The most valuable in respect of its historical and cultural importance part of the collection is accumulated in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department.

The collection of rare books and manuscripts numbers about one thousand Slavic and Western-European manuscripts and more than 100 thousand rare books. The oldest relic of written language kept in M. Gorky Scientific Library of SPbU is a fragment of “Sluzhebnik”(Liturgarion) of the 11th century originating from the Northern France. Among the medieval manuscripts there are several volumes of the “Corpus juris civilis” of the Emperor Justinianus with lawyer’s commentaries dating back to the 12th -14th century and a manuscript copy of Latin Bible dated 1411. The most ancient Slavic manuscripts from the university collection are “Triod”(Triodion) of the 14th century and an interesting fragment of the Gospel with a curious Bulgarian inscription of 1858, indicative of the rescue of this burned extract from the Turks. Among the Russian manuscripts there are quite a lot of outstanding literary and historical relics: “Alexandria”, “Sudebnik”(Code of laws) of Ivan the Terrible, “Ulozhenije” (Code of laws) of czar Alexei Mikhailovich; small scroll “Kratkij Letopisetz”(Brief chronicle) of the end of the 17th century. The archive of the Free Society of Amateurs in Literature, Science and Arts (1801-1826) kept in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department is a most valuable source for research on Russian literature of the beginning of the 19th century. The archive also contains a lot of autographs of the outstanding writers of the time, lists of works of N.M.Karamzin and K.N.Batushkov.


All the old-print books, foreign books from the 15th century to 1800, Russian books from the beginning of home book-printing to 1800; illegal, banned and destroyed by censorship books; the most outstanding relics of typography; first editions and classic’s lifetime editions, are subject to keeping in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department. Besides, some of the collections, which were acquired by the library, with the collections of books of the Censorship Committee, the Committee of Foreign Censorship and book collections of outstanding Russian cultural workers among them are also included in the collection of the Department.

The library stock of rare books includes considerable collections of old-print books. The collection of the books printed during the earliest period of typography, incunabula, is comparatively small and it numbers 96 editions beginning from the sixties of the 15th century. There are rarest and exceptionally valuable relics among the incunabula: the German Bible of Strassburg printer Heinrich Eggestein, richly decorated with hand-written capitals; “Saxon Mirror” of 1484, Bernard Breidenbach ‘s “Peregrinatio in terram sanctam” with a great amount of splendid engravings, the famous Hartmann Schedel’s “Liber chronicarum” of Nurnberg printer Anton Koberger’ edition of 1493. More than half of the volumes of the library incunabula collection is not represented in other libraries of Russia, and some of the editions are known to exist only in two or three copies.

The collection of books of the 16th century which numbers about 15 hundred books is not less valuable. Among them there are a lot of outstanding relics of European Renaissance: the first editions of works of Erasmus of Rotterdam; an outstanding relic of Utopian Communism - Thomas More’s “Utopia”; the second, Basel edition of the brilliant work of Copernicus “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” ; astronomical works of Tycho Brahe; works of Petrarca and Boccaccio; historical chronicles; geographical atlases and cosmographies; codes of laws and political pamphlets.

Rare books of the 16th and 17th century which evaded bonfire take special place in the collection. These are books which had been entered in the Pope’s Index of banned books and were subject to unconditional extermination but survived till our days owing to the courage of their authors, publishers and owners. Among them are rare lifetime editions of the thinkers of the past: Giordano Bruno, Guilio Cesare Vanini, Spinoza, Galilei, Ramus, Machiavelli.

Early Slavic book-print is presented in the Scientific Library of St Petersburg University collection by a first-print book of Cyrillic print “Octoichus” of Krakow printer Schwaipolt Fiol published in 1491. This is one of seven copies, which survived till our days. The beginning of Russian book-printing is represented by “before-Feodorov” Gospel printed in an anonymous Moscow printing house at the beginning of 1550s and Moscow and Lvov “Apostles” (1564 and 1574); Zabludov’s Gospel of 1569, Ostrog’s “New Testament” of 1581 and a particularly rare copy of Feodorov’s “Book of hours”(Horologion) of 1565 among them. There are extensive and complete collections of early Vilno printing houses and editions of Moscow printing house of the 17th century in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department. Among them are: the first Moscow “Azbuka”(ABC) of Vasily Feodorov Burtzev (1634) and engraved “Bookvar”(ABC) of Karion Istomin of the end of the 17th century.

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M. Gorky Scientific Library of SPbU has a good collection of Russian books printed during Peter the Great time. This collection includes study books and science editions connected with the epoch of reforms. The collection of Russian books of the 18th century was started by a collection of Russian bibliophile of the 18th century P.F.Zhoukov, laying the foundation for the university library, is of great value for the history of Russian culture.

Rare and lifetime editions of outstanding men of home and foreign science and culture, classics of Russian and world literature which are kept in the St Petersburg University library are of exceptional value. There are rarest editions of Galilei, Kepler, Newton, Linnaeus and Laplace, M.V.Lomonosov and D.I.Mendelejev, works of A.S.Pushkin, N.V.Gogol, L.N.Tolstoy, F.M.Dostoevsky; owing to the acquisition of books of the Censorship Committee the library has the most valuable collection of censors’ copies of books, published in Petersburg in the first half of the 19th century. The books with autographs of outstanding writers and scholars: F.M.Dostoevsky, T.G.Shevchenko, A.N.Maikov and A.A.Fet take up a significant part in the collection.

Numerous editions of the epoch of West European revolutions of the 19th century, works of the classics of Utopian Socialism came to the library of the university with the books from the Committee of Foreign Censorship. These books make up a unique collection of foreign books banned in Russia during the reign of Nicholas I.

The Department has compiled and published catalogues of some of the most valuable collections: “Catalogue of Incunabula”, “Catalogue of Books of Cyrillic Print of the 16th-17th century”, “Catalogue of Paleotypes” (editions of the first half of the 16th century). The book “The Beginning of the University Library, (1783). P.F.Zhoukov’s collection as a monument of Russian culture of the 18th century: Catalogue”.