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The richness of the Russian and related materials is due to a happy coincidence of historical events.
One of the parent collections of the NYPL was the Astor Library, founded in 1849 upon the personal collection of fur-trader and real estate mogul John Jacob Astor (1763-1848).
Alexander II, for example, donated to the Library works on the archaeological exploration of prehistoric settlements in the Crimea, and a facsimile of the Codex Sinaiticus.
The Lenox Library, another parent collection of NYPL, while focused primarily on Bibles in all languages (including the first Gutenberg brought to America), also included folio rarities.
Rovinskii was an accomplished person in many respects.
A lawyer, senator, procurator and legal scholar by training, he was instrumental in shepherding through some of the important legal reforms of the mid-and late 19th century.
Significantly, NYPL holds a substantial portion of the printed oeuvre of a notable cultural figure of imperial Russia, Dimitrii Aleksandrovich Rovinskii (1824-1895), who published works on the history of the graphic arts-both western and Russian.
Notably, there is little duplication, especially in the area of Cyrillic plate books, among these three institutions. 90-91.) Building upon the long legacy of the Astor and Lenox collections, the acquisition of these kinds of extraordinary materials--even in the midst of the Great Depression--set the NYPL apart.
According to the autobiography of noted antiquarian bookseller H. Kraus, by 1942: These [Russian palace] collections, so little known or appreciated in the West, included fabulous material, more eastern European rarities than had ever been seen in this hemisphere. In subsequent decades, up to the present day, NYPL has actively solicited donations from collectors of Russian and East European visual materials.
A scholar and aesthete, he traveled Russia, Europe, and Asia (India and Japan), studying a wide range of graphic traditions-from the popular print to the chef d'oeuvres of Rembrandt and Adrian von Ostade.
Rovinskii spent much of his modest private fortune in assembling one of imperial Russia's most important private collections of Russian and Western European graphics.