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Artillery Museum

The beginning of the museum is dated June 1756, when the collection was gradually enlarged with items of historical significance that were found in all corners of the far-reaching borders of Russia. The ancient buildings, weapons storehouses, fortress weapons caches, the Kremlins (Rostov, Moscow, etcetera) and monasteries yielded weapons taken as trophies in battlefields, as well as those donated or bequeathed to the Artillery Command both at home and abroad. It grew from a few dozen items, slowly expanding to hundreds of significant items, then thousands of priceless pieces of history, serving to illustrate the military exploits of the Russian soldier.
An important measure was the decree issued by the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna in November 1756 on the dismantling and making available examples of ancient weaponry and artillery pieces from facilities owned and operated by the church. At the same time, the chief of the Artillery Arsenal, General P. I. Shuvalov, ordered the disassembly and written description be made of items which were deemed of a ?curiosity’ as well as those pieces which had innovative and novel solutions, which were being produced not only in Saint Petersburg but in other locations in Russia. Disposition of the amassed historically important collections were placed in the care of the Saint Petersburg Weapons Depot known as the Arsenal.

The middle of the XXIII century was a fortunate period for the preservation of Russia’s military heritage due in part to the personal relationship between General Shuvalov, the defacto head of the Imperial Government and the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. On June 28th, 1756 an order was issued in which was stipulated that: the Adjutant Miller was to be the recipient of all items collected and to be stored on the foundry storehouse. In truth no room was found in the storehouse. And a powder “magazine’ on the New Cannon warehouse was used instead. This was a dark storehouse with no windows on the street side. The number of items was insignificant and so there followed the decree issued in November. Adjutant Kropatev was called upon to search in monasteries from which were obtained official reports on items of ancient military equipment. The monastery cellars yielded a bountiful ?crop’. Payment for the items was made and then they were shipped to Moscow to the weapons depot wherein a special department was formed in 1756. Soon, however, the Saint Petersburg department gradually acquired all that was in the Moscow collection. By 1760, however, the collected items by Miller was only 44 items. For the next five years no pieces were collected. Peter Ivanovich Shuvalov fell ill at the end of 1761 and died on 4 January 1762. The collection was put in charge as a simple sub-command of the weapons depot and not as it had been under the Chancellery of the Main Artillery Directorate. In order to pay for the war, the government decided to meltdown ancient artillery pieces and issue copper coinage. An N. Vil’boa, succeeded Shuvalov but had no voice in the Imperial court.

A concerted effort to preserve for posterity historically important artifacts belonging to the Russian army by the hero of the Seven-Years War and promoted to the post of General chief of artillery, Prince G. G. Orlov allowed the collection to grow to nearly 6,000 items and was housed in a special building called the Saint-Petersburg Arsenal, built at this request. Following the decision of tsar to grant the old arsenal building to the Justice Ministry, the building intended for the Main Artillery directorate.
Following the establishment in 1756 of the Hall of Historical significant relics began the continuous enlargement of its collections One of the first sizable additions that justify being mentioned was the weapons depot of the first half of the XVIII century which was furnished to the Saint Petersburg arsenal in 1778 from the Oranienburg bureau and Saint Petersburg fortress. In the 1830's the museum came into possession of the collection of individual weaponry from the Moscow Arsenal. The importance of contributions to the hall of relics collections was the creation in 1843 of a complete collection of hand held firearms and cold weapons. This collection was essentially made up of special firearms issued by the manufacturers as prototypes of series produced weapons. The factories sent their prototypes for acceptance tests to the Chancellery of the main Artillery and Fortifications Directorate (the principal arm of the Artillery directorate, the Military Commission of the Imperial military Collegium and to the senate.

In the period ending in 1868 the museum was moved to another building with a leaking roof and ceilings. A commission made-up of outsiders led to the establishment of a undertaking measures which were at odds with the preservation of the Russian army artillery main tools of war. The court advisor A. Neverskin was charged with the selection of which items were to be preserved as ?historical’ and those deemed ?of no significance’ were to be thus disposed of by making them available to other places. In the interim of the repairs to the old weapons arsenal building which was turned over to the Ministry of Justice. The collection was broken up according to the dispositions issued and the discarded weapons were to be melted for metal scrap. For those years the existence of the collection was in jeopardy and certainly had not taken advantage of offering made to A. Nereversk into increase its holdings. A letter from the retired general Vasil’ev to the Head of the Hall of Relics contains a reference to his having located in a monastery in the Pskov region ancient weapons deemed acceptable in his opinion of being preserved as historical relics.

The collection fortunately ended up being housed in the arsenal building of the Peter and Paul fortress which was completed in 1860. The man selected to be the first caretaker military historical of the collection whose qualifications were to be that of one knowledgeable in historical documentation was the ethnographer specialists to manuscript assistance to the chief of archives of the Main artillery directorate who had written an article on the necessity of establishing in Russia an archaeological Museum, A. S. Afanas’yev-Chuzhtinskii. The year 1869 was pivotal in the turn around in policy taken by the Imperial Government. Aside from establishing a second museum housing principally weaponry of the Saint Petersburg military district Guards which included arms of the periods of Peter I< Anna Ioanovna, Elizabeth Petrovna, Catherine II< and Alexander I. With the assistance of the Main Artillery Directorate, exchanges were agreed to with the Moscow Armory resulting in 1873 that weapons of highly crafted metalsmiths who made veritable works of art in metal were donated to the Artillery Museum. That same year, a collection of weapons from the Tula Weapons factory was also donated to the museum following an article by a captain of the Guards Artillery entrusted with special projects in the Main Directorate of Artillery, N. E. Brandenburg, entitled “A few words on our Artillery Museum,.” which laid the ground work for the museum’s aims: To give the visitor a complete picture of the development of Russian artillery. Captain Brandenburg traveled extensively to many cities, garrisons, monasteries, unearthing and collecting items for which he wrote descriptions prior to their being shipped to Moscow. This was done so as to be exhibited at the commemoration of the 200 years of the birth of Tsar Peter I, for which an exhibition of Russian industrial development was planned. Upon successfully making the Artillery pieces exhibited a full systematic and for that time full representation of the development of artillery in Russia from early times he was given special dispensation by the Emperor to head the Artillery Museum in St Petersburg. Afanas’yev was retained as his assistant. Amongst the exhibited weaponry was an exceptional collection obtained from the Tula Weapons Factory which subsequently had to be requisitioned by the Adjutant General Barantsov from the factory for the artillery Museum as the previous owners were not thrilled with losing their collection. The city of Kiev’s fortifications also provided the museum with valuable additions such as a bronze canon dating from 1728 and Peter II and trophy weapons - a 1635 12 lb cannon from Amsterdam and a bronze cannon of the first French Republic cast in 1796 with the inscription on the barrel “Liberte Egalite”. The collection was also greatly embellished by the addition of rare mortars from the XVI to XVIII centuries. Brandenburg traveled to Kerch in the Crimea to search for ancient weapons and field guns.