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A.D. Tchertkoff, 1789-1858

AdtAlexander Dimitrievich Tchertkoff
Founder of the First Public Library of Moscow
(1789-1858)

Alexander Dimitrievich was a Grand Seigneur of the most admirable type. He was President of Moscow University’s Historical and Antiquarian Society for many years, Marshal of Moscow Province Nobility, trustee of a gymnasium, founder of a school of painting and sculpture, and a celebrated scholar, bibliophile, archeologist and numismatist. His father, Vasili Dimitrievich, had been Marshal of the Voronezh Province Nobility.

A.D. Tchertkoff served a dozen years in the Life Guards Horse, fought the War of 1812-1814 in Russia and Europe, left the Army in the oppressive Arakcheev times to spend several years of cultural and artistic study in the West. After another brief tour of active duty (1828-29) during the Turkish War, Tchertkoff settled down in Moscow and bought the mansion in 1831. There he devoted himself passionately to the study and collection of manuscripts, printed books, coins and graphics and to the discharge of the many civic and cultural responsibilities which a keen sense of noblesse oblige led him to. Two brothers, Ivan Dmitrievich and Nikolai Dmitrievich were similarly involved in public duties and civic works.

His best known work is his Description of Ancient Russian Coins, for which he won the Academy of Sciences’ coveted Demidov Award. (He declined the accompanying monetary stipend, donating it to the printing of a rare manuscript). Equally valuable are his bibliographic and other publications, including the comprehensive Basic Bibliography of 1838 and 1845. It was essentially a catalog of his great library. This he built “on the broadest basis – to include everything that had been written concerning Russia in whatever language”. It consisted of almost 9000 books. The bibliography is especially notable for the well-ordered an logical categorization of its material.

When Tchertkoff died in 1858, his son Grigory Alexandrovich, took over the vast collection and on-going bibliographic work. He more than doubled the library holdings, and in 1861 he organized them as the basis of Moscow’s first free public library. Its layout was patterned after that of the British Museum’s library.

In 1874, G.A. Tchertkoff handed over the collection to the Imperial Historic Museum, and, after several interim shifts, the books were transferred to the State Historical Museum in 1886 where they remained available to the public until 1917.