The renowned entertainer and violinist Vladimir Sapozhnin (1906-1996) was the most famous private collector of toys in Estonia. His career started at the age of 5 as a musical clown, acrobat and juggler in travelling Russian circuses, and he earned the nickname “Boba, the smallest clown in the world.”
Once when the boy performed in St. Petersburg, the show was attended by Russian Tsar Nicholas II who gave the little artist a present as a sign of appreciation – a wooden fortress with tin soldiers. Between performances, Boba would play war and organise military parades with these toy soldiers. The tin men marched and Boba imitated a military band with his mouth. That was the beginning of two hobbies that would accompany him for his whole life – the art of imitation and collecting toys.
In his adulthood, musician Vladimir Sapozhnin performed all over the world, always bringing home from his tours mechanical and electrical toys, model cars, toy soldiers. Later, friends and acquaintances also began giving him toys. He lived a long life and his collection grew to more than 800 different toys. Boba’s favourite activity was “toy reconstruction,” which meant constant repairs, improvements and creation of new toys, and the new toys would always have a twist – a mustard-pot with a spring jumping out; a pack of cigarettes that squirts water; a matchbox where matches would slip away.
In 1998, the heirs of Vladimir Sapozhnin donated Boba’s collection of toys to the Tartu Toy Museum. As Boba would always show each guest how toys work, this tradition is carried on at the Museum – a computer program illustrates how mechanical toys move and make sounds.