Peter's early days: a scarce, illustrated edition


Polnoe opisanie deianii ego velichestva gosudaria imperatora Petra Velikago

[A Complete Description of the Deeds of Peter the Great]

Publication: V Grade Sviatogo Petra [St Petersburg], Shnoor, 1788.

TUMANSKII, Fedor, Polnoe opisanie deianii ego velichestva gosudaria imperatora Petra Velikago

An early Russian biography of Peter the Great, illustrated and noted for its rarity. Pleasant example in contemporary binding.

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Our Notes & References

A complete example of the first edition of this illustrated biography of Peter I: one of the earliest illustrated such works on the Tsar printed in Russia. It was intended to be Part 1 of five, though no more were printed.

The first section traces the succession of Russian rulers from the medieval period. The second provides an account of the House of Romanov from the accession of Mikhail in 1613, which put an end to the ‘Time of Troubles’ of Boris Godunov and the False Dmitris, to the reign of Peter I. The third discusses the complex early stages of his accession, especially the 1682 military revolt of the Streltsy in support of his half-brother Ivan, ending with the joint rule of Ivan and Peter under the regency of Sophia Alekseevna.

The fine portraits were partly based on works in the private collection of Count Ivan who, like other scholars of the time, supplied Tumanskii with historical documents. The portraits depict Romanov rulers from Patriarch Filaret, father of Mikhail and Tsar de facto during his reign, and his wife Ksenia, to Peter’s half-brother, Ivan Alekseevich, as well as the influential royal counsellor Artamon Matveyev, killed during the 1682 uprising. There is also a reproduction of a commemorative medal made for Peter’s birth.

The historian Fedor Tumanskii (1757-1810) was Catherine the Great’s personal translator, literary mentor and confidant; she commissioned the work from him and he naturally dedicated it to her.

Rare: bibliographers have often remarked on the scarcity of this work and the difficulty in finding copies with no missing plates. Outside Russia, WorldCat locates only four copies in the USA (LoC, Columbia, Chicago and Wisconsin) and three copies elsewhere (British Library, Göttingen and National Parliamentary Library of Georgia).


Burtsev Opisanie IV-702 (“redchaishaia kniga”, for which he paid 25 rub.); Fekula 3019; Obolianinov 2711; Svod. Kat. 7402.

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Physical Description

Octavo (21 x 13.5 cm). With an engraved additional title and 11 engraved plates, 5 vignettes, with the list of subscribers.


Contemporary calf, flat spine with two labels of contrasting colours lettered in gilt, marbled endpapers.


Binding rubbed, spine more worn with losses to labels and decoration, upper joint weak but block holding firm; very good internally, with only some marks of use, two small marginal worm holes, some thumbing or light spotting, closed tear with no loss to p.79 touching text.

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