Mavriky Wolff:
Russian “Book Tsar”

In the late 19th century, Wolff’s bookshops could be found all over Russia – from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok

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November 15 marks 185 years since the birth of Mavriky Wolff, Russian book publisher who brought scientific knowledge to the masses (though other sources say that he was born on November 24).

In the late 19th century, Wolff’s bookshops could be found all over Russia – from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. Wolff was called “the tsar of Russian books” and was thought to be a millionaire.

However, the editor of Russian magazine “Vokrug Sveta” (“Around the World”) Egor Bykovskiy always laughs when he hears that Mavriky Wolff was a millionaire. Well, Mr. Bykovskiy does know a thing or two about Mavriky Wolff – after all, it was Wolff who founded the “Vokrug Sveta” magazine many years ago, and for all this time it has been very popular with readers.

“Mavriky Wolff was quite a well-to-do man,” Egor Bykovskiy says, “but he was obviously not among Russia’s richest people. He could probably be called a millionaire if someone translates his then money into today’s Russian rubles.”

Mavriky saw himself as a book publisher since an early age. After finishing school in Warsaw, he continued his studies in Paris. He then worked in France, Germany and several Russian cities. When he – young, attractive and ambitious – came to St. Petersburg in 1848, he was quick to find a job as an agent for one of the city’s bookselling companies. Five years later, Wolff had already founded his own publishing house with a network of print shops. This publishing house existed till 1918 and has published a total of more than 5 thousand book items.

Egor Bykovskiy is convinced that if Mavriky Wolff was alive today, he would be no less successful. Wolff was inexhaustible in inventing new things and new ways – and he was not afraid to take a certain amount of risk. After all, publishing a magazine was not very risky, for the magazine was distributed by subscription. Mr. Bykovskiy tells about the magazine’s history:

“At first, it had a rather long name – “The Magazine of Geography, Natural History, Newest Discoveries, Inventions and Observations”. It was a popular science magazine for the educated public. No politics, no glamour, no gossip. Still, it was a luxurious edition – the best paper, color illustrations and European quality. And, last but not least, it was always interesting. I daresay that today, our magazine still keeps to the best traditions of the days when it was founded.”

After the 1917 revolution, the Wolff family immigrated to Germany and continued their family business there. First of all, they published fiction by the best Russian writers. Today, the company bears the name “Fridenauer Presse” and is owned by Mrs. Katharina Wagenbach-Wolff, Mavriky Wolff’s great-granddaughter. The company publishes Russian fiction in German translations and Mrs. Wagenbach-Wolff collects books that were published by her great-grandfather in the 19th century and have now become rarities.

Source: The Voice of Russia
15 November, 2010