Historic letters from Catherine the Great are up for auction

Written by By Tasia Wong, CNN

It’s not uncommon for historic documents to be passed down through the generations.

For this upcoming auction at the Cullinan Auctioneers on February 20, a letter from Catherine the Great from approximately 1369 — signed by the Russian Empress upon her exit from Istanbul — will be auctioned off. The letter is related to vaccination initiatives and vaccination efforts for various diseases, including rabies.

“Catherine often reviewed the measure of how many deaths were spared by the immunization of a population, and I believe her position in that project may have been taken for example by this signature, which here expresses her great confidence in the future,” said Michael Francis, director of Medieval, Renaissance and Science Collections at Cullinan Auctioneers.

The letter is signed by the Empress Catherine the Great. Credit: Cullinan Auctioneers/Cullinan Auctions

In The “Catherine the Great Political Companion,” a book containing documents written by Catherine after she had returned from her long and arduous trip to Istanbul, as well as other letters penned by her, she writes that her mission was “to preserve the health of the people.”

The letter, from around 1369, is written while Catherine was still in the Ottoman Empire, and it is signed by her directly.

This letter is one of a series of historical documents being offered at the upcoming sale. Its reference to the “Vaccination Queen” is part of its remarkable pedigree, which dates back to early modern London. This particular letter was presented to a Victorian private collector.

In the early 1950s, when Henrietta Cullinan re-assigned herself to the collection of medical books and papers, the letter was collected, catalogued and returned for inclusion in the museum’s archive. While also going to the medical library of The Victoria and Albert Museum, the letter and related documents served as part of its collection for almost half a century.

The “Cullinan Medical Library,” known as the “Dentistry Library” and housed in the museum’s Victorian Building (Image via Pantheon)

These developments resulted in The Royal London Museum creating the Cullinan Medical Library in the Victorian Building in Kensington, London. The London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea owns the other buildings of The Royal London Museum, including the Garrick Rooms, Faberge Gallery and the Baum Gallery.

Today, the collection is available at The Crick Clinic in London, and is part of the Medical History Collection at The Royal London Museum.

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