Mathematics in the hands of the Empress


Rukovodstvo k arifmetike dlia upotrebleniia v narodnykh uchilishchiakh

[Guide to Arithmetic for Use in People's Schools]

Publication: Sanktpeterburg, Akad. nauk, 1783.

[VUIANOVSKII, Stefan], Rukovodstvo k arifmetike dlia upotrebleniia v narodnykh uchilishchiakh

Empress Mariia Fedorovna’s copy of an important Russian textbook for arithmetic. First edition, in a lovely example finely bound in green silk with attractive endpapers.

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Our Notes & References

The first Russian edition of this “first textbook for the children of people’s schools” (Pchkhelko), and a very popular one, going through 5 editions in 10 years totalling more than 48,000 copies.

A fine, crisp and imperial example attractively bound in green silk with ‘gold’ endpapers, from Empress Mariia Fedorovna’s library.

Stefan Vuianovskii (also Vujanovski, 1743 -1829) was a Serbian education reformer and the Royal Director of the Greek-Oriental Normal Schools in Zagreb. His arithmetic textbook was originally published in Church Slavonic and German in 1777 in Vienna, before being translated from German by A.D. Sekeresh for this first Russian edition.

Although other arithmetic handbooks had been published in Russian previously, Pchkhelko notes that this edition served as the first textbook for the newly created “people’s schools”: indeed, Catherine the Great’s decree of 16 February 1781 launched the first Russian public education system with free schools for children of different social backgrounds (serfs excluded). The first such school opened in St. Petersburg precisely in 1783, the publication year of our Rukovodstvo; most of the other Russian cities implemented these changes after 1786.

This textbook covers the very basics of counting with practical examples written in accessible language. Introducing the main arithmetic rules, it also presents different kinds of coins with their denominations, measuring systems of time, weight, length and even “bread” and “drinks” [“mera napitkov”], where one barrel contains 40 buckets, a bucket contains four quarters, etc. Each chapter starts with a definition, followed with a detailed rule and the application of this rule in examples; the book ends with an unusual table of contents, the structure of which is visually presented on a letterpress folding table.

This is the “first part” of the book: the only one published in 1783 and complete in itself. Bibliographies and libraries tend to describe it on its own (see Svod. Kat., St. Pet. Acad. of Sciences and the SHPL – whose copy is missing the title). A second part was written under the direction of M. Golovin and published at a private press in 1784, together with a re-issue of the first part; it is unclear whether this second part is a translation or a completely new work. It is entirely possible that the Gd. Duchess acquired this volume on its own upon publication and never had the second part, or had it together with the 1784 reissue.


Empress Mariia Fedorovna as Grand Duchess (1759-1828, gilt arms to covers); Grand Duchess Kseniia Aleksandrovna (1875-1960, the daughter of Tsar Alexander III, sister of Tsar Nicholas II; she fled Russia and settled eventually in the UK); Grand Duke George Mikhailovich (1863–1919, cousin of Tsar Alexander III); his daughter Princess Nina Georgievna Chavchavadze (1901-1974); her son Prince David Pavlovich Chavchavadze (1924-2014, a British-born American author and a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer).


Sopikov 9868 (both parts, dated 1783-84); Svod. Kat. 6190 (part 1 only; part 1 & 2, dated 1784, under #6191).

Pchkhelko A.S., Khristomatiia po metodike nachalnoi arifmetik, Directmedia, 2013 [after the edition of 1940], p. 16.

Artamonova L. M. “Istochniki po istorii shkolnoi reformy kontsa XVIII veka v rossiiskikh arkhivakh” // Vestnik Samarsk. gos. univ. 2007, #5/3.

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Physical Description

Octavo. IV incl. title, 102 pp. and a folding letterpress table, all on thick laid paper with Honig watermark.


Contemporary green silk, covers with gilt scroll and gilt arms in the centre, flat spine, endpapers of Metallpapier, most probably German, made of thin shiny metallic leaves pasted onto paper, all edges gilt.


Spine rubbed, with small losses, the occasional abrasion or stain elsewhere, otherwise excellent, especially the block, very fresh.

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