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Russian lacquer art - Russian box, Mstera, Mstyora, Mstiora, Palekh artist, Fedoskino, Kholuy, Lacquer box, Russian lacquer boxes


  • How can I best navigate through web site?

    • There are several good ways to navigate You can search by:
      1. Using our custom lacquerware search engine. Type in a key word(s) or the first few letters of a word, and the search engine will go through our entire on-line collection, titles and descriptions, and will come up with a maximum number of matches to lacquer boxes. This is a very powerful tool, which can be found at the top of every page, and will help immensely if you are looking for something specific.
      2. Village/School - Boxes are referenced by the name of the village in which they are created. The lacquer art schools and factories that train and employ the artists, as well as the museums that show the lacquer art, are all named after the ancient village where they are located. Each village ( Fedoskino, Kholuy, Mstera, and Palekh) has their own distinct traditions in creating lacquer art.
      3. Artist - Many avid collectors have favorite artists that they follow and learn about from lacquer box catalogues, books and through our web site. We have a link to a special artist navigation page in the header of our pages, where you'll find our artists search engine. The page allows you to search by school, and first or last names of the artists. You may plug in just the first few letters or just one letter of their name if you are not sure of the spelling in order to get wider results. Also, you can bring up all the artists of a particular school by leaving the search box blank, selecting a school, and pressing "search." Available items by an artist will be displayed on their profile page.
      4. Cost - Also in the header of our pages, you will find a price range guide. You can select a specific rage, and the site will bring up all the items in that range.
      5. Inventory - This link allows you access to various search options, such as viewing our entire collection. This option takes some time to download on slower connections!
      6. On our home page and some of the other main pages of the site, you'll find links to specific themes, elements, shapes, prices, and ages of boxes--a great way to find something you're looking for or to find something new! You can also find links to the non-lacquer art items we carry!
      7. Fairy tale/Theme - Most of the lacquer boxes are painted with scenes inspired by fairy tales, poetry, songs, historical events, famous canvas paintings, etc... When you look up a story contained in our database, our search engine brings up that file, and peruses the current inventory to select items that have a reference to the story.
      8. Finally, we also recommend simply clicking on the boxes that randomly on various pages of the site. This will take you to detailed pictures and a description of that lacquer box.

  • Can you send me a printed catalog of the boxes you offer?

    • We currently do not maintain a printed catalog, because each of the items we carry within our collection is unique. We rarely stock more than one of a particular design. For this reason, a catalog would quickly become outdated as items are sold and new items replace them. After evaluating several printing ideas that would allow us to offer some kind of catalog that would be both time and cost effective, we came up with a method for you to print your own custom catalog from the web site. Visit our printable catalog page for more information on how to print your own personalized Sunbirds catalog. We are continuing to gather feedback on this issue. If you have any suggestions, please send them to us. Your help and input are greatly appreciated.

    • We also have special "printable" pages for artist profiles and item descriptions. These are especially good for collectors who have purchased items and wish to retain the information that we have presented on that piece. Look for the special links on item descriptions and artist biographies to access these pages.

  • I'm trying to print pages from your web site, but all I get is blank sheets out of my printer. What's wrong?

    • If you're running Netscape and the pages you print from our site are coming out blank, you just need to make a quick change to your print settings. In Netscape, click on "File," and select "Page Setup." In the dialog box that appears, check the box that says "Black Text." This will override the text color settings of the site and print the text as black. We haven't noticed that there is a problem for Internet Explorer users.

  • I want to be able to have first shot at the new pieces that are put up each month. How will I know which pieces are being added to the collection? And when are they added?

    • We reveal a new collection monthly and sometimes twice a month. If you would like to receive notice of the date and time of its release, we will be happy to add you to our mailing list for the Russian Sunbirds Email Newsletter. Our newsletter is only released once or twice a month. It highlights some of the pieces in the collection, and provides updates of recently added artist biographies, as well as any other additions or changes to the web site. Recent additions to the online inventory can be viewed on a unique page with the dates on which they were added.

  • How does your auction work?

    • The Russian Sunbirds auction is very simple and straightforward. The purpose for the auction is simply promotional. It provides our customers with the opportunity to purchase select pieces at a discounted rate, and allows us to highlight some pieces by artists that otherwise might get overlooked. All items presented are good-quality lacquer art. As with any item, we encourage you to read each item's full description to get as much information on the piece as possible before making a purchase. Auction items are returnable for credit only--full refunds will not be provided. You must contact Russian Sunbirds within 30 days of receipt of your order for any return.

      To register and begin bidding, and to read all about our auction, please visit our Auction Rules and Procedures Page.

  • I visit your site very often. Can you recommend any helpful tips, tricks, or ideas on how to enhance my on-line experience with Russian Sunbirds?

    • Here are some things you may find helpful:
      1. Sign up for the notification letter.
      2. Record sections of our web site in your favorites/bookmarks.
      3. Create your own personal favorites catalog by printing out the item descriptions from either the special printable sections or the regular pages, or by using our printable catalog.

  • Who designed your website?

    • All of the HTML design and programming has been done in-house. By maintaining the website ourselves, we are able to accomplish several things. First, updates are done instantly, and upgrades can be designed specifically to increase production while keeping our customer in mind. By not out-sourcing web-related jobs, we save on expensive outside programming and design costs--a savings that we are then able to pass on to our customers. We also host our own web- and email-servers, another cost-effective option that keeps control of the website in our hands.

  • Do you have a showroom where customers may browse and purchase boxes or are your sales only through the Internet? If you do have a store, where is it and what are your hours?

    • Although is our primary means for displaying our lacquerware, we do indeed have a showroom for people to visit. We are located in San Diego, CA, and our hours are from 11am to 7pm. Because we are primarily a web-based business, these do fluctuate slightly, but we are always happy to welcome visitors to our offices and to accomodate their schedules, if necessary. We recommend calling ahead at 619-220-7172 if you plan to be in San Diego and would like to visit us. You can also view our inventory room online via our live webcam.



  • What is the Sunbirds privacy policy?

    • Ensuring the privacy of your information is important to us! We do not share, sell or trade the information that you submit to us. This includes Email addresses, names, street and billing addresses, telephone numbers, credit card information, purchase histories, or any other information.

      Sources of information collection include purchase orders submitted by customers, subscriptions to our electronic newsletter, registrations in our online auction, cookies, and Emails sent to us via our online contact form. Our purchasing system tracks purchases by item so that we can offer a more personalized experience to our customers by reviewing customer data and suggesting items similar to those previously purchased.

      If you wish to unsubscribe from our newsletter, simply send an Email to with the message "Unsubscribe me from your newsletter" and you will be promptly removed from the list. To be removed from our auction list and auction notifications (you will no longer be able to bid), send an Email to the above address with the message "Delete my auction registration" and your Email and screen name will be promptly deleted by a Sunbirds representative.

      Information submitted through our online order form is transmitted via 128-bit encryption Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to our protected server. This is currently the Internet standard for security and information encryption, and we are verified by Thawte Authentication Services.

      Questions about our privacy policy may be addressed to Russian Sunbirds via our contact page, or by direct Email to As necessary, changes to our privacy policy will be posted on this page.


  • What kind of wood is used to make Russian lacquer boxes?

    • Russian lacquer boxes are actually made of paper-mache. This material is:
      1. Much harder than wood
      2. Lasts longer under the lacquer
      3. Does not contain water particles that can damage the coats of lacquer
      4. Makes a much smoother surface to paint on
      5. Was originally used in Persian boxes

  • How is a paper-mache box made?

    • There are several steps that Russian craftsmen take to make a paper-mache item:
      1. the paper fibers are mixed with water and glue to form the raw paper-mache
      2. the wet paper-mache is pressed into the desired form (or strips of paper are pasted together around the form)
      3. the form is heated and the paper-mache is dried
      4. the treated form is boiled in linseed oil
      5. it is dried again in a special oven that takes the boxes from room temperature to 100 degrees Celsius and back to room temperature in about 30 days
      6. once the pieces are ready, they are cut to size and joined as necessary
      7. the assembled box is then painted with 2-3 layers of lacquer, usually black on the outside and red on the inside, and dried for a day after each coat
      8. then it is coated with 1-2 layers of transparent lacquer, and again dried after each coat
      9. the prepared blank boxes are then given over to the artists, who paint them (in the making of a box this is the most time-consuming process)
      10. once the paint is dry, the box is covered with 1 layer of transparent lacquer
      11. the box is dried in an oven, the polished
      12. it is then coated with up to 8 layers of transparent lacquer, and is polished after each layer with cloths of increasing degrees of fineness
      13. NOTE: some less valuable boxes are only covered with 2-3 layers of transparent lacquer.

  • Is there any other material that may be used instead of paper-mache?

    • Paper-mache is the traditional material used in Russian lacquerware. It took craftsmen centuries to develop the right mixing proportions, drying and forming techniques. Since making the paper-mache is such a time-consuming and costly process, the less-skilled artists may paint on plastic boxes or what may be called the "modern mass produced paper-mache" (in Russian "ORGALEET") which is reconstituted cardboard-particle chipboard.
    • Any modern substitute material lessens the value of the box. It is also known that a good artist would not jeopardize his work by painting on anything rather than the original paper-mache, since it is known that so-called "ORGALEET" has a tendency to produce a specific checker-like pattern under the lacquer in a matter of weeks after the box has been completed.

  • Are all Russian lacquer boxes black on the outside?

    • Not always. The boxes come in a variety of colors: black, red, maroon, orange, yellow, white, blue or green. Sometimes the artist will decorate the box with tortoiseshell, birch bark, malachite, stone or granite patterns. You may find a piece that has a scene not only painted on the lid, on the sides, on the bottom, even the inside of the box. It's all up to the creativity of the artist.

  • Are red lacquer boxes more expensive than the black ones?

    • Russian lacquer boxes that are painted red on the outside as well as on the inside are not necessarily more expensive than their black counterparts. But if an artist finds some mistake that he made in the painting after applying the first transparent layer of lacquer over the detailed picture, he would have to cover it up with exactly the same type of red lacquer as the rest of the box. This may cause a slight problem since the artist who painted the scene is not always the same person who made the box. This may be the reason that you do not find too many red-, green-, blue-, white- etc. colored boxes on the market.

  • I see "aluminum" on the materials listing of some pieces. Why don't the artists use actual silver for the metallic silver paint?

    • Aluminum is used instead of silver because unlike aluminum, silver will turn yellow at high temperatures and with time. Aluminum will retain its bright silvery luster. The aluminum that the artists use comes as a course powder, which is then ground with glass and mixed into paint.

  • How do I pronounce the names of the villages?


  • What can I do to keep my lacquer boxes looking new?

    • Although paper-mache is very durable, a little care will keep your lacquer boxes looking great! Before we ship your lacquer box, we polish and buff it to give it that wonderful shine. In time, you may need to clean your box again (especially if it is handled often). Start with simply rubbing it with a clean, soft cloth. If the box seems actually dirty or lackluster (especially if it is handled often), we recommend using a simple spray furniture polish such as Pledge brand polish (without any additives). Spray some polish onto a clean soft cloth, then rub clean your box. Use another clean, dry cloth to remove excess polish and to buff your piece to a shine! This process removes any oils from fingerprints, while not harming the lacquer.

      Another important tip is not to slide your box on any hard surface, such as wood or glass. Even tiny dust particles, when trapped between the box and the surface, can leave small scratches on the box, which add up in time. To avoid this, keep a small piece of cloth under boxes that do not have 'feet', to prevent them from sliding around. You can also place small pieces of felt to act as feet for flat-bottomed boxes. Stands or display easles are another good alternative. To further take care of your boxes, we recommend you follow these guidelines:
      1. Use only a very soft, clean cloth to clean the surface of the box
      2. Do not use any chemical cleaning solutions that may react with the lacquer
      3. Try not to keep your lacquer box in direct sunlight
      4. Do not keep your lacquer box in a moist environment
      5. Do not expose the box to excessive cold or heat
      6. Do not scratch the box with any sharp (or blunt, for that matter) items
      7. Do not drop the box!
      8. Do not slide the box on any surface, even smooth ones
      9. Do not attempt to apply an extra layer of lacquer or varnish yourself!

  • I have a lacquer box that is damaged. Can you fix it?

    • Through our extensive contacts in Russia, we are able to have most any type of damage repaired. This includes cracked or scratched lacquer, chips, even damage to the paper-mache itself, as long as the painting is unharmed (even then, touch-ups are possible!). Contact us first to determine if your piece can be repaired and to receive a quote for repair costs. Then send the item to us, and we will transport it to an artisan in one of the villages for repair. Repairs and shipping time usually take 2-3 months, but it's well worth the wait!


  • There is a wide range of boxes for different prices on your web. How is the value of a lacquer box determined?

    • Several things determine the worth of Russian lacquer art:
      1. The quality and execution of the painting is primary. The more fine detail work used, along with accuracy of execution and uniqueness of techniques, the greater the increase in value.
      2. The box is by an artist that is either well known, or consistently achieves the above qualities in their work over a period of time.
      3. The quality and amount of ornamental work, because the gold ornamental work is the most time-consuming and difficult part of the painting process.
      4. The quantity of gold, aluminum, and mother-of-pearl used in a piece.
      5. The last factor of value is the size. But keep in mind that depending on the magnitude of the above qualities, a very small box can be worth just as much or more than a large box.

  • How can I be assured that I will be receiving an authentic and high quality lacquer box from your web site, or even from other dealers?

    • We do attempt to get the best boxes directly from Russia. We do this by purchasing them from artists directly, or from reputable dealers. We do research on the pieces that we purchase, and verify the authenticity of the piece. One means of doing this is by going directly to the artist, whenever possible. We interview the artists about the piece and about their work in general. You might also be reassured to know that we have associations with major dealers in the USA, and collectors worldwide.

  • I was in Russia a couple of years ago and saw the same lacquer box for $2.00
    Why do you charge so much for your boxes?

    • You probably saw a box with the same general picture, painting, or scene, which was most probably printed by some machine. Many of these items are mass-produced by the hundreds, and they are by no means collectible items. The types of items that we offer are high quality hand-painted collectible works of art that take weeks and sometimes months to make, depending on how elaborate the work is.

  • What are fake boxes?

    • "Fake" lacquer boxes are usually two dimensional, almost cartoonish figures and/or scenes with little detail. Gold filigree are simple swirls which are thick and amateurish. On some fakes, a postcard or picture has been laminated on the top which is easily spotted with a magnifying glass or by feeling for a faint ridge made by the printed picture.

  • How can I tell a "good" box from a "bad" one, presuming I can tell if it's a fake or not?

    • Take a look at as many of our lacquer boxes online as possible. You will soon develop a certain taste for the style and the painting. Use as many other sources of lacquer box information as you can find. Go to your library, find some catalogs that feature works by famous artists, or works dated from 1940-1960. Look at the old Lukutin miniatures. Find some pictures of Palekh boxes by Golikov. Also go to your local Russian Souvenir shop. Talk to the dealers. But be cautious of "Certificates," "Brand Names," or "Factory boxes."

  • Are there boxes that cost $15,000.00?

    • Yes, there are. Unique works by the few very elite and talented artists in each of the villages can fetch very high prices.

  • What is the "BEAT ANY PRICE" policy?

    • If you find an item on-line or in a store by a recognized dealer, and find a comparable item in the inventory, here's what we'll do. Purchase the item from the dealer, making sure you get a receipt. Send the item and the original receipt to Russian Sunbirds for inspection, and we'll reserve the comparable item for you. If it is of similar quality, we will send you our piece instead with a refund for the difference (of no less than 5% of the receipt price).

  • Do you accept payment plans for your items?

    • In order to accomodate our customers when purchasing higher-priced items, we do make it possible for you to make several monthly payments to complete the invoice amount. Payment plans are determined on a per customer basis, and are dependent on final invoice amount and number of months desired. Typical time periods are 2-4 months.
    • You can pay using a major credit card, check or money order. Once the payment plan is set up, the item is marked as sold and is set aside for you in our office. If you wish, we can hold the item until payments are complete, or we can ship the item once half the invoice amount has been received and verified; however, if paying by check or money order, we do require a valid credit card number to be on file. Your card will only be charged if check payment is not received.
    • Please contact us if you are considering ordering a piece and would like more information about making payments.

  • I have a lacquer box I would like appraised. Do you offer appraisal services?

    • Yes, we do offer appraisal services, for a fee of $40. This includes photography of the piece, research into the theme, the artistry, the artist, qualities of the box, approximate replacement cost and market value, and return shipping (we need to have the item in our offices to carry out the appraisal). You will receive a printout with all the information and the photos in the same manner items on our website are displayed. This information is helpful for insurance purposes, for inheritance/posterity, or for selling the piece. This process takes several days, but is thorough and useful. Contact us to set up an appraisal of your lacquer box.


  • Do people really collect Russian Lacquer boxes? Why?

    • Yes! Russian Lacquer boxes are collected around the world. The collection of Russian lacquer miniature art began in the early to mid 1800's in Britain, Sweden and Germany, before gaining popularity in America later on. Russian lacquer miniature art is considered a unique form of art in the 20th century. Lacquer art is still highly valued today not only because they are visually pleasing, but also because the artists' techniques and interpretation of subject matter comes through each piece to touch the heart of the viewer. It might also be of some value to know that besides the visual pleasure that this unique art form brings to ones life, Russian lacquer miniature boxes can appreciate in monetary value.

  • Who collects Russian Lacquer art?

    • You would be surprised at the variety of people who collect Russian lacquer miniature art, and their stories behind how they began. Some begin because the art expresses their already established love for Russian literature. For others it displays their love for Russian culture. For most collectors, it is the appreciation for the enormous talent that lacquer art displays, and the joy that they receive from being able to look at the art daily.

  • How do lacquer art collectors go about choosing pieces for their collection?

    • Because each piece is so beautiful in its own way, many collectors use the following methods to choose:
      1. Fairy Tales
      2. Schools (Fedoskino, Mstera, Kholuy, Palekh)
      3. Artist(s) featured in books and catalogues
      4. The feature of specific compositions in books and catalogs


  • Can I order custom lacquer boxes through Russian Sunbirds?

    • Yes you can! Our close associations with the lacquer art villages and with many of the artists allow us to accept order for custom boxes from our customers. This could include portraits of family members or other individuals, specific scenes, or whatever your imagination can come up with! We will then work with you to find the best realization of your ideas.

  • What do I need to do in order to have a lacquer box commissioned?

    • Here is a list of the things that would be required:
      1. Color picture(s) and detailed description of how the box should be painted.
      2. The shape of the box
      3. The size of the box
      4. Then either you select the school and/or an artist of your choice, or,
      5. We suggest an artist and school for you
    • You can send this information to us by Email, and if necessary, you can mail pictures or images to our office. After all this is together, we can estimate the cost of your custom lacquer box. Each of the factors above will play a role in determining the final cost. We do, however, require that half of the cost be paid in advance. We then go to the artist to have the box painted. Once the artist has everything that he or she needs, the process will take approximately 1-2 months.


  • How do you get the information used in the descriptions of the boxes on your web site?

    • We perform in-house research on each piece that we offer in our catalog. We have an extensive library of resources in both English and Russian, covering topics of lacquer art, fairytales, literature, architecture, art, and Russian history and culture. Many of these resources are listed on our bibliography page, with author, title, publisher, and ISBN number for reference. As well, we pull information as needed from sources on the Internet and local libraries, which we cite in the item's description.

  • I want to become more knowledgeable about lacquer art before I start collecting. How can I learn more about it?

    • You can start your own research right here on this site by going to our bibliography page. By using the information there, you can try to locate these sources for your personal research. You can also read about the artists themselves. We interview as many of the artists as we can so collectors will have a better understanding of their style and techniques, and therefore be better able to judge the authenticity and quality of a piece for themselves. We've also compiled a great deal of information for you in our Readings Section, particularly under the "Lacquerware and Other Russian Art" Section.

  • There seem to be a lot of resources available, can you recommend the best ones for beginners?

    • The most economical choices would be to look for books that provide an overview of the traditions, the fairytales, and the artists with their compositions. There are two authors that do this very well: Lucy Maxim and David Armstrong.