Your future on the cards

I like things like this: a rare game of divination, published in Graz, Austria, in 1846, which shows the international legacy of Marie-Anne Lenormand, who had died three years before.


Marie-Anne Lenormand (1772–1843) was a clairvoyant, publisher, and self-publicist extraordinaire.  Orphaned at an early age, she was raised in a Benedictine convent where she first came to believe in her powers of fortune-telling.  Instead of taking orders she moved to Paris, where she began to ply her trade.  Extraordinary success followed, and at the height of her career she is said to have advised the likes of Robespierre, Talleyrand, Metternich, and the Empress Josephine herself; others argued that the whole thing was a sham, and she was frequently arrested, spending several weeks in prison.

Whatever the truth about her soothsaying abilities, Lenormand was certainly a canny publicist who promulgated notions of her own exclusivity, and maintained a physical air of exotic mysticism.  This self-fashioning impulse extended to books, and she published quite a number.  Her literary career began in around 1810, when she purchased the retail premises of the bookseller Fréchet in the rue Saint-Sulpice.  Crucial to her success was her ability to give only tantalizing hints at the specifics of her craft; the books were not instructions in the art of divination, but often scandalous and always controversial commentary on her life and times.

Lenormand was a European phenomenon.  The cards in this game depict, as well as Lenormand herself, fortune-tellers from Naples, Leipzig, Brussels, Milan, Stockholm, London, Warsaw, and Pest.  The game begins by one player, denoted ‘Zooraster’ (sic), shuffling the cards.  Each player then draws a card, lays it down, and chooses one of the questions printed on it (‘What do I wish for most?’, ‘Is my wife faithful?’, ‘’Who is my true friend?’, etc.).  Zooraster then finds the corresponding page of answers, numbered 2–12, to that question in the book.  A roll of two dice then leads to an answer to the original question.


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A novel response to Napoleon

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a piece of music written in celebration of Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1812.  Here’s another book produced in the wake of the campaign, but this time it’s a novel.  In fact, according to Anthony Cross (The Russian Theme in English Literature, p. 23), it’s the first English novel to respond to Napoleon’s ill-fated Russian campaign.


The author was the prolific nineteenth-century writer Barbara Hofland (1770–1844), and her eclectic cast of characters and settings reminds a modern reader of the sprawling war epics of later Russian novelists.  The eponymous heroine faces the usual setbacks in love, but these are framed against an acutely conceived contemporary political backdrop; the first ‘letter’, from the spirited Iwanowna to her sister Ulrika, is dated just a month before Napoleon’s invasion, and his motives and movements are heatedly discussed in the novel.  As the conflict unfolds, Hofland’s characters provide a surprising amount of detail regarding the campaign, such as the requisition of horses by the Russian government.  The pretence for this level of military knowledge is Ulrika’s marriage to a Russian general, and Iwanowna’s suitors and adventures in that sphere.  One month before Napoleon invades Hofland’s characters anxiously ponder the likelihood of his doing so, and it is from the general’s perspective that the reader learns of the Russian victory, and that ‘Herman Platoff offers his daughter, with an immense dower’ to the soldier who captures Napoleon.  The anti-Napoleonic bias works well in the Russian setting, offering an alternative to the usual British invective.


Barbara Hofland

The novel was even dramatized: in 1816, Sadler’s Wells advertised a production entitled ‘Iwanowna, or The Maid of Moscow, which will introduce a grand panorama of Moscow in Flames’.  Quite how much of Hofland’s material was used in this play or tableau vivant is hard to determine, although her stirring account of the Fire of Moscow (14–18 September 1812), during which Napoleon entered the city and the Russian troops, and many of the populace evacuated, would certainly transfer well to the stage.


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The Adventures of Bob

Sometimes, as a bookseller, you come across a book you just can’t find anywhere.  You check the title, make sure you’re spelling it right, and still the online databases are silent.  But to find two copies of that otherwise apparently unknown book?  Well…


It took a bit of sleuthing to work out exactly what the book was, but it turned out that I had two copies (in variant bindings and with different numbers of illustrations) of the first edition in Russian of a children’s book called Klein-Rainers Weltreise (Munich, 1918), translated (as ‘The Adventures of Bob’) by the political satirist–poet Sasha Cherny (‘Alex the Black’, a pseudonym of Aleksandr Glikberg, 1880–1932) and published in Berlin in 1924.  Cherny had become a banned writer following the 1905 revolution, but his books for children remained popular.  ‘Even as an émigré in [Germany and] France, Cherny remained interested in children’s literature.  In his eyes it now had the function of a vital bond with a lost Russia; the émigré child’s feelings for Russia and the Russian language should be strengthened through good literature’ (Hellman, Fairy Tales and True Stories: the History of Russian Literature for Children, 2013, p. 243).

Hilde 2

The original German verse text and striking collage illustrations were by Lily Hildebrandt (1887–1974), a Stuttgart-based artist specialising in reverse glass painting, who wrote the book for her son, Rainer (1914–2004; later a resistance fighter in Berlin, and founder of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum).  It was her only children’s book.

The book's rather wonderful endpapers.

The book’s rather wonderful endpapers.


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In memory of Peter the Great


This is the first edition of Thomas Consett’s sermon at the English Church in St Petersburg following the death of Peter the Great, the first oratorical response to the Tsar’s death (Berkov, p. 13).  It was printed in Reval (present-day Tallinn, Estonia).

Consett (1678?–1730) was the first chaplain to the British Factory when it moved to St Petersburg in 1723, but he had served in Moscow and Archangel from 1717.  He spent nearly ten years in Russia, making wide contacts there and drawing together materials for his important book, The Present State and Regulations of the Church of Russia (1729), published after his return to England in 1727.  In St Petersburg, ‘Consett soon established his reputation as an erudite scholar, “known for his philosophical, theological and philological works, which will bring immortal glory to his name”, according to a contemporary assessment.  In May 1724 he was elected a corresponding member of the Brandenburg Society of Sciences (as the Berlin Academy of Sciences was then known) through the good offices of Baron Heinrich von Huyssen, one of Peter [the Great]’s closest associates and apologists, recommending him as “assidu à traduire plusieurs ouvrages Russes et Latin ou Anglois et à recueillir les curiosités de ce pais” …  In St Petersburg Consett moved in circles close to Peter, which included the Bishop of Pskov, Feofan Prokopovich, and other influential members of the Holy Synod … Consett’s residence in the Russian capital, spanning the last years of Peter’s life and much of the reign of Catherine I, and his access to information about not only ecclesiastical but also political matters made him a valued correspondent for the British government …

‘There is no mistaking Consett’s own sympathies for Peter and his consort, which he conveyed forcefully in two sermons delivered to his congregation on 30 July/10 August 1724 in celebration of the recent coronation of Catherine [unpublished; a manuscript copy survives in the private library of Peter the Great, now at the Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg] and on 7/18 February 1725 in Peter’s memory …’ (Anthony Cross, By the Banks of the Neva: chapters from the lives and careers of the British in eighteenth-century Russia, 1997, pp. 95–6).

Here is a flavour: ‘He was one of the eminent and most powerful princes, whom the divinity itself called gods.  And he truly governed this huge and vast empire like a god, bestowing his presence in the furthest corners of his empire with tireless constancy, illuminating and vivifying his people with the brilliant and refreshing rays of his majesty; achieving all his endeavours and undertakings with invincible power; inventing and comprehending so many and such various things—with great intellect and immense knowledge of almost everything—to such an extent that we should be astonished when we reflect how great his mind was to grasp all these things’ (p. 12).

See P. N. Berkov, ‘Tomas Konsett, kapellan Angliiskoi faktorii v Rossii’, Problemy mezhdunarodnykh literaturnykh sviazei (Leningrad, 1962), pp. 3–26.


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Life in the pit


This little book may not look much, but it turned out to be a fascinating read.  Entitled Sketches of the life of orchestral musicians, it’s the first edition of an early work by Ivan Lipaev (1865–1942), for many years a trombonist with the Bolshoi Orchestra in Moscow, and professor of music at the conservatoire in Saratov, 1917–21.  He also worked as a music journalist, and published popular biographies of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, and a memoir of Tchaikovsky.


I. V. Lipaev

Here he offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the working life of orchestral musicians in pre-Revolutionary Russia: their background, education, hours, pay, occupational hazards, etc.  Due to poor working conditions, and the cold of a Russian winter, illness is not uncommon.  The performers resort to wearing fur coats, and trying to warm their hands over a brazier, or even the footlights, before playing, but still often suffer from head colds, rheumatism, fever, sore throats, bronchitis, as well as haemorrhoids through sitting for long periods.  Brass players can be affected by verdigris on their instruments; emphysema, or even consumption, can be prevalent among them.  String players suffer from paralysis of the fingers, cellists are prone to rickets, and double bass players to oedema and swelling of the legs from standing for whole operas and ballets.  ‘The general period of mortality for musicians is between 24–38–40 years, rarely reaching 55–60’ (p. 28).


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Russian literature for the Western market


This book of verse is the first appearance in German (or any other foreign language, for that matter) of Gavriil Derzhavin (1743–1816), one of Russia’s great eighteenth-century poets.  It’s a very early translation.  French readers had to wait until 1811 (Dieu, tr. Golenistcheff-Koutouzoff, printed in Moscow), English readers until 1821 (John Bowring’s Specimen of the Russian Poets, the first appearance of Russian poetry in English), before anything by Derzhavin was translated.

The translator here is none other than August von Kotzebue (1761–1819, best known to English readers, if at all, as the author of Lovers’ Vows, the play in Mansfield Park), who spent much of his career in Russia.  You can read about his connections to the English-speaking world in a blogpost on the British Library website.


August von Kotzebue

Kotzebue includes eleven pieces here, all rendered in German verse, among them the powerful ‘Ode on the Death of Prince Meshchersky’, ‘Verses on the Birth in the North of a Porphyrogennete Child’, dedicated to the future Alexander I (‘one of the first odes by Derzhavin in which he disregarded the prescriptive classical requirements of the genre to the extent of mixing “high” and “low” styles, standard mythological references and Russian country scenes, to suit his own imagination’, Terras), his ‘Felitsa’ poems, which ‘broke all the rules by addressing the Russian autocrat [i.e. Catherine the Great] in a personal, wittily conversational tone …’ (ibid.), ‘The Vision of Murza’, the first urban landscape description in Russian poetry, and the famous ‘Ode to God’.


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Binding variants

This is something I have been thinking about for a while.  Antiquarian booksellers are always concerned with rarity, and look books up to see who else has a copy, either currently for sale, in a library somewhere, or perhaps offered once at an auction.  Obviously, just because you find another copy, doesn’t make it the same as yours; there is always the question of condition (is the book in its original binding, or has it been rebound?), or association (did it belong to someone interesting, or was it inscribed by the author?).  But I suspect that most people, when they look a book up in an online database such as COPAC or WorldCat, and find there are five copies located in libraries, just leave it at that: ‘those libraries have the same book as me’.

But here I’d like to present four examples of books which tell a different story.  All come from the nineteenth century, and all are books relating to Exeter Cathedral (a personal interest of mine).

Example 1.  George Oliver, The History of Exeter (Exeter: Printed by R. Cullum, 1821).

Oliver 1  Oliver 2

Two copies, both in the original publisher’s boards: one uncut (and thus taller), the paper on the spine the same as the rest of the binding; the other, trimmed, with a cloth spine.  Both have printed spine labels, both priced 10s., but the labels are different.

Oliver 3


Example 2.  Philip Freeman, The Architectural History of Exeter Cathedral (Exeter: Henry S. Eland …  London: Bell and Sons, [1873]).

Freeman 1


Freeman 2

Two copies of the first edition of Freeman’s book, in brown and red cloth.


Example 3.  Thomas B. Worth.  Exeter Cathedral and its Restoration (Printed for the Author by William Pollard … Exeter.  1878).

Worth 1


Worth 2

Again, two copies of the same book, privately printed this time, in brown and green cloth.


Example 4.  Frances Mary Peard, Prentice Hugh (London: National Society’s Depository …  New York: Thomas Whittaker … [1887]).

Peard 1


Peard 2

A children’s book, a fictional retelling of the building of the Cathedral in the thirteenth century.  The title-pages here are different, as well as the bindings: the lettering of ‘National Society’ on the spine, and the gilt-lettering on the cover of one (with patterned NSD endpapers), but not the other (and which has plain black endpapers).

Peard 3



Peard 5

These four examples were discovered quite by chance, but are sufficient to highlight the fact that, even in one, highly specific possible collecting area, how many variants may be found.

Postscript.  It is interesting to note that the internet, oft bemoaned as a poor method of buying books, actually can help a lot in identifying such variants.  Many booksellers, if issuing a catalogue with any of the above books in it, might well not illustrate the books, and may not mention the colour of cloth.  But the internet bookseller often posts a photo of the book concerned, which can quickly draw the collector’s eye.


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Money in crisis

Notgeld 1

By 1919, all low-value coins in Germany had vanished, due to a shortage of metal, a shortage which gave rise to a printed phenomenon known as Notgeld, or ‘emergency money’.  Neil MacGregor explains: ‘as there was no longer an effective national currency for the lower denominations, every town and city had to make its own.  High-value notes from the Reichsbank continued to circulate.  Notgeld is the small change of daily life: that is what makes it so interesting.  As the central state faltered, regional memories and loyalties revived, and the diversity that had marked coinage of the eighteenth-century Empire found an exuberant twentieth-century parallel in colourful explorations of local identity and civic pride …

Notgeld 2

‘Looking through these notes is like flicking through a travelogue of Germany, each town presenting its distinctive aspect most likely to appeal to the curiosity of the visitors and the pride of the local inhabitants.  But the interest of these notes is not just topographical.  They present a remarkable survey of the public mood in the years 1919–23, as the Weimar Republic struggled into life; of the issues that alarmed, fascinated and preoccupied the population …  These notes are a compendium of German memories, hopes and fears in the early 1920s’ (Germany: Memories of a Nation, 2014, pp. 419–22, 425).

As many of the notes were beautiful pieces of design in their own right, people started collecting them, and you can sometimes come across whole albums of Notgeld, such as the one here.  This collection had about 800 different notes in it.

To listen to the BBC podcast of Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, discussing Notgeld, click here.


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An ‘American’ bindery in the Crimea

Sometimes a book ends up posing questions which you, as a bookseller, simply cannot answer.  I enjoy the research aspects of what I do, but I recognise that I cannot know everything, and also that the books I offer for sale must provide further possibilities for research for the customer, whether private collector or special collections library.  Here is an example:


This binder’s stamp is at the back of a standard nineteenth-century Russian binding on a standard nineteenth-century edition of Koltsov’s poems, and reads: ‘American binding workshop.  James Steinsberg [“Dzhems Shteinsberg”], Simferopol, Politseiskaya St.’  I can find nothing on him, or his bindery.  Was a Russian binder simply calling his bindery ‘American’, and using an American-sounding name?  Whatever the answer, it’s a fascinating piece of cross-cultural evidence, and certainly worthy of further research.


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Organising a library

Olenin 1

This is the first edition of the first comprehensive library classification system to be published in Russia, and the first Russian guide to bibliographic description and catalogue production, an important text from the early years of the Imperial Public Library (now the National Library of Russia) in St Petersburg.

‘The pre-eminence among the world’s libraries of the Imperial Public Library in St Petersburg, achieved shortly after its founding early in the nineteenth century, was due largely to the remarkable skills and vision of the library’s first director, Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin (1763–1843) …  Founded in 1795 by Catherine the Great, already by 1820 it was second in size among European libraries to the Bibliothèque nationale; even though at that time it was a much younger institution than either the British Museum (founded 1753) or the Preussische Staatsbibliothek (founded 1661), it had already surpassed them in number of volumes held.

‘Compared to most other state institutions in Russia in the nineteenth century, the Imperial Public Library enjoyed a relatively high degree of autonomy …  Particularly in the formative years, the library’s identity was shaped almost singlehandedly by its directors, and over the course of each director’s tenure its development was a function of that individual’s energy, initiative, and vision.  At no time was this phenomenon more evident than during the administration of the library’s first director, Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin …  Essentially starting from scratch in every aspect of the library’s organization, Olenin’s accomplishments in the library were remarkable …


Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin (1763–1843)

‘Olenin’s first undertaking as the director of the library was to assess the condition of the collection.  He ordered an inventory of the holdings, which was complete in 1809.  The results [appended at the end of his published Essai, p. 99–100] … showed a total of 238,632 volumes (including 45,000 duplicates …), 12,000 manuscripts, and 24,574 prints.  There were only eight books in Russian or Old Church Slavic at this time.

‘In his first report as director of the library … Olenin described the two main problems he faced in the first year of his administration.  First, there were major deficiencies in the physical facilities [double-, triple-, even quadruple-shelving, poor lighting, high humidity].  Second, the library did not have a uniform system for the organization of the collection.  Olenin felt that these problems had to be corrected before the library could be opened to the public, and he immediately set about designing solutions …

Olenin 2

‘To remedy the second problem Olenin designed his own classification system for the library.  This “New Bibliographical System” was implemented in October 1808, scarcely six months after his appointment, and was published the following year under the title An Attempt at a New Bibliographical System for the St Petersburg Imperial Library.  Although two classification schemes had been published in Russia prior to Olenin’s, both were created to organize a relatively small and fixed number of entries in a published work …  These earlier attempts should not obscure the fact the Olenin’s Attempt was the first comprehensive library classification system published in Russia.  It was also the first Russian guide to bibliographic description and catalog production …

‘In the introduction to the Attempt Olenin reviewed the major classification systems in use in European libraries and briefly characterized the shortcomings of each system …  In Olenin’s view, the natural separation between the sciences and the arts was fundamental to the classification of knowledge.  Moreover, a coherent classification system would show the logical transitions from one branch of knowledge to another.  These two criteria constitute the theoretical foundation of Olenin’s system and also its chief contribution to classification theory …

‘In addition to the classification system, Olenin’s Attempt contains instructions for the compilation of three catalogs for the library …  Olenin also formulates rules for the bibliographic description of books and manuscripts in the catalogs.  Each record was to contain the full title of the work, the full name of the author and publisher or printer, the place and date of publication, the number of volumes, and the size’ (Mary Stuart, Aristocrat–Librarian in Service to the Tsar: Aleksei Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin and the Imperial Public Library, Columbia University Press, 1986, pp. 1, 5, 62–5).

The book is printed in French and Russian on facing pages.  The two title-pages, produced by the engraver Kolpakov, depict the library buildings in Warsaw (the Załuski collection, from which over 200,000 volumes were transferred to Russia in 1795) and St Petersburg.


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