Book Dissemination in Vilnius

Urbs et libri

Photos of Marija Šlapelienė’s bookshop with comments by the owner The inscription on the other side of the photo by Marija Šlapelienė (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

The dissemination of books in Vilnius has unfolded like a mosaic, where individual pieces of private libraries, book donations, trade networks, and the relentless quest for knowledge fit together to create a complex and ever-evolving cultural picture. 

Opera, volume 4 Alšėniškis' exlibris on the front page of the book "Opera" (16th Century)National Library of Lithuania

Private libraries have played an important role in the formation of intellectual stratum of the society at various times. Bishop of Vilnius, Paulius Alšėniškis, the last representative of the influential Alšėniškis family in the GDL, had an exceptional library.

Alšėniškis' ex-libris

His ownership of the books is attested by various ownership marks, including a supralibros and an exlibris with a hypocentaurus and the insignia of the Alšėniškis, which point to the social position of the owner and provide valuable insights into the culture of the time. 

The Bishop of Samogitia, Merkelis Giedraitis (Pol. Melchior Giedroyć) (ca. 1536-1609), purchased a book "Mythology of Heretics, or Summary of Heretical Tales" in Vilnius for 12 groszy.

Book "Mythology of Heretics, or Summary of Heretical Tales" Others inscription in the book "Mythology of Heretics, or Summary of Heretical Tales", 19th Century, From the collection of: National Library of Lithuania
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Book "Mythology of Heretics, or Summary of Heretical Tales" The inscription by Melchior Giedraitis in the book "Mythology of Heretics, or Summary of Heretical Tales" indicates that the book was acquired in 1587 in Vilnius, Merkelis Giedraitis, 16th Century, From the collection of: National Library of Lithuania
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The title page of Benedictus van Haeften's book "Regia via Crucis. Antwerpen" (17th Century) by Benedictus van HaeftenNational Library of Lithuania

The title page of the book "Regia via Crucis"

The book by the Belgian Benedictine monk Benedictus van Haeften with thirty-eight emblematic engravings. The title page was designed by the famous Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens (1576-1640).

Ad Vilnam

In 1756, the Trinitarian Monastery purchased this book in Vilnius, which is indicated by the inscription on the side of the title page.

Pastoral letter "Epistola pastoralis" A chapter of the pastoral letter "About the publishing, distribution, and reading of books."Page 34-35 (18th Century) by Konstanty Kazimierz BrzostowskiNational Library of Lithuania

Pastoral letter "Epistola pastoralis"

In 1710, Bishop Konstanty Kazimierz Brzostowski (1644-1722) of Vilnius wrote a letter for clergy and laity. In 8th part, the Bishop warned merchants, publishers and printers not to print or distribute books of religious content without the permission of the Bishop or his censor.

Ascetic Discourses on the Royal Way of St. Ignatius, Founder of the Society of Jesus Permission to publish the book "Discursus ascetici de regi via S. Ignatii Fundatoris Societatis Jesu" (18th Century) by Maciej MiłuńskiNational Library of Lithuania

Approval of the Bishop

Failure to comply with the instruction was punishable by excommunication, a fine of thirty gold coins, confiscation and burning of the books. An ascetical work by the Jesuit theologian Maciej Miłuński was approved by Bishop Brzostowski himself, allowing its official sale.

Jerusalem Pilgrimage (17th Century) by Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila the OrphanNational Library of Lithuania

In the early modern period, book donations played a key role in the dissemination of knowledge, with authors, booksellers and patrons contributing generously to the distribution of books. These gifts stimulated intellectual growth and contributed to the development of libraries.

Donation inscription by Tomasz Treter

Tomasz Treter (1547-1610), a canon of Warmia, editor and translator of the Latin edition of the book “Pilgrimage to Jerusalem” by Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila the Orphan, presented its copy to the Bishop of Vilnius, later the Bishop of Samogitia, Mikalojus Pacas (1570-1624). 

Roman Missal The binding of the book "Missale Romanum" (17th Century)National Library of Lithuania

The missal, published in the Plantin-Moretus Printing House in the 17th century, was exquisitely bound in 1845 by Juozapas Čaplinskis, a bookbinder from Vilnius. 

Roman Missal Paper label on the front pastedown of the book 'Missale Romanum,' which indicates the fact of donation by the bookbinder Józef Czapliński (19th Century) by Józef CzaplińskiNational Library of Lithuania

On July 7 of the same year, the Bishop donated the book to the Vilnius Bernardine Church.   

Letter from Father Karol Boromiej Henrykowski (19th Century) by Karolis Boromiejus HenrykovskisNational Library of Lithuania

Books as colatoral

In the early modern period, books were sometimes used as collateral in financial transactions. On October 19, 1807, Father Karol Boromiej Henrykowski pledged three books for ten rubles to the guardian of the Franciscan monastery in Vilnius, Father Józef Rypinsky.   

Initially, monks or travelling merchants distributed the books. Later, book outlets were introduced, which eventually became bookshops. In Vilnius, bookshops began to appear in the 17th century, as part of the university and some monastery printing houses. 

Józef Zawadzki’s bookstore bills to Marija Šlapelienė’s bookstore in Vilnius Józef Zawadzki’s bookstore bills to Marija Šlapelienė’s bookstore in Vilnius (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

Józef Zawadzki bookshop

In 1805, Józef Zawadzki (1781-1838) became the typographer at Imperial Vilnius University and played a key role in establishing the city's largest, most modern bookshop. His prior experience in book trade in Wrocław, Poznań, and Leipzig contributed to this achievement.

Catalog of published, commissioned and acquired in larger quantities books by Józef Zawadzki's bookstore in Vilnius Title page of the "Katalog dzieł nakładowych, komisowych oraz w większej ilości nabytych księgarni Józefa Zawadzkiego w Wilnie" (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

Zawadzki's bookstore assortment

Until WWII, Zawadzki played a key role in book distribution. His bookstore was known for its vast book collection. The Polish-Lithuanian conflict led to changes: Lithuanian book printing stopped in 1920, and the Lithuanian section of the bookstore closed in 1930.

Letter from Józef Zawadzki’s bookshop in Vilnius to priests Pavel Dolzyk and Adolf Sniezhka regarding a debt owed by the organist Józef Drzewiecki (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

A letter reveals a rather common story about a debtor

In 1929, Józef Drzewiecki, organist of the Vileyka powiat, bought church sheet music from the bookshop, but did not pay for it, although he was asked to do so several times. The bookshop is asking the parish priest, Pavel Dolzycki, to help find the debtor.   

The dean's reply indicates that the priests cannot help the bookshop because they do not know where the organist is.

Letter from Antanas Rucevičius, head of Martynas Kukta Printing House in Vilnius, to Aleksandras Dambrauskas-Jakštas, chair of St. Casimir Society in Vilnius The front side of the letter from Antanas Rucevičius to Aleksandras Dambrauskas-Jakštas (20th Century) by Antanas RucevičiusNational Library of Lithuania

The letter from A. Rucevičius to A. Dambrauskas-Jakštas

A letter from Antanas Rucevičius (1880-1940), the head of the Kukta Printing House, reveals the behind-the-scenes of the distribution of this book and others. The buyer is advised to hand over the matter to booksellers, Šlapeliai and/or Zawadzki.

Letter from Antanas Rucevičius, head of Martynas Kukta Printing House in Vilnius, to Aleksandras Dambrauskas-Jakštas, chair of St. Casimir Society in Vilnius The back side of the letter from Antanas Rucevičius to Aleksandras Dambrauskas-Jakštas (20th Century) by Antanas RucevičiusNational Library of Lithuania

The final price of the book to the buyer is calculated to be at least three times the printing price. A potential buyer is informed that in case of purchase, the amount may be even higher. 

Letter from the Office of Vilnius Governor authorizing Marija Piaseckaitė-Šlapelienė to open a bookshop in Vilnius (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

The First Lithuanian Bookshop in Vilnius

On February 6, 1906, Marija Šlapelienė (1880-1977) together with her husband Jurgis Šlapelis (1876-1941) and her companion Elena Brazaitytė (1882-?) opened one of the first Lithuanian bookstores in Vilnius that operated until 1949. 

The request to open a bookstore was submitted under Šlapelienė’s maiden name, Piasecka. Later, in a document issued by the Vilnius Governor’s Office, she added her husband’s surname.  

The owners of the bookshop were diligent in collecting various documents related to the activities of the bookshop. Several bills prepared by Marija Šlapelienė for the sale of books and periodicals in different periods of the bookshop are on display: to Pranas Bieliauskas, a priest and Lithuanian public figure in Vilnius region (1910), to the Cultural-Educational Society Spindulys (1918), and to the Pavasaris bookshop in Kaunas (1940).  

The invoices from Marija Šlapelienė's bookshop The invoice from Marija Šlapelienė's bookshop to Pranas Bieliauskas for the sold books, 20th Century, From the collection of: National Library of Lithuania
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The invoices from Marija Šlapelienė's bookshop The bookstore invoice from Marija Šlapelienė (returning) to the "Pavasario" Bookstore in Kaunas, 20th Century, From the collection of: National Library of Lithuania
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The invoices from Marija Šlapelienė's bookshop The bookstore invoice from Marija Šlapelienė to the Cultural-Educational Society "Spindulys", 20th Century, From the collection of: National Library of Lithuania
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Advertisement for Marija Šlapelienė’s bookshop, Vilnius, ca. 1938 (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

Advertisement for Marija Šlapelienė’s bookshop

Dear lithuanians, while visiting Vilnius, do not forget to also visit the oldest M. Šlapelienė Lithuanian bookstore (Dominykonų str. 13). In the bookstore, you can buy the oldest and newest Lithuanian books, newspapers, [..] souvenirs to remember Vilnius, and more.

Photos of Marija Šlapelienė’s bookshop with comments by the owner The photo taken in Marija Šlapelienė's bookshop (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

Marija Šlapelienė is standing behind the counter, Jurgis Šlapelis is sitting next to her; on the left is Juozas Kairiūkštis, a pedagogue and public figure, and on the right is Danielius Alseika, a physician and a public figure.

Photos of Marija Šlapelienė’s bookshop with comments by the owner The inscription on the other side of the photo by Marija Šlapelienė (20th Century)National Library of Lithuania

Hand-written notes by Marija Šlapelienė on the back side of the photograph.

Credits: Story

Story created by Agnė Suchodolskytė, Milda Kvizikevičiūtė and Ignė Grikevičiūtė
The project is funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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