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Published August 04, 2022 Updated August 04, 2022

Matryoshka playing cards

The first nested doll set was carved in 1890.

Russia Craft Folklore
Matryoshka playing cards

A pack of 52 cards and 2 Jokers, each card depicting a different matryoshka (nested doll). The pack contains an extra card describing the history of the Russian matryoshka. The first nested doll set was carved in 1890 by Vasilii Gvezdochkin (1876 - 1956) from a design by Sergei Maliutin (1859 – 1937) who was a folk crafts painter on the estate of the Russian industrialist and patron of the arts Savva Mamontov. In 1900 Mamontov’s wife presented the dolls at the World Exhibition in Paris and the toy earned a bronze medal. Soon after, matryoshka dolls were being made in several places in Russia. Today they not only portray traditional folk costume, but also animals, and political, comic and imaginary figures.

Matryoshka playing cards

Above: Matryoshka playing cards. 52 cards + 2 jokers + extra card.

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By Peter Burnett

Member since July 27, 2022

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I graduated in Russian and East European Studies from Birmingham University in 1969. It was as an undergraduate in Moscow in 1968 that I stumbled upon my first 3 packs of “unusual” playing cards which fired my curiosity and thence my life-long interest. I began researching and collecting cards in the early 1970s, since when I’ve acquired over 3,330 packs of non-standard cards, mainly from North America, UK and Western Europe, and of course from Russia and the former communist countries.

Following my retirement from the Bodleian Library in Dec. 2007 I took up a new role as Head of Library Development at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to support library development in low-income countries. This work necessitated regular training visits to many sub-Saharan African countries and also further afield, to Vietnam, Nepal and Bangladesh – all of which provided rich opportunities to further expand my playing card collection.

Since 2019 I’ve been working part-time in the Bodleian Library where I’ve been cataloguing the bequest of the late Donald Welsh, founder of the English Playing Card Society.


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