Tag: Destination: Old World Hungary

The Money Hat (and Other Hungarian Folk Tales)

money hat cover

The Money Hat and other Hungarian Folk Tales was another great library find I discovered recently. Containing 14 Folk Tales covering such characters as witches and noblemen, heroes and soldiers, farmers and peasants, this book’s creation is a story in itself. Gyuri Biro was born in Budapest, but fled with his family to Austria after Hungary’s 1956 revolution. Biro held countless careers during his lifetime, as a cartoonist, an actor, a bartender, a professional boxer, and a draftsman. He eventually settled in the USA where he met Peggy Hoffman, and recruited her to help him write down the Folk Tales he was told as a child.

Putting together a collection of stories that has been passed down orally through generations is no easy feat, but this book has a lightness and yet very genuine feel and the stories are a pleasure to read. As a cartoonist, Biro also did all of the original illustrations:




The stories themselves are all a little too long to post here, but I highly recommend reading them. Most copies I’ve found have been at libraries as the book itself is out of print, but if you want to do further research it was published by Westminster Press in 1969.

* This is part of an ongoing blog series exploring children’s literature and folk tales from the regions of Hungary, Romania, and Croatia. Do you have any recommendations? If so please feel free to leave a comment below.

Learn Your Animals in Croatian!


Art by Petit Collage

Art by Petit Collage


Slon  :  Elephant

Zmija  :  Snake

Cačak  :  Cat

Pas  :  Dog

Lav  :  Lion

Majmun  :  Monkey

Ovca  :  Sheep

Konj  :  Horse

Leptir  :  Butterfly

Sova : Owl

Sma :  Deer

Kurjak : Wolf

Jelen : Stag

Know them all? Play this fun game here!

Have you checked out our Sma, Kurjak, Sova, and Jelen clothes this season? :



A History of Nesting Dolls

Some of our fans pointed out that it might be confusing to show nesting dolls in Old World Hungary, since nesting dolls are traditionally Russian.  So we decided to do further research on the history of the nesting doll so that we could share it with our readers.

Chinese Origins

While the modern day nesting doll is most popularly associated with Russia (Matryoshka dolls), the first nesting dolls actually came from China.  The Chinese crafted nesting boxes that date back to the Song Dynasty, around 1000 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.

image found on the Hidden Treasures of Famen Si

The above image is actually as set of nested caskets.  I am having a hard time finding images of traditional Chinese nesting boxes or the original Chinese nesting dolls.  Does anyone have any good resources?

Nesting Dolls in Japan

Soon after nesting dolls originated in China they made their way to Japan.  Japanese wooden dolls were made to look like the Seven Lucky Gods from Japanese mythology.  The outer most doll was Fukurokuju the Japanese god of happiness and longevity.  He had an abnormally long forehead, like in the doll below.

images found on:  Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page (left),  MamaZakka (right)

It seems logical that the nesting doll concept would take off in Japan as they already had a tradition in similar dolls.  Like nesting dolls, kokeshi dolls and daruma dolls do not have arms or legs.  Both kokeshi and daruma dolls are hand painted with decorative bodies and simplified facial features.


images found onCuriosities of Japan (left), Blogadilla (right)

Daruma dolls are modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism.  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.


images found on:  Vintage Goodness (top left), The Jasper (top & bottom right), Etsy (bottom left)

Kokeshi dolls originated in Northern Japan during the Edo period (1600-1868).  Kokeshi dolls are hand made of wood and have decorative painting.  Many Kokeshi dolls, are made also made as a nesting dolls.

How the Nesting Doll Came to Russia

Some stories say the earliest set of Japanese nesting dolls were actually made by a Russian monk. Whether this is true or not, the nesting dolls made their way to Russia in the early 1890s when Savva Mamontov discovered a set.  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.   Their concept was to turn the nesting dolls into a symbol of Russia.

fukurumaNestingDollsimage found here
The nesting dolls that inspired Mamontov and Maliutin would have been similar to the set above.

OriginalNestingDollsimage found on Wikipedia
Above is the original set of nesting dolls by Maliutin.  These dolls can still be seen at the Sergiev Posad Museum of Toys in Zagorsk, Russia.

RussianDolls2images found on: Yahoo (top left), Clementine (top middle), About.com (top right), Children of the World (center left), Little Gypsies (center right),  StyleHive (bottom row)

The above are done in style of more traditional Russian style.  Russian nesting dolls go by many names, Matryoshka (and many variations of that name), Russian Nesting Dolls, Stacking dolls, and sometimes babushka dolls, though there are arguments that this is not actually a name for the dolls. Matryoshka comes from Matryona, a popular Russian name at the time.  Traditional dolls are meant to look like a Russian women in traditional Russian dress.

Throughout Eastern Europe

In 1900 Mamontov wife presented the first Russian nesting dolls at the World Exhibition in Paris.  Soon after nesting dolls were being made throughout Russia and the surrounding regions.  Nesting dolls today can be found in Eastern and Eastern Central Europe in countries like German, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Ukraine.  Many of these countries have created their own motifs that are common to their region.  Nesting dolls are popular souvenir items through Eastern Europe.


images found on Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page
The dolls above are from Ukraine, they have unique bullet-shaped bodies.


images found on Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page

These dolls from Poland have a more complex shape than the traditional Russian dolls.  Our Design Guru, Laura Boes, remembers fondly playing with her Polish grandmother’s set, which looked very similar to the set on the top right.


image from Tea
We found these pretty floral sets while traveling in Hungary.

images found on Ingrid’s Nesting Doll Page
This set from Romania have large childlike eyes.  They feel more playful than some of the more traditional sets.

Nesting Dolls Today

Today nesting dolls are popular all over the world.  So popular in fact, that our we already sold out of our Nesting Doll Tee.  Beyond the traditional motifs dolls, nesting dolls now come in sets of political leaders, pop icons, animals, and fairy tales, really almost anything you imagine.  They’ve transcended their traditional form and have become a very popular icon, especially in the the crafting community.  A search for matryoshka on Etsy yields more than 2500 results.

CrafterCollagesMicasita Etsy (top left), Bored Inc. (top center), Pulp Designs Etsy (top right), Kathleen Dames Etsy (middle left),  aimoobaroo Etsy (bottom left), Mountain of the Dragon Etsy (bottom right)

With all the variety in nesting dolls today it is easy to see why they would be so popular.  There’s a nesting doll out there for everyone.  A simple, but brilliant concept has given this toy universal appeal.

For the animal lover…
AnimalNestingDolls2images from:  Bella Fruitella (top left), Deviant Art (top right), Bits & Pieces (bottom left), Irina Troitskaya (bottom right)

for the arist…ArtistDollsimages found on:  Audree Lapierre (top left), Unedit my heart (top right), CB2 (center left), How Now Design Flickr (center right), ModaMuse (bottom left), the wurst gallery (bottom right)

For the fashionista…

found on:  Belleslettres Etsy (top left),  Russian Vogue (bottom left and center), unknown (right) – please let me know if you  know.

for the techie…

TechGeekimages found on:  Engadget (top left), ListsGalore! (top right), StarStore.com (middle left), Toys & Games reviews (middle right), Drysdale & Co (bottom left), GagdgetHER (bottom right)

for the music lover…
MusicLoverimages found on: NikkiShell (top left),  listsGalore! (top right), Amazon (bottom left), Amazon (bottom right)

sources and further reading

We’re constantly traveling to collect inspiration for our current designs. Check out our latest collection!

Nicolae Tonitza

While Laura and Emily were off exploring Old World Hungary, the rest of the design team went on our own inspiration trip to our local library.  It was a really fun and inspiring trip.  It was a great way for us to start making our own discoveries about the cultures of Old World Hungary.  I hope it becomes a Tea tradition – so that each season we can start our inspiration process at the library.

I decided to research fine art of the region and discovered  Nicolae Tonitza.  I loved the painterly floral and leaf patterned backgrounds.  The graphic dark circular eyes and dark line work is such an interesting contrast to the textural detail of the rest of the paintings.  He had an impressive ability to communicate emotion through his paintings. There is such a sweet innocence in his paintings of children, while his paintings of older women are much more somber.


Croation Tales of Long Ago


One of our readers and commenters recently told us about one of her favorite children’s book authors from Croatia – Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić. Although she passed away 1938 she is still considered to be one of Croatia’s most famous and well-loved writers for children. Born into a family of politicians and poets, Ivana homeschooled all six of her children, and became famous in 1913 for her book The Brave Adventures of Laptich. Croatian Tales of Long Ago was published in 1916 with huge success, which prompted Ivana’s nickname – “The Croatian Andersen” (in reference to Hans Christian Andersen). The stories are original, but reference characters and themes from traditional Slavic mythology.


In 2002 and 2003 an animation artist named Helena Bulaja decided to adapt some of the Croatian Tales of Long Ago into a web animation project.  In her words: “The digital revolution, the Internet, and modern communications are on one side, and the world of fairytales on the other…the concept of the interactive book is so open, and unlike film, theatre, or illustration, it can take almost any form, it can be a film, an illustration, a game…”  The website is a little dated, but the animation is stunning, such as in Yagor below:



Yagor from Helena Bulaja on Vimeo.

This is part of an ongoing blog series exploring children’s literature and folk tales from the regions of Hungary, Romania, and Croatia. Do you have any recommendations? If so please feel free to leave a comment below.

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!


Today is a Hungarian national holiday, celebrating St. Stephen I, Hungary’s patron saint and First King (between 1000 and 1038 AD). Through his powerful role as King he helped to establish the Kingdom of Hungary, so August 20th, while commemorating his life, also celebrates the birth of Hungary. During the Soviet occupation of Hungary St. Stephen’s day was dismissed as being “too religious”, and was replaced with a celebration of the Stalinist constitution, as well as a “celebration of new bread”, referring to the beginning of the harvest.

Modern day Budapest celebrates St. Stephen’s Day with fireworks, air shows, and outside fairs, with stands selling bread and cakes.

This season we happen to be carrying a shirt that references King Stephen’s reign – our Knights Double Decker Tee was inspired by the Knights of King Stephen’s army:



Have you ever been in Hungary during St. Stephen’s Day? Did you celebrate it as a child? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.