The Archive of the Moscow Printing House
Everyday life in Muscovite Rus'
The archive of the Moscow Printing House is a unique source of information on the history of book printing by the Eastern Slavs, as well as on the significance of printed books in Muscovite Rus' and Petrinian Russia. It provides valuable insights into the way in which books were produced and traded, allowing researchers to establish the paper and the typeset used, and the construction of certain tools and devices. The collection contains data on book stocks and the number of books in circulation, on editions that were not kept, the price of new books, their preparation for printing, the geography of book sales, and the buyers of different types of an edition. The data on the residence and social status of the buyer were almost always recorded in receipt books. The copybooks can even be used to trace the history of each individual edition prepared by the Moscow Printing House.
Gold mine for scholars
At the same time, the collection is a gold mine for scholars studying the social, political, or economic history of seventeenth-century Russia, or more specifically, the history of the Russian Church. It contains huge amounts of information on the restoration of the economy after the Time of Troubles, uprisings, and epidemics in the 17th century, and information on merchants, both Russian and foreign, from whom these or those goods were bought. There are even details of the salary and other payments made to workers of a Printing House, who often were paid in kind, rather than in money. Even more intriguing is the information it contains on such seemingly mundane matters as the yearly prices for bread and salt over several centuries.
The cradle of Russian book printing
The Moscow Printing House was founded in 1553 during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Because the first few books it published bore neither the date nor place of publication, the official beginning of book printing in Russia is put at 1564 – the year in which Ivan Fedorov and Petr Timofeev Mstislavets printed Russia's first dated book, an edition of the
Apostol. The Printing House operated until 1571, when it was destroyed by fire. Ivan the Terrible then ordered the establishment of a new printing press at Aleksandrova Sloboda. Rebuilt in 1589 but destroyed during the Time of Troubles, the Moscow Printing House eventually emerged as the State's leading printing house. In the 1630s it employed some 120 people, and by the middle of the century this number had risen to 150. In 1721 it became the Moscow Synod Typography, which remained in operation until 1918.
Cultural and intellectual center
The Printing House performed a variety of important functions in the cultural life of seventeenth-century Russia. It helped to spread the official ideology and the liturgical revisions that would lead to the schism of the Orthodox Church. It also served as Russia's first bookshop, a book repository, and a training school for future book printers. In the course of the seventeenth century, the Moscow Printing House amassed an enormous library and printed a total of ca. 350,000 copies – an impressive figure by any standard. A vast number of books were on religious topics, such as Bibles, prayer books, and liturgical material. However, the Printing House also produced educational literature (readers, grammars) and juridical codices (
"Ordered by His Imperial Highness the Tsar, blessed by His Holiness the Patriarch"
The Moscow Printing House was a well-organized State institution that enjoyed the inviolable position of a monopolist: This was the only place in Muscovite Rus' were printed books were produced. The activities of the Printing House were supervised by the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, whose explicit permission was required for every book. Consequently, the title page of each one bore the words: "Ordered by His Imperial Highness the Tsar, blessed by His Holiness the Patriarch." The actual printing was invariably preceded by a service attended by the Patriarch. Determining the price of a book was left to none other than the Tsar, who was solemnly presented with the first copy.
The first printed Cyrillic books were not only the fruit of intellectual progress and enlightenment, but also the immediate product of historic decisions taken by Ivan the Terrible and his successors. The centralization of government and the need to regulate a number of religious matters induced the Council of Hundred (
Stoglavyi sobor) to issue a decree on the unification of church books – a goal that could only be achieved through book printing. The new technology gave the State an enormous advantage in imposing its religious and political views on the more unwilling elements of the population. Book printing was not only instrumental to the conversion of the Tatars in the recently reconquered Khanate of Kazan, but was also an important asset in the fight against religious dissent during the Time of Troubles. Moreover, Moscow book printing helped to preserve Slavic and national traditions outside Russia: The Slavic peoples of the Balkan were under Ottoman rule, while the territory of Ukraine and Belarus belonged to the Rechi Pospolita, where the printing of Cyrillic books was a complicated matter. Thus, Moscow book printing was vital to the entire Orthodox community.
The IDC collection
The archive of the Moscow Printing House consists of three parts – described in three inventories – comprising a total of 606 items from the period 1620-1722. The present collection contains 104 items (books detailing income and expenditure, inventory lists, etc.) that furnish meticulous information on the workers' wages, and the amounts paid for equipment and other material in the period 1620-1700. Most of the documents from this unique archival collection, which is held in the Russian State Archive of Early Acts (RGADA,
fond 1182), are previously unpublished. This makes it a unique source of information for Slavists, historians, book historians, and medievalists. In the near future, IDC will make available archival materials from the eighteenth century, as well as the priceless library of the Moscow Printing house, which contains books printed by such trailblazers as Ivan Fedorov, Andronik Nevezha, and Nikita Fofanov.
Russian State Archives of Early Acts (RGADA)
The material comprising the present collection is stored in the Russian State Archives of Early Acts (in Moscow), which holds over 3.3 million documents covering more than nine centuries of Russian writing and book printing. The Archives contain documents issued by the highest government organs as well as those issued by the local authorities of the Russian empire up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. RGADA also stores the papers of the most prominent noble families of Russia, and various priceless collections of manuscripts and early printed books.