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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Building a House of $5,000 Dolls

Yulia Vishnevskaya's passion for spending on dolls knows few bounds. Early last week, Vishnevskaya met a representative from Sotheby's auction house in the lobby to the Metropol Hotel to purchase an antique doll. Vishnevskaya had $10,000 with her. The doll cost a bmt over $7,000. Learning this, Vishnevskaya told him to keep the change.

"I just did it as a polite gesture to Sotheby's anyway," said Vishnevskaya of the purchase which added another doll to the 2,000 in her collection.

Vishnevskaya, 30, whose banker husband finances most of her purchases, turned to doll collecting after growing frustrated with her chosen profession in the theater as a makeup specialist.

"All I did was wash the floor. I quit after two months and began to work as a boiler operator," said Vishnevskaya of her days at the Taganka Theater. "Usually the ones who fail either become possessed by anger or turn into maniacs. I chose the second way."

During this time, acquaintances who knew that she was an able doll repairwoman would bring their broken figures to her for help. Those repaired dolls which were never retrieved became the first part of what is certainly one of the largest private collections of antique dolls in Russia and is soon to become the permanent collection of a modest doll museum planned by Vishnevskaya for central Moscow.

There are about 60 what she calls "good" dolls that are worth up to $5,000 each and one made in 1872 in France is worth some $60,000, Vishnevskaya said. To finance such an expensive hobby Vishnevskaya works as an interior designer and also gets substantial help from her husband, Vladislav Surkov, a Menatep Bank vice president.

Her tremendous appetite for dolls is reducing the living space for Vishnevskaya and her husband, who live in a two-story house with their 10-year-old son and three dogs, one of whom is a large shepherd. To avoid moving out of a neighborhood also inhabited by failed presidential candidates Martin Shakkum and Grigory Yavlinsky, Vishnevskaya will move much of her collection in September to a 62-square-meter space at 9 Ulitsa Chekhova.

"It will cost $3,500 a month to run the museum. To pay off the expenses we are going to sell dolls made by German firms," said Vishnevskaya, who has no plans to charge admission. "In the future, there's a chance of joining up with the Obraztsov Puppet Museum. Then maybe the Moscow government will be so kind as to allot us a larger space."

One of the aims of the museum, Vishnevskaya said, is to boost interest in doll collecting, particularly among wealthy Russian women. She said she is disappointed by the absence of a doll-collecting and trading business in Russia.

"In fact," she said, "there are people who collect dolls made by Russian doll designers. However, nobody is really interested in antique dolls. Moreover, a doll has never been considered to be an antique item. There's a lady in Yekaterinburg who has five dolls and that's it."

Vishnevskaya's claim was backed up by Krystina Goddu, an editor at DOLLS, The Collector's Magazine in New York City. "There are people who are interested in Russian folk dolls, but we have never heard of any Russian collectors who specialize in antique dolls," said Goddu.

The museum collection will present visitors with dolls from Europe and even Japan dating back as far as 1740. While most of the collection came from abroad, Yulia still buys Russian dolls, often from older Russian women.

"It is so moving to watch those babushkas part with their toys," said Vishnevskaya with a note of regret in her voice. In some cases, the doll owners turn out to be celebrities. Take for example, a doll for which Vishnevskaya will pay $5,000 because it once belonged to the wife of Anatoly Lunacharsky, Soviet People's Commissar of Education in the1920s.

Vishnevskaya's love for even the most humble members of her collection is evident both in her passionate tones and in the lengths to which she will go to enhance their appearance. Her latest plan is to contact top-notch Russian designers Valentin Yudashkin and Slava Zaitsev and have them create custom-made doll clothes.

"He gives the money but is skeptical about me having such a hobby," said Vishnevskaya with an ironic smile during a recent interview in a cafe at the Metropol.

and claims to be the only antique-doll collector in the country.

and that's enough for Vishnevskaya.