A fresh example


Essai sur le commerce de Russie, avec l'histoire de ses découvertes

Publication: [Rey?], Amsterdam, 1777.

[MARBAULT, M. de, also MARBEAU], Essai sur le commerce de Russie, avec l’histoire de ses découvertes

Lovely, crisp copy of this classic work on Russian trade, esp. interesting for its description of the North Pacific and Alaska – but also of the Black Sea and Ukraine. With German royal provenance.

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Our Notes & References

“Extremely detailed and worthy of study” (Lada-Mocarski): an early work on Russian commerce, containing a folding map depicting Alaskan islands, with the Russians’ discoveries in the East Sea and America, including regions between the Kamchatka Peninsula and Alaska. Although approximate, it identifies Yakutia, the Kurils, ‘Ile alakcha’ and the Aleutians.

Published anonymously and very likely written by M. de Marbault (also Marbeau, d. 1781), a secret diplomat (member of the “Secret du Roi”) in the 1770s, this work “pays considerable attention to discoveries and trade between Kamschatka and America” (Howes). Giving a historic insight into the Russian expansion into Siberia and farther East and North, Marbault curiously notes that “until the present day, Russians kept in secret their discoveries to the east of Kamchatka” (our translation). He lists eight most significant islands from the Archipel du nord and briefly discusses their geographic details, populations and resources.

Marbault not only focuses on Siberia and American Russia, but also includes important observations about the Russian trade through the Caspian, Black, White and Baltic Seas, the Chinese, Persian and French trade with Russia, the internal trade between regions, including Ukraine, “le paradis de l’empire” (Siberia being its “enfer”). He makes detailed comments on most Russian goods exported in 1767-69, including caviar, silk, fur and of course vodka, noting that it had been the government’s main source of revenue in the internal trade: “Les eaux-de-vie sont la partie la plus lucrative & la plus considérable de tout le commerce intérieur de l’empire” (p. 54). Marbault illustrates his text with noteworthy tables giving export figures for each goods, followed by detailed calculations of expenses for merchants importing their goods to Russia.

Being well aware of the differences between the customs on the European and Russian markets, Marbault writes about the local changes in business relations from the time of Peter the Great to Catherine II and thus offers his book as a guide to avoid fraudery and establish productive collaboration. He finally suggests that France would be an ideal trading partner for Russia, a position much defended by the French ambassador to Russia, Durand de Distroff, to whom Marbault was the secretary.

A fine, fresh example of the first edition, with German royal provenance.


“Rouen 1777″(small stamp to p. 1 with illegible contemporary signature); Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hannover (1771-1851; versos of half-title and title with stamp in red ink: “Suscipere et finire. Ex bibliotheca Ernesti Aug. Hannov. Regis”); From the estate of Geoffrey Elliott (1939-2021), banker of Russian descent, author of books on 20th-c. history. Geoffrey and his wife Fay were noted collectors, especially of Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh and other literary figures. Russia was also an important theme: Geoffrey’s grandparents were interned in a Siberian tsarist prison camp before the October Revolution, and he focused most of his published works on the Cold War.

The Elliotts donated a significant part of their collection to the library of Leeds University in 2002, but kept the Russia-related items, which we consequently acquired.


Lada-Mocarski 26, Howes M 270, Wickersham 1775; Mezin & Rjeoutski, Dictionnaire des Francais, Suisses, Wallons et autres francophones en Russie, II, 293 and 570.

Item number



Physical Description

Octavo (19.1 x 12.3 cm). Half-title, title, 299 pp., [1] p. t.o.c, with a folding map (17 x 10.3 cm) engraved by Croisey after Gerardin.


Near contemporary marbled brown paper imitating tree calf, flat spine with gilt lines and orange paper label with gilt lettering.


Slightly rubbed at extremities, minor closed tear to lower part of upper hinge, one corner a bit bumped; a marginal closed tear to map fold, very occasional light foxing, a crisp, fresh example.

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