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A Dark Mirror: Romanov
and Imperial Palace Library Materials

in the Holdings of The New York Public Library


Compiled by Robert H. Davis, Jr.                                                                    

With a preface by Marc Raeff, Columbia University   

and an Introductory Essay by                                                           

Robert H. Davis, Jr. and Edward Kasinec, The New York Public Library                                               


In the years following the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviet government confiscated a significant portion of the personal wealth and palace property of the Romanov dynasty.  During the 1920s and the early 1930s, motivated by both ideology and financial need, the Soviet government sold for hard currency works of fine and decorative art, books, and manuscripts to Western dealers and individuals.  In the United States, The New York Public Library was one of only a handful of institutional buyers of nationalized books and manuscripts from Russian imperial collections, purchasing more than 2,200 volumes.  While the majority of titles came from the collection of Grand Duke Vladimir Aleksandrovich, uncle of Nicholas II, books from the libraries of thirty individual Romanovs and nine of their palaces are represented in the NYPL’s holdings.


Although much has been written on the sale of Old Master paintings, Fabergé eggs, and spectacular jewelry appealing to the people such as Majorie Merriwether Post Davies, Armand Hammer, or Paul Mellon, the equally fascinating story of what the Soviets offered in the way of nationalized book and manuscript material is little-known, and is presently a topic of tremendous interest in Russia itself, as it learns of the great state-sponsored cultural losses of this period. 


The introductory essay by Robert Davis and Edward Kasinec is a first attempt to describe and document this intriguing and complex story, while the catalogue itself describes the kind of material sold by the Soviets abroad.  The catalogue also provides what could serve as the basis for a “union list” of former Romanov holdings in U.S. and Western European libraries.


At the core of A Dark Mirror is a catalogue of more than 600 titles in the NYPL with an incontrovertible imperial provenance—that is, those with a bookplate, cypher, dedication page, or other ownership marks.  The book contains indexes by Name and Title; Place of Publication, Production, and Preparation; Publisher/Typographer; Date of Publication/Preparation; and a brief Subject Index.  As Romanov volumes were distributed  into various curatorial units of the NYPL when catalogued after arrival, this checklist gathers citations to items hitherto scattered  bibliographically among many of the catalogues of the Library. 


A Dark Mirror will interest scholars in many fields, along with antiquarians, curators, and lay readers interested in the spectacular and turbulent years of Soviet nationalization and the sale abroad of portions of the artistic and intellectual legacy of imperial Russia as mirrored in the libraries of the Romanovs.


A Dark Mirror: Romanov and Imperial Palace Library Materials in the Holdings of The New York Public Library; The New York Public Library Slavic, Baltic, and Eurasian Resource Series. ISBN: 0-88354-039-8

List Price......................................................................................................................... $90