Tales of Matryoshka dolls started when i was a teenager, I have a distant aunt ( on the maternal side) who just collected a couple of sets of the famed Matryoshka dolls. It was part of a few items displayed at the second floor of apartment and commercial stall somewhere along Salazar street within Binondo district, Manila.
According to her , the dolls were bought sometime in the early 1980’s from a Russian who sold some Matryoshka dolls during a bazaar in Makati.
It was selling like pancakes since there were few items sold in the country during the early part of the Russian- Philippines diplomatic relations. Being a license jewelry appraiser and Chinese plaque maker was the key in meeting some foreign dignitaries or joining a bazaar.
It was late 2005, when i saw again the dolls at the display cabinet. I felt like those dolls are quite eerie since they were facing the sala set near her room, They were like those voodoo dolls. They have large eyes!
She asked me if i have some friends or relatives who would love to buy the set including an old vintage cabinet made from narra ( a hardwood variety ) art deco era around 1940’s and a Fuk Luk Su figurine set . She badly needed the money , But i have no friends who would collect those nesting dolls , Fu Luk Su and even the narra cabinet could not be sold immediately.
Business is getting bad and eventually there were a lot of bad credits and paying off her debts is the priority. Her father ( technically i called him great grandfather ( tai kung kung ) because he is over 90 years old ! was the original owner of the cabinet.
Eventually, great grandfather or tai kung kung died a year after and they were evicted by the association who owns the unit that they were renting since the 1940’s . They are not able to settle the rentals for more than a year. Most of the items were used as payment to settle some of her bad debts. This it was not enough, since outstanding debts runs into millions of pesos ! According to her story, there were 2 old time regular ” suki ” jeweler from the province who borrowed some jewelries ( in millions ) paid in half , since the jewelries would be shown to her buyer. Eventually, the bank cheque issued bounced and jeweler could not be found.
It was the same story of a Cebu based fashion accessory owner who also owe her about Php 450,000 worth of real jewelries and only paid her in fraction , Mostly useless fashion accessories which was never sold.
Her health failed and she died last year.
The Chinese crafted nesting boxes , gift boxes or surprise boxes that date back to the Song Dynasty, around 1000 AD or a little bit earlier sometime around 950 AD These boxes were both functional and decorative. Sometime during the 1700s they applied this concept to a set of dolls and the first nesting doll was born.
Chinese nesting dolls are similar to the nesting dolls that are common today. In the original Chinese sets the smallest doll held a single grain of rice normally or prosperity or fruitful. There were a lot of meaning an symbolism behind the rice.
Due to trade relations between China and Japan. Some of the nesting boxes or surprise boxes were adopted by the Japanese and new dolls were created sometime around the 17th century .
The outer most doll was Fukurokuju the Japanese god of happiness and longevity. Daruma dolls originated in the city of Takasaki, around the mid- 1760s. They are a hollow Papier-mâché doll and often have a wooden mold to create their shape.
How did it Come to Russia
Some historians and dolls collector would trace their roots around 1880s to 1890’s when Savva Mamontov discovered a set maybe from Japan. Mamontov was a wealthy supporter of the arts and wanted to revive Russian folk art. One of his artists, Sergei Maliutin created the first Russian set with the help of Vassily Zviozdochkin.
Eventually it became a fad and it became a popular gifts . Some Eastern European countries also adopted the nesting dolls and there are clubs and associations which collects and exhibits the dolls.
A friend who will be celebrating her birthday next week ,collects different kind of dolls, one of her bucket list was a Matryoshka dolls. Her passion started when she was a teenager with some barbie dolls she acquired as a birthday present. Her collection quickly expanded into dolls from other countries.
I saw 2 sets posted in a swap and buying site . The item quickly caught my attention. After a few days and a couple of delays ( due to heavy monsoon rains ) I was able to meet the dealer/ collector and paid the stuff. According to the collector, He got the item from Japan few years ago and decided to unload the item.