St. Petersburg: S.K.R., Typ. of Vilkovsky and Galchyonkov, 1787.
72 pp. 18x11,5 cm. Contemporary light brown half leather with marbled boards and a colour stamped title label on the spine. Bookplate of Sergey Sobolewsky on the front paste down endpaper, paper label with a pencil note by a Soviet bibliophile on the front free endpaper, paper label of Vasily Klochkov’s bookstore and a stamp of a Soviet bookshop on the rear pastedown endpaper. Very good. Corners slightly bumped, paper slightly age toned.
First edition. Extremely rare. Interesting original travel account by the first Russian to cross the Atlantic and visit the Caribbean Islands. A merchant from Nizhny Novgorod, Vasily Baranshchikov (1756-early 19th century) went to a trade fair and lost considerable amount of money lent by fellow tradesmen. In an attempt to escape he went to Saint Petersburg and became a sailor on a ship bound for Copenhagen. There he was kidnapped and sold to a slave ship which brought him to Saint Thomas Island (then in Danish West India, now a part of the American Virgin Islands). There Baranshchikov served for two months in a Danish military garrison and was then sold as a household servant to a Spanish ‘‘General’’ in Puerto Rico. After a year of service Baranshchikov was released and went to Venice as a sailor on an Italian ship; near the Barbary coast the ship was captured by pirates and the traveler was sold into slavery to the Palestine. Baranshchikov was forcibly converted into Islam, eventually brought to Constantinople and married a Turkish woman. In 1785 he escaped to Russia via Bulgaria, Moldavia and Poland, returning to Nizhny Novgorod a year later. On request of his creditors he was put in debt prison, but released with the help of the local bishop. Baranshchikov went to Saint Petersburg and was received by Catherine II and representatives of Saint Petersburg high society. The Empress recommended him to write an account of his travels, which was first published in 1787. All author’s fees went for the payment of his debts.
The book contains lots of interesting details of everyday life in St. Thomas Island and Puerto Rico (like outfits and salaries of Danish soldiers, ceremony of taking military oath, descriptions of banana plants, coconuts, sugar cane, and coffee), description of Jerusalem and Constantinople, Baranshchikov’s service as a Janissary in Turkey, and others. Printed during the Russo-Turkish war of 1787-91, the book became a bestseller and was published four times in the 18th century, all subsequent editions have a slightly edited finale and the ‘‘Supplement, containing the description of Tsargrad [Constantinople] and Turkish spiritual, military and civil authorities’’. The text of the first edition finishes with a complaint about Baranshchikov’s bankruptcy and life in ‘‘uttermost poverty’’ after his return home; all subsequent editions have that part replaced with a praise to the generosity of ‘‘many honorable people of Saint Petersburg’’, who ‘‘graciously relieved him from destitution’’, the list of the ‘‘honorable people’’ includes over twenty names of the members of Russian high society, i.e. State Chancellor Count Alexander Vorontsov, first Russian Minister of Education Ivan Shuvalov, President of the Imperial Academy of Arts Ivan Betskoy, Baron Alexander Stroganov, and others.
Our copy bears an armorial bookplate of Sergey Sobolevsky (1803-1870), a noted Russian bibliophile, bibliographer and poet of the Golden Age of Russian Poetry. He was a friend of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Adam Mickiewicz, Prosper Mérimée and many other European writers. Sobolevsky’s library contained over 25,000 volumes, with the departments of geography and travels, Russian history, and bibliography and books on books. After his death, a part of the library was bought by the British Museum and Leipzig University, the rest was sold at auctions by Leipzig booksellers; the archive was bought by count Sergey Sheremetev and is now deposited in the Russian state collections. A note on the piece of paper attached to the first free endpaper was written by a Soviet bibliophile and reads: ‘‘In the catalogue of ‘‘Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga’’ No. 21 from 1933 it is said: First edition of this book has never been registered and it is unclear whether it exists’’ (Annotation #213). This copy is from the library of Sobolevsky and is the first, unknown edition. P.S. It is mentioned in Smirnov-Sokolsky’s, vol.1, p. 195’’ (Smirnov-Sokolsky, Moya Biblioteka. M., 1969). The book also has a paper label of the bookshop of a famous Saint Petersburg antique book dealer Vasily Klochkov (1861-1915). Svodny Katalog 4575.
No paper copies of this first edition found in Worldcat. There are only two copies of the second edition (Harvard, NYPL), and two copies of the fourth edition (Columbia University, State Library of Berlin).