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Czar Nicholas II,

His Majesty's Own Library, Winter Palace

This issue's featured bookplate identifies books acquired during the reign of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II, for His Majesty's Own Library at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Volumes bearing his bookplate represent the final acquisitions for the imperial book collections, which successive rulers of the Romanov dynasty gathered over the course of three centuries. Born in 1868, Nicholas II ascended the Russian throne in 1894. Following a reign afflicted with two unsuccessful wars, he was obliged to abdicate on 2 March 1917, leaving the power to a provisional government soon overthrown by the Bolsheviks led by Lenin. After months of imprisonment, Nicholas II and his family were murdered in July 1918 at Ekaterinburg, Siberia.

The striking bookplate, reproduced here in black and white, is a color process print, eight by six centimeters in size. Used from 1907 to 1917, it displays a black double-headed eagle, the emblem of the Russian state since 1472, on a large blue cross symbolizing St. Andrew's martyrdom. On the eagle's breast the crowned monogram of Nicholas II is surrounded by the collar and cross of the St. Andrew's order, the highest imperial decoration at the time. Underneath, an open book bears an inscription in ancient Russian script which translates as "His Majesty's Own Library: Winter Palace." Golden laurel leaves surround the entire image.

The bookplate was designed in 1907 by Baron Armin von Foelkersam (1861–1917), an art historian and talented graphic artist who, before his death in 1917, served as senior curator at the Imperial Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Author of numerous articles on art, Baron von

Foelkersam designed over eighty bookplates, mostly heraldic in style. Approximately twenty of these bookplates were commissioned by members of the imperial family for their private libraries in various palaces. The Winter Palace at St. Petersburg was the main residence of the reigning monarch. It was erected between 1754 and 1762 by the architect Bartholome΄ Rastrelli (1700–1770) to replace older, smaller wooden constructions. Following a fire in 1837 that destroyed the inside of the building, the Winter Palace was renovated; it eventually included over a thousand rooms.

In eighteenth-century Russia, the designation of a monarch's "Own" or "Private" library referred to the book collection shelved in rooms next to his bedchamber at his main residence. Such was already the custom when Peter the Great (1672–1682–1725) moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg the modest library he inherited from his Romanov predecessors. Later, during the reign of Catherine II (1729–1762–1796), her private book collection so dramatically increased in size that it invaded the halls of the adjoining building of the Hermitage.

In 1861 an important reorganization of the libraries took place. By decision of Alexander II (1818–1855–1881), the large book collections of the Hermitage Museum, consisting mainly of art and art-related materials, were administratively separated from His Majesty's Own Libraries and provided with their own special staff. According to Vasilii V. Shcheglov, Nicholas II's last librarian and author of an informative history of His Majesty's Own Libraries (Sobstvennye Ego Imperatorskago Velichestva Biblioteki i Arsenaly: kratkii istoricheski ocherk. 1715–1915 g.g. Petrograd, Gosudarstvennaia Tipografiia, 1917), during the reign of Nicholas II, His Majesty's Own Libraries consisted of twelve book collections, of which eight were located at various imperial residences and contained a total of 30,719 volumes. The remaining four collections, with a total of 34,536 volumes, were shelved at the Winter Palace as follows.

The Old Library with 10,387 volumes contained parts of the collections of Alexander II and his predecessors. The Old Library also housed an important Section of Manuscripts, which consisted of unique government documents and genealogical records dating from the sixteenth century up to the reign of Alexander II. Here were also preserved historical papers, letters, diaries, and memoirs written by late members of the Romanov dynasty and some government officials, as well as family albums and portraits.

The former library of Prince Aleksei Borisovich Lobanov-Rostovskii, which Nicholas II purchased from his heirs in 1896, was shelved in a separate room. It contained 8,429 volumes, mostly on Russian history, heraldry, and genealogy, and some rare manuscripts and early printed books. All volumes in this collection bore the Prince's own bookplate with his name and a smaller, round bookplate used by Nicholas II prior to 1907 to identify books acquired for his library at the Winter Palace. That earlier bookplate showed the Emperor's entwined monogram with the Russian letters "NA" (for "Nikolai Aleksandrovich") below the Russian imperial crown.

The library of the heir apparent, Grand Duke Aleksei Nikolaevich (1904–1918) was also housed in the Winter Palace. A special bookplate for this collection was designed in 1907 by Baron von Foelkersam.

His Majesty's Own Library, the private collection of Nicholas II, was located partly in rooms next to his bedchamber and partly in the New Halls of the Winter Palace. Each volume was provided with the heraldic bookplate reproduced on the cover. By the end of the reign, this collection contained 15,720 volumes and covered the following areas: religion, philosophy, history, chronicles of the imperial family and their travels, military arts, literature, law, science, medicine, agriculture, commerce, railways, art, and reference. This collection increased through the addition of presentation copies received from authors and government agencies, and through the active purchase of books in Russia, England, France, and Germany, as requested by the Emperor or directly ordered by his librarian. When books were received at the Winter Palace, they were immediately entered into an accession register. All paperbound books were forwarded to the bindery: the hardcovers supplied were brown for Russian books, red for English books, dark blue for French books and green for German books. Each book was provided with a bookplate and entered into the catalogue; cards were then prepared and added to an alphabetical file. There was also an inventory file and a special file registering all portraits found in newly received books. Every year, an average of two to seven hundred duplicate volumes were transferred to the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg for use by the general public. Some duplicates were also forwarded to university and city libraries throughout Russia (Shcheglov 86–102).

As the strictly private property of the reigning monarch, the libraries located at the Winter Palace were unavailable to scholars until 1845 when, for the first time, a Russian historian was allowed to use the holdings at the Winter Palace to complete a book he was writing. During the reign of Nicholas II, a total of 113 permits was issued to scholars, allowing them to research His Majesty's Own Libraries at the Winter Palace (Shcheglov 107–112; 158–162).

Soon after Nicholas II's abdication in March 1917, the provisional government established its offices in the former private rooms of the imperial family at the Winter Palace. On the night of 7–8 November 1917, the Winter Palace was stormed and partly ransacked by the Bolsheviks when they came to arrest members of the provisional government. In addition to some furniture and art objects, books were destroyed and lost.

In the 1920s the Soviet government placed the Winter Palace under the authority of the Hermitage Museum administration. According to reports, nearly 19,000 volumes from the Winter Palace were incorporated into the Hermitage Museum Library. This figure very closely matches the combined holdings of the Old Library and the Lobanov-Rostovskii collection.

Early in the 1930s the Soviet government arranged for a large sale of books from the former imperial libraries to dealers overseas. Included in the sale was the private collection of Nicholas II, distinguished by the bookplate with the inscription, "His Majesty's Own Library: Winter Palace." Consequently, this library no longer exists, and its volumes are now scattered in institutional libraries and private collections outside Russia, mainly in the United States. Details of the sale proceedings are described by G. Pavlova in her article "Fate of the Russian Imperial Libraries," published in 1987 by the New York Public Library in its Bulletin of Research in the Humanities, 87(4): 358–403. 

Marguerite Studemeister

Stanford University Libraries (Retired)

[Originally published in Libraries & Culture, vol. 32, no. 1 (Winter 1997): 125-128.]