May 22, 2012

Russian library discovers hidden treasure


In case you missed it, as I did, “A treasure trove of pre-revolutionary books and magazines has been discovered in the archives of the Russian State Polytechnical Museum Library in Moscow” hidden behind false walls, according to this report from the RBTH website.

The librarians of the Museum Library were preparing the collection to be moved to a temporary location, while the current 100-year old facility is being renovated. As books were being boxed up and shelves dismantled, the librarians came to a plywood wall that sounded hollow when tapped.

“We moved the cover aside and found books behind it. When we removed the wall completely, we saw piles of books stacked up to the ceiling,” Svetlana Kukhtevich, Deputy Director of the Polytechnic Library told the RBTH. The report continues:

According to preliminary estimates, the 6.5-foot-long hiding place contained about 30,000 books printed before the 1917 Russian Revolution. The books are almost exclusively in foreign languages, including French, German, Latin and Greek.

“All scientists and generally educated people of the 19th century spoke several languages and there was no need to publish books in Russian,” said Kukhtevich. While most of the books were published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the oldest book in the collection, Description of Picturesque Areas Occupied by Germany, was published in 1706.

After their initial find, the librarians found two more hidden caches behind another false wall. There, they uncovered complete collections of 19th Century foreign magazines. According to RBTH:

One collection features nearly all the issues of the British magazine Engineering from 1884-1894. This is an important find not only for bibliographers, but also for researchers in the history of technology. This collection originated with the library itself – foreign technical periodicals were delivered to Russia exclusively via the Polytechnical Library.

It is still unclear s to why, exactly, the books and magazines were hidden. There is nothing to indicate that the library would have been expected to destroy the collection. It’s been speculated that the librarians during the revolution decided to hide them out of their own fear that they might be destroyed.

Regardless, the books and periodicals have been saved and will be preserved in the newly refurbished Polytechnical Museum Library.


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.