Last Friday we posted a list of 27 books currently in stock which reflect British engagement with the Continent, and vice versa, from the 18th to the early 20th century. Though diverse in subject, all 27 reflected a keenness, on both sides, to engage with foreign material. Translations of Baillie, Radcliffe, Pope, and Saint-Pierre were included, as well as a particularly amusing work by André-Guillaume Contant d’Orville referred to by a later scholar as possibly ‘the most egregious example of a fake traveller’s account’ ever written.
We had a particular fondness for the sixth item in the list, a bond certificate printed in Kronshtadt dated 14 July 1827. The document testifies to British captain John Cutter’s ownership of the Success who, under Cutter’s command, plied the lucrative route between St Petersburg and Hull, the port through which vast quantities of northern European flax and hemp were imported for Britain’s linen, canvas, and rope industries.
It makes sense that English-language printing would have been happening in Kronshtadt, where many British merchants maintained offices and a ‘sizable British community was swelled by hundreds of visiting British sailors and travellers’ (Cross, By the Banks of the Neva, p. 118). Cross also cites James Prior’s Voyage to St. Petersburg in 1814 (1822): ‘…every second person we saw was English; the beach, quays, streets,and taverns were crowded with them … the place might be taken for an English colony.’
The real star of the show here, however, is probably the bond certificate’s watermark. Hold it up to the light, and you will be greeted by the glorious, nearly 3-dimensional image of an eagle:
How fabulous is that? It’s a far cry from the simple wire outlines on laid paper of centuries past.
For more on this and a host of other interesting cross-cultural items, check out our latest list, Britain and Europe.