With respect to its historical and cultural importance, the most valuable 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 the Library is a fragment of “Sluzhebnik” (Liturgarion) of the 11th century originating from 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 to 14th century, and a manuscript copy of the 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. It has 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; and the 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) is a most valuable source for research on Russian literature of the beginning of the 19th century. It is kept in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department. The archive also contains a lot of autographs of the outstanding writers of the time, and lists of works of N.M.Karamzin and K.N.Batushkov.
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The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department keeps: all the old-print books; foreign books from the 15th century to 1800; Russian books from the beginning of home book-printing to 1800; books that were illegal, banned and destroyed by censorship; the most outstanding relics of typography; first editions; and classic’s lifetime editions. This department’s collection also includes some of the collections, which were acquired by the Library, with the collections of the books of the Censorship Committee, the Committee of Foreign Censorship and book collections of outstanding Russian cultural workers.

The Library’s collection of rare books includes a considerable number of old-print books. The collection of the books printed during the earliest period of typography, incunabula, is comparatively small. There are 96 editions beginning from the 1460s. There are extremely rare and exceptionally valuable relics among the incunabula: the German Bible of the Strasburg printer Heinrich Eggestein, richly decorated with hand-written capitals; the “Saxon Mirror” of 1484; Bernard Breidenbach’s “Peregrinatio in terram sanctam” with a great amount of splendid engravings; and the famous Hartmann Schedel’s “Liber chronicarum” of Nurnberg printer Anton Koberger’s edition of 1493. More than half of the volumes of the Library’s incunabula collection is not represented in other libraries of Russia; and only two or three copies of some of the editions are known to exist.

Rare books of the 16th and 17th century which evaded the 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 destruction. They survived until now due to the courage of their authors, publishers and owners. Among them are rare lifetime editions of the thinkers of the past including Giordano Bruno, Guilio Cesare Vanini, Spinoza, Galilei, Ramus, and Machiavelli.

Early Slavic book-print is presented in the Library collection by a first-print book of Cyrillic print “Octoichus” of Krakow printer Schwaipolt Fiol published in 1491. This is one of seven copies that have survived until today. 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. 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 the engraved “Bookvar” (ABC) of Karion Istomin from the end of the 17th century.

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The Library has a considerable collection of Russian books printed during the time of Peter the Great. 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 the Russian bibliophile of the 18th century P.F.Zhoukov. It laid the foundation for the Library, and is of great value to the history of Russian culture.

Rare and lifetime editions of outstanding men of domestic and foreign science and culture, and classics of Russian and world literature are kept in the Library. They are of exceptional value. There are the rarest editions of Galilei, Kepler, Newton, Linnaeus and Laplace, M.V.Lomonosov and D.I.Mendelejev, and works of A.S.Pushkin, N.V.Gogol, L.N.Tolstoy, F.M.Dostoevsky. Due to the acquisition of books of the Censorship Committee, the Library has the most valuable collection of censors’ copies of books. They were published in St Petersburg in the first half of the 19th century. The books with autographs of outstanding writers and scholars including 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 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 Library 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”; and “Catalogue of Paleotypes” (editions of the first half of the 16th century). There is also 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”.