The strategy of the National Museum of History to collect manuscripts and incunabula in order to show the history of the Bulgarian people in its all directions and manifestations, in the regional, European and world context began with its establishment in 1973. Nowadays the collection consists of over 600 (six hundred) inventory units as a result of the gathering activity of the museum experts as well as of public campaign on a large scale for the necessity for literary heritage to be preserved and accessible to the public in the museum.
There is a large collection of early printed books that were printed from 1806 (publication of the first Bulgarian printed book Nedelnik written by Sofroniy Vrachanski) to 1878 (Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman domination) according to the adopted scientific chronology. The main task of the National Museum of History is to reveal via its collections all aspects of the development of the Bulgarians from the Antiquity to the present. The museum has a good reason to collect books and other literary materials that are out of the mentioned period but are of great significance to the Bulgarian history. They reveal the cultural and historical life of the Bulgarians in more detail.
Among the most treasured possessions of the National Museum of History are: Nedelnik by Sofroniy Vrachanski, Tsarstvenik by Hristaki Pavlovich, Stematografia by Hristofor Zhefarovich, Slavyanobolgarskoe Detevodstvo (a children’s encyclopedia) by Neofit Bozveli, Riben Bukvar (the primer with the fish) by Petar Beron, Gorski Patnik by Georgi S. Rakovski, The Gabrovo School and Its First Guardians by Petko R. Slaveykov, etc. The collection includes works of eminent creators of the Bulgarian Revival and of the Post – Liberation Period who contributed to the brilliance of the Bulgarian culture such as Vasil Aprilov, Zahari Stoyanov, the two brothers Miladinovi, Konstantin Fotinov, Yoakim Gruev, Marin Drinov, Ivan Vazov, Lyuben Karavelov and others, as well as a series of the magazines: Periodical of the Bulgarian Literary Society, Balgarski Knizhnitsi, Denitsa Chitalishte (Cultural Centre), etc. that are of scientific interest nowadays as well.
The issue of Chasoslov in Venice in 1566 by the first Bulgarian publisher and printer abroad – the erudite man Yakov Kraykov deserves special attention.
An important part of the collection is occupied by the very valuable early Cyrillic printed books by Bozhidar Vukovich: Psalter and Festal Menaion, Moscow editions and Kiev – Pechora Monastery editions of liturgical literature; a rare Latin issue of one of the works of Teofilact the Bulgarian, editions in Greek, Hebrew, German, French, etc.
The collection includes about 90 (ninety) inventory units of handwritten materials, small but is worth much: completed books and fragments of Slav and foreign codes – some of them are unique written monument of world cultural and historical importance.
The Boyana Psalter is one of the earliest Slav records. It is a parchment monument that dates from the 13th century. The Boyana Psalter was discovered during restoration works in the Boyana Church that is a cultural monument under UNESCO protection. The Church was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979. It has been a subsidiary of the National Museum of History since 2003.
The fundamental work A Slav – Bulgarian History by Paisiy Hilendarski, the first national writer of the Bulgarian National Revival, is the most important from the historical point of view. The museum preserves two copies of the Paisiy’s work. According to some scientists – historians, one of them is belova (the final version) of the Paisiy’s original. The author’s original is in the Zograph Mount Athos Monastery’s possession. The final version (Belova) of the History is a relic of great value. It is on display in the permanent exhibition of the museum. The other book is a copy made by the famous man of letters from the first half of the 19th century the schoolmaster Todor Pirdopski.
The collection preserves remarkable manuscripts such as: Chasoslov by Priest Stoyko Vladislavov (the future Bishop Sofroniy Vrachanski); manuscripts by the schoolmaster Todor Pirdopski as well as by Milko Kotlenski, Teodosiy Rilski, Rayno Popovich, and others. The museum has manuscripts by writers and copyists who did not provide us with information about themselves – it was common practice following the whole tradition of hand – writing. Special attention is paid to Menaion and Triodion Panagyric from the 14th century, Election Apostolos (Election Act of the Apostles) from the 14th century, Collection, containing a copy of Shestodnev by Ioan Ekzarh (John the Exarch) (the work dates from the 18th century) and to other liturgical books, the 18th century Bulgarian homilies as well to apocryphal collections.
The Slav manuscripts from the collection of the National Museum of History dates from the 13th to the 19th century and include parchment and paper manuscripts from different geographical areas. Hand – written books dating from the 17th to the 19th century predominate. They reflected likes and dislikes and literary predilections of their readers and users during the Bulgarian Revival Period.
The most valuable manuscript in Greek in the collection of the National Museum of History is the copy of Synopsis Historion (Historical Survey) by the Byzantine chronicler Ioannes Skylitzes. The copy dates from the 13th century. There are seven copies of the Synopsis Historion preserved all over the world and one of them is in the museum collection. The Chronicle is, from all accounts, a historical source of the best quality that reflected the period from 811 to 1078 (The period from 1057 to 1078 was written by unknown copyist, called the Continuator of Skylitzes). This unique code – chronicle in Bulgaria ranks among the most important hand-written cultural and historical monuments of world importance according to the scientific circles.
The museum collection of Jewish manuscripts preserves 46 (forty – six) items, mainly dated from the 17th to the 19 century. Nine parchment sheets of a liturgical manuscript are the oldest among them. They date from the 13th century.
Bindings are a subject of scientific research. The National Museum of History preserves several bindings that rank among the best works of goldsmith’s art. They are among the book – covers of the book collection of the museum. The Ohrid binding of the Gospel from the 14th century is a brilliant work made with amazing skill and precision.
The National Museum of History preserves literary heritage that will enrich our cultural history and will provide a perfect opportunity to the scientists. The museum prepared and published the first volume of a Scientific Inventory at the end of 2013. It includes two sections: Slav Manuscripts and Cyrillic Printed Books and Periodicals. The second volume will include manuscripts and printed editions in foreign languages.