Toys of Nicholas II’s children transferred to museum in Sergiev Posad in 1930s

PHOTO: Overview of some of the Imperial Children’s toys from the collection of the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum in Sergiev Posad, including a collection of porcelain dolls, once owned by the grand duchesses.

Situated 74 km [45 miles] northeast of Moscow is Sergiev Posad[1] the spiritual centre of Russia with its famous Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra[2], and home to over 300 monks. In 1993, the Trinity-Sergius Lavra which comprises a unique ensemble of more than 50 buildings was inscribed on the UN World Heritage List. In 2002 the monastery was recognized as a Cultural Heritage Site of the Russian Federation.

Sergiev Posad also has a long history of toy-making, the matryoshka doll known all over the world was born here. It seems only fitting that the town should claim to its fame the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum, which is situated opposite the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. The museum is a unique repository of more than 150 thousand toys from Russia, Europe, Asia and America. The museum was founded in 1918 by Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram (1873-1931)[3].

Bertram was a Russian illustrator, poster designer, art historian, and collector, who also studied the history of toys in Russia. From 1900 to 1903, he travelled throughout Europe; visiting toy shops and returning with suitcases of dolls, toy soldiers, and toy animals.

In 1912, he married the artist and collector, Yevdokia Ivanovna Loseva (1880-1936), who shared his interest in toys. In October 1918, as World War I was winding down, he and Yevdokia founded the Moscow Toy Museum, comprising of toys from his own private collection; although it was not opened to the general public until 1921. 

His collection was further enriched with toys from the Stroganov School in Moscow, as well as those from the noble estates, private collections and specialty shops, all of which had been nationalized by the Bolsheviks.

In the early 1930s toys that once belonged to the children of Emperor Nicholas II from the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo and the Livadia Palace in Crimea, were transferred to the museum’s collection.

The museum was first located in Bartram’s four-room apartment on Smolensky Boulevard in Moscow The one-storey mansion with a mezzanine, consisted of 250 square meters, 200 meters of which was allocated for his toy collection.

PHOTO: view of the Toy Museum (above), situated opposite the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad. The glass showcases (below) contain toys transferred from the Alexander Palace and Livadia Palace in the 1930s.

Officially founded on 17th October 1918, the museum was opened to visitors only in 1921, and three years later, in 1924, it moved to a new location – the former Khrushchev-Seleznevs mansion[4] on Kropotkinskaya Street in Moscow. It was here, that the Toy Museum was opened on 5th January 1921, expanding its exhibition space to 5 halls and 600 square meters to accommodate Bartram’s growing collection. Today the building is occupied by the Literary Museum of A. S. Pushkin.

In terms of attendance, the Museum of Toys was surpassed only by the Tretyakov Gallery. Nikolai Bartram remained at the head of the museum until his death in 1931.

In 1931, the Toy Museum was transferred from Moscow to Zagorsk[1] opposite – the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra.

PHOTO: Toy Museum founder Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram among his collection

The current Chief Curator of the Toy Museum Tamara Atyusheva explains the fate of the toys of the Tsar’s children, and how some of them came into the hands of the museum:

-“From 1918 to 1931 the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo was a museum, which included a permanent exhibition dedicated to the “Children’s Half”, which included the rooms of the Grand Duchesses and the Tsesarevich. These rooms were filled with the Imperial Children’s toys which were left after the Tsar and his family were sent into exile in August 1917.

“After 1931, the subject of everything Tsarist became a bone of contention among the Stalinists, one which did not fit into Soviet life. As a result the “Children’s Half” exhibition in the Alexander Palace was closed. Many of the toys and personal items of the Tsar’s children were distributed to orphanages and shelters. No records were kept of where the toys were distributed, and all traces of these toys have since been lost. The toys which were not lost, were transferred to our museum in in 1932. They were stored in the storerooms of the Research Institute of Toys in Zagorsk[1] located in the museum of the Lavra. They were stored without any indication that these items had any special significance. For instance, the Grand Duchesses collection of porcelain dolls were simply labeled “Nineteenth Century Dolls” and that’s it.

“It was during holidays – birthdays, name days, and Christmas – that the Imperial Children received expensive toys, many of which had been imported from Europe and Britain as gifts. In addition they received board games, which also acted as learning aids: for studying languages, geography, and royal dynasties, including one with “portraits of the Sovereigns of the Russian Land”.

“Interesting among the toys were those of Tsesarevich Alexei, who was brought up primarily as the future heir to the throne, and head of the Russian Imperial Army. He had everything a little warrior should have: a toy three-line Mosin rifle, toy sabers, a toy ship (“Battleship Sevastopol”), signal flags, a triangular red pennant with a white cross, and a collection of toy soldiers.

In addition the Heir had an electric train, which consisted of a huge steam locomotive, complete with stations and tunnels.

One of the highlights of the Imperial Children’s toys, was a collection of European made dolls of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in national costumes, in addition to children’s furniture, dishes, books, sporting goods and portraits.

Today the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum welcomes more than 30,000 visitors each year. Exhibits from their collection are routinely loaned out to other museums throughout Russia, the toys of the children of Emperor Nicholas II being the most popular. In 2011, some of the toys from the museum’s collection were put on display in former Children’s Half located on the second floor of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

© Paul Gilbert. 10 January 2023


[1] Sergiev Posad was founded on 22nd March 1782, by decree of Empress Catherine II. The name is associated with the name of Sergius of Radonezh (1314-1392), the founder of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, around which the posad was formed. In 1919, Sergiev Posad was renamed Sergiev. On 6th March 1930, the city was renamed Zagorsk, in honor of the Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Mikhailovich Zagorsky, who died in 1919.

On 23rd September 1991, by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, the historical name was returned to the city – Sergiev Posad. At the walls of the Lavra was erected a monument to Sergius of Radonezh, made of bronze, the work of the sculptor Valentin Chukharkin. The monument was consecrated on 18th March 2000 by Patriarch Alexy II (1929-2008).

[2] After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Soviet government closed the Lavra in 1920. Its buildings were assigned to different civic institutions or declared museums. In 1930, monastery bells, including the Tsar-Bell of 65 tons, were destroyed. Father Pavel Florensky (1882-1937) and his followers prevented the authorities from stealing and selling the sacristy collection but overall many valuables were lost or transferred to other collections.

In 1945, following Joseph Stalin’s temporary tolerance of the church during World War II, the Lavra was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. On 16th April 1946 divine service was renewed at the Assumption Cathedral. The Lavra continued as the seat of the Moscow Patriarchate until 1983, when the patriarch was allowed to settle at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

[3] Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram died on 13th July 1931. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

[4] Today the former Khrushchev-Seleznevs mansion houses the A. S. Pushkin State Museum (not to be confused with the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts).