Воронова, “Первые страницы истории Депо Манускриптов”, Рукописные Памятники, вып. 1, Санкт-Петербург, 1996, p. 11. 

6 М. Д. Моричева, Библиотека Залуских и Российская национальная библиотека, Санкт-Петербург, 2001, pp. 18–25. 

7 Olga N. Bleskina, “The Załuski Library in Petersburg” in: The Inventory of Manuscripts from the Załuski Library in the Imperial Public Library, Warszawa, 2013, pp. 12–13; K. Kossarzecki, “The Załuski Family and their Library”, ibid., pp. 81–87. 

8 J. Korzeniowski, op. cit., pp. 223–224; Katalog Rękopisów Biblioteki Narodowej [National Library Manuscript Catalogue hereinafter referred to as The Catalogue], series II, vol.II, B. St. Kupść and K. Muszyńska (eds.), Warszawa, 1980, p. 110; P. Buchwald-Pelcowa, “Biblioteka Nieświeska Radziwiłłów. Fakty, wątpliwości, pytania” [“The Radziwiłłs’ Library in Niasvizh. Facts, Queries and Questions”], in: Rocznik Biblioteki Narodowej, vol. XLI, Warszawa, 2011, p. 9. 

9 J. Korzeniowski, op. cit. p. XI; S. Ptaszycki, Cesarska Biblioteka Publiczna i Metryka Litewska w Petersburgu, [The Imperial Public Library and the Lithuanian Chancery Public Register in St. Petersburg], Kraków, 1884; J. Jankowska, “O tak zwanej Metryce Litewskiej w zasobie Archiwum Głównego Akt Dawnych w Warszawie” [“The So-Called Lithuanian Chancery Public Register in the Holdings of the Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw”], in: Archeion 32, Warszawa, 1960, pp. 31–35; I. Sułkowska-Kurasiowa, “Archiwum Koronne Krakowskie” [“The Cracow Crown Archives”] in: Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie. Przewodnik po Zespołach [Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw. Guidebook to the Collections], J. Karwasińska (ed.), Warszawa, 1975, p. 30.