Certain things come to mind when we think about Russia. The Red Square, the Kremlin, the cathedral domes in St. Petersburg, furry Ushanka hats, balalaikas, and of course, the Russian nesting doll. With her cute face and a scarf around her head, the Russian nesting doll is Russia's unofficial ambassador to the world, spreading Russian heritage to every corner of the earth.
The Russian nesting doll, also known as Matryoshka dolls, has existed for around one hundred and thirty years. They're a unique piece of history, connecting the old Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and today's Russia. Our Russian nesting dolls are a classic collectible with an enduring appeal on the collector's market.
Russian dolls are most commonly referred to as Matryoshka dolls, originating from the Russian name Matryona. They are also known as Babushka dolls—Babushka being the Russian word for grandmother.
What are Russian Nesting Dolls?
A Russian nesting doll is a hollow wooden doll or a set of hollow wooden dolls of diminishing sizes. The largest matryoshka doll in a set is typically known as the mother doll, with each subsequent doll inside representing her children. They're carved from linden tree wood and typically painted with bright colors.
The very first Russian matryoshka doll portrayed a peasant family of eight. Today, there are Russian nesting dolls of all varieties—from popular culture designs to animals to children's cartoons. You can also find authentic nesting doll sets made up of identical figures or nesting dolls featuring unique designs with each subsequent doll.
The Debatable History of the Russian Nesting Doll
As with every art piece's history, there's a bit of a debate over the origin of Russian nesting dolls. Though historians record that in 1890 at the Abramtsevo colony—an artist's village located north of Moscow— the Russian painter Sergey Malyutin carved the first Russian nesting doll set.
Sergey Malyutin was part of a group of artists aiming to rid Russian art of Western influences to respond to the Arts and Crafts movement in Great Britain. However, the real debate is about Malyutin's source of inspiration. Some argue that he was inspired by a Japanese kokeshi doll brought over by travelers in a nearby town, but the details are unclear.
While some scholars say Malyutin drew inspiration from the Japanese Fukuruma nesting doll, others believe his Matryoshka was influenced by Daruma—a hollow red doll or a kokeshi wooden doll, featuring no limbs like the Matryoshka.
Russian scholars refute the idea that the Russian nesting doll was inspired by Japanese art. They insist that Sergey Malyutin was inspired instead by wooden Russian nesting easter eggs. We believe this to be true.
What to Look For in Russian Nesting Dolls?
It may be too late to keep arguing about Malyutin's source of inspiration because the matryoshka doll is here to stay.
If you're an aspiring Russian nesting doll collector or you're looking to make your first purchase, there are a few things you should know.
There is an abundance of imitations and frauds in the market. Watch out for dolls that look hand-painted but are designs artificially printed on wood.
An authentic Russian nesting doll is always hand-carved and hand-painted and is priced accordingly. A new traditional nesting doll may cost upwards of $100. Authentic vintage Russian nesting dolls will often feature the artist's signature on the bottom of the doll.
The most expensive Russian nesting dolls are usually intricately designed with expensive materials, unique, and limited.
Most matryoshka dolls that feature identical designs are usually mass-produced. While still beautiful, these types of nesting dolls are always available in souvenir shops, and they might not satisfy the discerning eye.
Larger, unique nesting dolls can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars, but as with most rare collectibles, you tend to get what you pay for.
The Many Faces of Russian Nesting Dolls
The generic Russian woman in her shawl is not the only design Matroyska doll artists have to offer. There are numerous Russian nesting doll designs available.
For instance, you can find ballet-themed nesting dolls, European and Russian fairytales, cartoons. A matryoshka set can feature the nutcracker fairytale or all of studio ghibli's characters. There are nesting dolls that recreate famous works of art, tell bible stories, dolls of Russian leaders, or just about any design you can imagine. You can also find nesting dolls featuring western presidents, but if you're looking for something a little more unique to Russia, you'll want to check out our Soviet nesting dolls.
The Largest Russian Nesting Dolls
Look out for very large sets as well. A typical Russian nesting doll set contains from three to ten individual dolls. But the largest ever made contains fifty-one individual pieces handcrafted by Yulia Bereznitskaia in 2003. The largest doll measures 54cm (21.25 inches), while the smallest doll is barely more than 0.1 inches long.
You won't find the record holder for sale, but nesting dolls with up to thirty pieces appear at auctions from time to time. Or even better, we have them on sale here at the Firebird Workshop.
There's a place for Russian nesting dolls in every collector's home. Russian nesting dolls are versatile, from the Russian peasant in her scarf to fairytale creatures and politicians.
The Firebird Workshop's nesting dolls are lovely; vivid are pieces that have fascinated both collectors and kids alike. With enough research, you're sure to find a nesting doll to suit your tastes so you can own a wonderful piece of Russian heritage.
Looking for more? Browse our Russian nesting doll collection for sale now