Exactly what is a Russian Doll?

Russian Dolls or Matryoshka

In The Quantum Curators and the Fabergé Egg, the hunt is on for a Russian doll, could it be hiding a priceless treasure? The section from below is from the book, I hope you enjoy it. To read more about the dolls follow the links at the end…


‘I need to pick your brains about matryoshka dolls.’

‘Cakes and dolls. What a lovely way to start the day. Excellent. What do you need to know?’

Julius explained that he was trying to track down the lost casing of an outer doll. He hadn’t seen the inner dolls, and had just had them described to him. All he hoped for was an idea to the size of the outer casing and maybe the subject matter.

They were seated in two comfortable armchairs and had a coffee table between them. Now Marsha wandered around her rooms, returning with doll sets until the table was covered in them.

‘Okay. Matryoshka or Russian dolls are a nested set of wooden canisters. Each canister opens at the middle, revealing a smaller unit within. These reduce in size until you get to the smallest solid doll in the centre. You can have any number, but the preference is for around five or seven. The cluster of dolls is also thematic. Family members, politicians, et cetera. The inner doll is the smallest or least important, the outer doll is the most important. Another cake?’

Julius leant forward gratefully, and having put the cake on his plate, picked up one of the doll sets. Opening up the first doll, he looked inside.

‘That set you’re holding has a political theme. It’s quite a modern set and made for the tourist market. Russians are more careful about political statements. Unless the statement is, “We support our current leader”. In Russia, you know, we are famous for our freedom of speech. But those freedoms only last as long as the speech itself. I have a joke that will help you understand.’

Marsha cleared her throat. ‘A frightened man came to the KGB. “My talking parrot has disappeared”, she said in a gruff voice and then changed her pitch to reply as the KGB officer.

‘“That’s not the kind of case we handle. Go to the criminal police”. “Excuse me, of course I know that I must go to them. I am here just to tell you officially that I disagree with the parrot”.’

Marsha laughed and slapped her leg. ‘See! We are not idiots. Russian politics is for tourists.’

Julius laughed along with her as he stacked the dolls back together. His attention now taken with something more folk like.

Marsha pointed to the old, faded doll he was holding. ‘Now that one is the oldest in my collection and sounds like your doll. You see she is not as garish as these two?’ said Marsha, pointing to two very pretty and slightly gaudy dolls. ‘This one represents the seasons, that one is supposed to represent a traditional doll, but look at the two of them side by side.’

Julius looked at the modern doll, painted in a bright and traditional style. The face of the doll was blank and characterless. The older doll, however, was completely different. The paint was probably never quite so lurid, but more importantly, the face on the doll was realistic. This was a portrait. Julius felt certain that if he met the person in the flesh, he would recognise her. He opened the whole doll set and could see a family resemblance running through the dolls, from the outer matriarch to the little girl.

‘Would an old one always be a woman on the outer casing?’

Marsha thought about it. ‘I have seen male ones, but they were called matryoshka for a reason. If your outer casing is male and old, it would be quite collectable. However, you will be able to tell if it matches your set because the artistry between the dolls will be by the same hand. The inner dolls you have described sound as though they were not Soviet mass-produced items.’

The pair chatted on until a clock chimed and Marsha apologised, saying that she needed to go and teach. I have to work so that they will pay me. It’s not like in the good old days when workers pretended to work, and bosses pretended to pay them. But this is progress!’

Kissing her on the cheeks, he set off.


Some of my own Russian Dolls. See, they are perfect for hiding things in.


To read more click here for The Quantum Curators and the Fabergé Egg.

Or to read more about the history of these dolls have a look at these books

The Other Russian Dolls

The Art of the Russian Matryoshka

or the following websites;