St. Petersburg: Military Typography of His Imperial Majesty’s General Staff, 1817. Item #586
Title page, engraved title page, engraved dedication leaf, , 230, 185- 186, 183 pp. 25,5x17,5 cm. With ten copper engraved plates, two large folding copper engraved maps of Lake Baikal and Eastern Siberia (the latter hand coloured), and a large folding table at rear. Original grey publisher’s wrappers. Housed in a recent custom made black clamshell box. Wrappers with some wear, with creases and a repaired tear, marginsslightly rubbed and soiled, but overall a very good copy in its originalstate, uncut and with large margins.
First and only edition. Very rare. Only four paper copies found in Worldcat. One of the earliest special Russian works on Irkutsk and Eastern Siberia written by Nikolay Semivskii after his three-year service as a vice-governor of the Irkutsk Province (1806-1809). The book also contains notes about Russian American Company’s offices in Irkutsk and other Siberian cities, and quotes from several Imperial decrees regarding RAC’s privileges and trade between Kamchatka and the Sandwich Islands.
According to several Russian bibliographers and historians, the book was widely based on the notes and materials of Ivan Losev, local artist, geographer, cartographer, historian and the first professional architect in Irkutsk. In 1806 Semivsky, Losev and a local official Vasily Lavrentyevich Potresov travelled from Irkutsk up the Angara River to the Main Irkutsk Salt Factory near modern-day Usolye; during the trip Losev drew several views which were included in the book; Losev also authored the plan of Irkutsk placed in the book.The first pages contain the correspondence between three Russian statesmen (Sergey Vyazmitinov, Alexey Razumovsky, Dmitry Guryev) discussing the review of the book by a renowned Russian navigator and explorer Gavriil Sarychev (1763- 1831) who praised it and noted that “northeastern part of Siberia which he [Semivsky] had a chance to travel through was described in its true state, both regarding its geography and inhabitants”. As a result, the book was published on the account of the Russian Emperor whose privy purse donated 5000 roubles for the publication (p. ).
The book contains an extensive and well written description of Irkutsk and its surroundings, Irkutsk Province including Yakutsk district, Chukotka and Kamchatka, Lake Baikal, Lena and Angara Rivers and their tributaries; details the region’s industry and trade et al. There is also description of a route from Saint Petersburg to Irkutsk by land or rivers, with all stations on the way, and a table of distances between the cities of the Irkutsk province and between those and the Russian “capitals” (Saint Petersburg and Moscow). The book also has 50 numbered “Comments or Curious Notes” supplementing the chapters on miscellaneous matters: the meaning of the word “Siberia” (No. 1), grave of the famous merchant and a founder of Russian America Grigogy Shelekhov in the Irkutsk Znamensky Monastery (No. 4), earthquakes in Irkutsk (No. 8), navigation on Lake Baikal (No. 16), a description of Chukotka (No. 33), a dictionary of local Siberian words and expressions (No. 10, pp. 16-26), navigation and Russian settlers on the Amur River, Albazin, and Russian Orthodox Mission in Beijing (No. 38), tea trade with China in Kyakhta and Buddhism (No. 47) et al. The narration is supplemented with several poems by Semivsky including an unsigned “Letter from Neva to Angara” – one of the first Russian poems about Lake Baikal (pp. 43-44), etc.
Although not specially dedicated to Russian America, the book includes several interesting notes about Alaska, Russian American Company and navigation in the Pacific, which were closely connected to Irkutsk and Kamchatka – the majority of the first members of the RAC were Irkutsk merchants, the first headquarters of the RAC was in Irkutsk, and up to the 1830s most of the supplies for the RAC’s ships were prepared on the Irkutsk wharfs (sails, rigging, anchors etc.).
[The Newest Description of Irkutsk and Environs]: “... astone building with wooden additions which belongs to the Russian American Company, there its Main Office is located, [which is used] both for sending people to the American colonies, different supplies and for sorting before transportation all furs and other goods received from North America;” “In two locations in Irkutsk two-storey stone barracks have been built on account of the Russian American Company <...>, which cost 70,000 roubles, including the donation of 10,000 roubles by the family of late Grigory Shelekhov...” (pp. 21-22).
[Statistical Overview of the Irkutsk Province in its Modern State]: “Privileges from now on for 20 years Gracefully granted to the Russian American Company, kept under the Highest Patronage, on the 8th of July 1799, and the Highest Charter granted to the Company on the 27th of December, same year, read: 1) Upon discovery from the distant times by Russian navigators of the coast of the Northeast [sic!] part of America, starting with 55° northern latitude and groups of islands stretching from Kamchatka north to America and south to Japan, and according to the right of possession by Russia, We Gracefully permit the Company to use all riches and lands located now on the Northeast [sic!]coast of America, from the above mentioned 55° to the Bering Strait and beyond, also on the Islands Aleut, Kurile and others, laying on the Northeast Ocean; 2) To make new discoveries not only higher than 55°northern latitude, but also further south and to stake the discovered lands into Russian possession according to the existing rules, if only these haven’t been staked and made dependent by other nations...” (pp. 161-162).
[Offices and trade representatives of the Russian American Company in the Irkutsk Province]: four offices (Irkutsk, Kyakhta, Yakutsk and Okhotsk), and two trade representatives (Izhiginsk and Petropavlovsk) (p. 213).
The book is illustrated with two perfectly executed maps of Eastern Siberia and Lake Baikal, and ten views of Irkutsk, Baikal, Angara and Lena. The map of Baikal, dated 1806 and supplemented with a decorative cartouche “A view of Nikolskaya pier at the point where Angara flows out of Baikal” , is one of the first detailed maps of the lake; the insert shows the Posolsky Bay on the lake’s eastern shore. The “Newest Map of Eastern Siberia Compiled in 1816” shows the area from Siberian Arctic shore down to Mongolia and Manchuria in the south, from the Ob River and Kara Sea in the west to the Bering Strait in the east, with parts of Alaska, St. Lawrence Islands and Commodore Islands (marked as Aleutian Islands); Sakhalin is shown as a peninsula and apart of China, the Kuriles are shown as Russian possession as far south as the Urup Island (marked as “Alexander Island” – the name given by the Russian American Company’s officers), Iturup Island is shown as a part of Japan.
The plates include a plan of Irkutsk, three views of Irkutsk, views of Lake Baikal, Angara and Lena Rivers, a monogram of St. Innocent, a vignette with “an allegorical picture of the Irkutsk Province,” and a map of confluence of Yenisey and Angara. Engraved title page is decorated with a large elaborate vignette, showing Russian Imperial eagle with a sword looking at the monogram of Alexander I and resting on the base composed of the coats of arms of the Irkutsk Province as a whole and those of its seven major cities.
The book was included in several Russian catalogues of illustrated and rare books: Obolianinov (SPb, 1914, # 1814); Shibanov (Catalogue 149, M., 1909, # 585); Solovyov (No. 123; # 439, “Rare”); Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga (Catalogue 76, M., 1936, # 514); A.E. Bourtsev noted that “Clean copies in good condition are very rare” (SPb, 1914, vol. III, # 1071).