Today, the nesting dolls (also known as Babushka dolls or “matryoshka” dolls) available on the market are of very different qualities. Initially, it can be difficult to tell the difference between quality dolls and fake ones made elsewhere. In fact, this problem is not unique to Russian gifts or nesting dolls, and due to the availability of fake dolls on the market, many people are wary of buying anything when they are unsure of the origin or authenticity. Many people find it difficult to tell the difference between a real Russian doll and a fake; however, with a little practice and knowledge of what to look for, this task becomes quite easy. Real handmade dolls can be differentiated by their place of production (city or town), by the style of painting, and by the artists who paint the intricate designs. To make it easier to identify actual nesting dolls and even identify the style and city in which they were painted, I have provided a short and easy guide to help you find these top quality dolls.
Where real nesting dolls are sold
In Russian cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg, almost all nesting dolls sold in souvenir shops are of exceptional quality; however they also have exceptional prices. They are made of the highest quality wood and raw materials (for example, flawless basswood, highest quality paints, and gold trim). The larger seven, ten and fifteen piece nesting dolls are usually painted by trained professional master craftsmen. In contrast, the dolls sold by street vendors can be of high quality and great value, individual buyers will need to have a keen eye to spot small flaws and other issues that are common. Street vendors selling these items usually buy slightly flawed nesting dolls wholesale from souvenir shops or directly from the artists themselves. If you’re looking for a great deal, street vendors are the place to look, but you should take your time, look at all the nesting doll parts, and ask for higher quality items – sellers will be happy to help savvy shoppers.
Differences in finishing and polishing
Higher quality babushkas are made using “blank” or unpainted nesting dolls with no flaws. Some small defects in the wood are easily fixed by sanding or covering small nicks and dents with starch glue to create a smooth surface. This is normal in Russia; however, this type of woodwork is never seen in imitation nesting dolls made outside of Russia. Smooth surface is very important – good Russian craftsmen demand this in order to be able to apply paints evenly and include precision detailed painting. Russian nesting dolls that are very inexpensive will still have some flaws: it is simply not economically feasible for artisans to try to achieve perfection in a five-piece nesting doll and then sell it for 300 rubles on the street ($6.00 USD). ). If you come across a large, expensive nesting doll with dents and blemishes, it’s likely very old or not an authentic matryoshka doll.
type of wood
The wood used to make Russian nesting dolls is taken from lime trees that grow in western Russia and throughout Siberia. Linden trees are famous throughout the world for the soft yet durable wood they produce, which is nearly perfect for woodworking and carving. Interestingly enough, many different Russian woodcutters specialize in crafting and cutting blank (unpainted) dolls, but they usually never go into painting these dolls. Woodcutters simply cut, sand and prepare blanks for craftsmen from all over Russia. They select linden trees based on quality, lack of defects, and age. Fake dolls made outside of Russia are often plastic imitations or use cheap pine wood or other low-quality raw materials. The differences in the type of wood are easy to see once you handle the dolls.
opening and closing
Quality Russian dolls usually open and close with some effort, pushing and turning the two pieces of the larger doll. Larger dolls may squeak a bit when opened; this is normal with basswood and one of the ways to identify dolls. Most fake dolls will easily crack or break due to children opening and closing the dolls and just playing with them. Dolls made from Basswood tend to be stronger and more durable. Very high quality russian dolls made of linden wood can last for hundreds of years and retain the high quality paint and clear lacquer finish.
Painting style and designs
Making quality dolls involves painstaking work and hours of hard work. A single nesting doll of ten to fifteen pieces can take several months to complete. The artisan or artist may take several more weeks to complete the exquisite gold trim and lacquer finish on these unique nesting dolls. The intricate designs and detailed painting is what separates these handmade dolls from their Chinese-made counterparts. Additionally, Russian matryoshkas often feature styles that take inspiration from Russian-style lacquer boxes that feature exceptionally detailed painting styles and small miniature landscapes. Russian dolls are also painted using bright and bold colors compared to those painted elsewhere. Counterfeits are often noted for their low-quality paint and poor-quality colors. Authentic matryoshka dolls will have bold, contrasting color combinations of red, blue and yellow on the dolls’ dress, giving them a bright and cheery look and making them stand out from the crowd.
If you’re looking to buy a top-quality nesting doll, you can choose dolls made by experienced and skilled craftsmen in one of four famous nesting towns. Nesting dolls from the famous Russian craft cities of “Fedoskino”, “Palekh”, “Kholui” and “Mstera” are very popular and unique. This is because the artists from the aforementioned towns usually study in specialized craft schools. They are professionally trained painters and craftsmen recognized by Russian art guilds and other organizations. These towns are the places well known for the art of making babushka or matryoshka dolls. Often the artist will sign a high-quality matryoshka and the artist will also indicate the city where she lives. This is a hallmark of true Russian nesting dolls.
In conclusion, true Russian matryoshka dolls always feature high-quality raw materials, such as linden wood egg-based tempera paints, Russian-style color schemes, and Russian-themed landscapes or colors. High-quality dolls will almost always feature intricate painting, gold trim, and a very high-quality clear lacquer finish to protest dolls for centuries. Finally, it is also common for the largest and most expensive matryoshka dolls to be signed by the artist or craftsman.