New York: A letter signed by the first Russian tsar, Czar Alexander III, supporting inoculations for children has sold for $1.3 million.
A group of Russian buyers purchased the letter and a folder containing documents from the last Russian empress, Catherine the Great, at Sotheby’s in New York.
The 1,600-word letter, dated 19 October 1796, is long on rhetoric but short on policy. It is now kept in St Petersburg.
“I can say that this idea will be successfully carried out. This will be the cornerstone of the foundation of a new civilisation,” Alexander wrote. “I pray you to bear in mind that childhood is the most glorious and most precious thing that the human mind can enjoy in life.”
He adds, “I trust that they will be granted their rights and proper duty to free them from deformity and disease.”
While written three years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the letter offers insight into Alexander’s desire to rebuild the political economy of his empire, even if it meant upsetting some of his subjects.
The letter is owned by a private collection and comes from the collections of two significant members of Russian society: the architect Andrei Tarkovsky and the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
For his part, Tarkovsky is famous for his industrial designs for ships and residential buildings. Solzhenitsyn, the greatest living Russian author and Soviet dissident, spent 20 years in jail for his criticism of the Soviet regime.
Inside the boxes holding documents from Catherine the Great. Photograph: Sotheby’s
The buyer of Alexander’s letter, Natsun Amidei, also owns the 1905 revolutionary manifesto containing Ivan the Terrible’s later summation of the cause. The 1914 Lenin declaration of the October Revolution was another box that sold for $1.2 million.
The memoir of Maria Godoy, daughter of the Russian empress, claimed to be Maria’s own privately owned letter and fetched $400,000. Godoy’s mother had planned to publish the memoir once she died but slipped into a coma. The collection was given to Lord Palpatine, husband of actress Natalie Portman, as a gift.
The sale of Alexander’s letter was no record breaker. The most expensive letter ever sold was sent in 1785 by the future Emperor Jean Joseph V in which he defends the Empress Catherine’s famous gesture of not conscripting Russian women for service in the war.
The letter, signed by the future emperor Jean Joseph V, was sold for $2.4m. Photograph: Sotheby’s
The auction also included papers from a much older and less well-known Russian leader.
The 1,200-page book, titled Laļation Samizdat – titled Lautann I as if its author, probably Vladimir Lenin, were still alive – was written in 1874 by a man identified by German cultural historians as the author of the “Internationals,” or the planned-rallyings that would support the revolutionary cause in Russia.
He proposed by the same title that Lenin should become the new Soviet emperor. Russian scholars believe he is Turgenev, author of the influential novels Anna Karenina and The Idiot.
The sale of the book is a rarity for posterity. The 1,200-page book is the only surviving prototype of a new force within the Russian government apparatus: the Lautann, or international, committees.
Writing under the name Femen, or the International, the aristocratic manuscript attempted to organise demonstrations in support of Lenin. It was seized, along with thousands of other documents, by the Tsarist secret police. The publishing house of the literature survives only today.