A is for Azbuka: Two Copies of a Russian Primer from the Reign of Mikhail I

9539c2front

Classic pedagogical technique in 1637. (Cotsen 9539 copy 2) frontispiece

Cotsen’s Soviet-era children’s book collection is well known, extensive, and portions even digitally available. Less well known is that our Russian-language material covers an even wider historical range from the 17th century to the present day. We have over 250 titles printed in Russia before the Revolution, and around 60 titles printed in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

To illustrate this point, I thought I would showcase our earliest Russian book: Bukvarʹ i︠a︡zyka slavenska ([Moscow]: Vasiliĭ Fedorovich Burt︠s︡ov, [1637]).

Titlepage (9539 c.2)

Title page (9539 copy 2)

From the title page, the discerning reading might (or might not) notice that this bukvar (a shared Eastern European word for a grammatical primer) is not actually in Russian. This book is in Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the the Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, my Church Slavonic is a little too rusty for me to discuss the contents of the book other than the obvious matter of it’s being an introduction to the Slavonic alphabet, basic words, and grammatical training. Lucky for us, however, Cotsen has two splendidly different copies of this affectionately known: Azbuka (alphabet book):

Contemporary calf, elaborate stamped decorations and tooled boarder, clasps complete.

Contemporary calf, elaborate stamped decorations and tooled boarder, clasps complete (9539 copy 2)

Contemporary polished calf, elaborate rolled & stamped decorations, remnants of clasps

Contemporary polished calf, elaborate rolled & stamped decorations, remnants of clasps (9539 copy 1)

Copy 2 is the more complete of the two editions (for reasons explained more below). Though the binding is in arguably rougher shape (except for the the extant clasps), the paper quality is much higher, a hand colored frontispiece is included (pictured above), and the colophon information is more extensive. In fact, the date for this item was obtained from the colophon (Printer’s information typically found at the back of books printed before the end of the 17th Century). The colophon states that the book was printed in twenty fourth year of reign of the first Romanov Czar, Mikhail Fedorovich (elected 1613). As seen in the title page above, this edition is printed in black and red, with red used for initials and important words:

Unnumbered spread (9539 copy 2)

Unnumbered spread (9539 copy 2)

Unnumbered page (9539 copy 2)

Unnumbered page (9539 copy 2)

Speculatively, I would venture to say that copy 1 might be a later edition (alas, if only my Church Slavonic was better). Though it is worse for ware, the paper quality is lower, and it does not feature red ink at all. This relative lack of quality might indicate that the publisher endured less cost while producing a later edition for a book that was already in circulation (though, sometimes it proves to be the exact opposite since the popularity of earlier editions can lead to a less capital conscience publisher). It is, however, typographically unique and very different from copy 2 pictured above:

Unnumbered spread with initials (9539 copy 1)

Unnumbered spread with initials (9539 copy 1)

Copy 1’s most unique features, however, are one of a kind. Not only is this copy extensively annotated:

Unnumbered spread with annotations (9539 copy 1)

Unnumbered spread with annotations (9539 copy 1)

But it lacks around a dozen pages from the original printing. Lucky for us, a contemporary owner (probably the binder who did such a superb job) was kind enough to diligently copy out these missing pages in manuscript:

Manuscript title page (9539 copy 1)

Manuscript title page (9539 copy 1)

Not only that, but copy 1 has a very special hidden bonus. The waste paper used to line the inside front board of the binding is a manuscript leaf (complete with red ink!):

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Waste paper on inside front board (9539 copy 1)

 

One thought on “A is for Azbuka: Two Copies of a Russian Primer from the Reign of Mikhail I

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