Peter the Great’s Lost Letter to Georg Wilhelm de Henning: On the History of Expert Thought and the Antiques Market

Keywords: Peter the Great, Georg Wilhelm de Henning, authenticity examination, antiques market, autograph collection, Nikolai P. Likhachev, Noël Charavay


The elements of expert analysis established in Russian academic circles by the late nineteenth century, when auxiliary historical disciplines became an indispensable part of the academic base of historical knowledge, are described in this article with reference to a lost letter by Peter I to Georg Wilhelm de Henning sent on 24 December 1724. These elements include the study of the letter, the stages and methods of introducing it into scholarly circulation, and the assessment of its significance and value in monetary terms. It is established that the original of the letter ended up in a private collection in the early twentieth century and became inaccessible to historians. However, handwritten copies, a draft, and descriptions have survived. The article analyses the work with Peter I’s letter performed by the members of the commission for the publication of Peter the Great’s letters and papers, as well as by the first owner of the letter, N. K. Bogushevsky, the Parisian antiquarian Noël Charavay, into whose hands the letter fell a decade after its former owner’s death, and N. P. Likhachev, a prominent specialist in a number of auxiliary historical disciplines to whom the antiquary turned for an expert opinion. While researching the copies and descriptions of Peter I’s letter, the authors used traditional methods of expert analysis of the missing original found in the collections of St Petersburg Institute of History (Russian Academy of Sciences), the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts, and the National Archives of France. Referring to handwritten materials from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts, the Russian State Library, and sales catalogues, the authors carry out a brief analysis of the Western European and Russian antiques market in the late nineteenth – early twentieth centuries in relation to Russian documents from the eighteenth century (prices and demand). The attribution of authenticity to historical documents (including the first Russian emperor’s autographs) was not only an issue of the reliability of historical knowledge or academic interest, but also one of reputation of connoisseurs, collectors, antiquarians, and the experts they turned to. At the same time, reputation helped ensure the quality of expertise and was a tool for raising this through horizontal connections within the professional community.

Author Biographies

Tatiana Bazarova

PhD (History), Chief of the Historical Archive, St Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

7, Petrozavodskaya Str., 197110, St Petersburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0001-9380-5921

Aleksandra Chirkova

PhD (History), Senior Researcher, St Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

7, Petrozavodskaya Str., 197110, St Petersburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-6482-6421


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How to Cite
Bazarova, T., & Chirkova, A. (2021). Peter the Great’s Lost Letter to Georg Wilhelm de Henning: On the History of Expert Thought and the Antiques Market. Quaestio Rossica, 9(3), 927–944.
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