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Determining Age of Skookum Dolls

ow that you are familiar with what defines a Skookum doll’s value, how do you know if your investment is solid? The Internet has vastly changed the collectibles market. What were once scarce items are now almost commonplace on web sites such as eBay. On any given day you can view at least 50 different Skookums for sale. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well it is! We live in a time of great opportunity to buy items in an open forum from all over the world. So what’s the catch? Would you believe it if I told you that not all of the sellers were honest! I know, I know so shocking—but sadly it is true. Now don’t get too upset, stay calm! I buy dolls on eBay all of the time. Most of the Skookums for sale are genuine/original, but I must admit that a very small percent are not. That small percent mostly fall into the “fantasy” category. As always, the rule of any resale marketplace is “Buyer Beware.” It seems like good advice, but how exactly do we protect ourselves from making a bad purchase? It’s as easy as these three simple steps that Linda and I use often: Learn, Look, and Laugh!

LEARN— Become a Skookum expert. It’s not hard. You’re doing it right now! Read everything “Skookum” that you can get your hands on. Internet sources include Linda’s site, of course, and print sources include old magazine articles and my book, SKOOKUM the Great Indian Character Doll. I know these may sound like shameless plugs, but we are Skookum enthusiasts and we enjoy sharing information with you! An education is always your best defense.

Get to know and talk to reputable doll dealers. Don’t be afraid to ask them for references before you buy from them. When purchasing from eBay, be sure to check the seller’s feedback rating. If the Skookum doll listed has very little information in the description, be sure to email the seller questions before bidding. Be specific: “Is the doll all original?”, “Have there been any repairs or replaced items?”, “Where did you purchase the doll?”, etc. A good seller will be happy to answer your questions. Keep in mind that not all sellers are Skookum doll experts, so often you will still have to use your own judgment. Also be sure to read the seller’s listings very carefully. Note the order in which descriptions are given. I recall a seller once used “tricky” wording in a description, they wrote something like, “the doll wears vintage beads and vintage pipe cleaner ties and its original blanket is very bright...etc.” This is “tricky” wording because they were being truthful in saying that the beads and hair ties were vintage, but only the blanket was original to the doll. The beads and hair ties were added later. Very sneaky! Now please don’t get nervous, I don’t want to scare you. This is not at all a common occurrence. But the purpose of this particular newsletter is to inform you that it has happened and can happen again. So how did I know that the beads and ties were not original to the doll? Simple observation!

LOOK— I have looked at literally hundreds of Skookums. I’ve looked at my dolls, I’ve looked at dolls on eBay, I’ve looked at other collector’s dolls, I’ve looked at dolls online, and what have I seen? I noticed that all Skookums have basic similarities. Yes they were made for almost 50 years, yes they are all different, and yes they changed with the times, but dolls from particular eras you’ll see share common attributes.

Observation #1— Know Your Materials—  When you study a doll make sure that all parts are of the same vintage. For example: generally, a circa 1920s Skookum will have a composition face mask, wear glass beads, have leather-covered feet, wear a leather head band/dress, and have a wig made of human, string, or mohair. In general, a circa 1940s Skookum will have a plastic face mask, wear glass, natural, or wood beads, have masking tape-covered feet, wear a coated canvas-type head band/dress, and have a mohair wig. In general, a circa 1950s Skookum will have a plastic face mask, wear wood or plastic beads, have plastic molded moccasins, wear a plastic tape headband, and have a mohair wig. So if you pick up a Skookum doll with a composition face wearing plastic moccasins or find a Skookum doll with a plastic face and string hair you can be assured that it probably isn’t all original. It’s not always that simple, but if you look at enough dolls you’ll begin to notice things. You can also study up on Beacon Blankets and fabrics to help date your materials.

Observation #2— Patina— Patina is an indicator of an object’s age. Dolls exposed to the elements of dust, dirt, smoke, and light over time have a patina. This can also be used as a tool to see if a doll has been worked on. If there is grunge on the doll look for an even grunge throughout. For example, if a doll’s blanket is faded and worn and the shirt material is bright and crisp you can suspect that something has been replaced. True, some Skookum dolls were purchased, brought home, wrapped up, and placed in the attic for years, only to surface completely mint, but notice again that the condition is even throughout. Consistency is key!

LAUGH— Finally, our favorite part of “Making sure your Skookums are Bully Good,” enjoy your Skookums! They are only “Bully Good” if you are having a good time! Relax, if you do your homework, ask questions, and observe then you’ve done all that you can. Nothing is ever foolproof. I’ve made plenty of bad buys and missed plenty of great dolls myself. This is how we grow. I remember once early on at auction I saw a funny, black-faced doll on a wooden block with a label marked Skookum Indian Doll. I told my friend it was an obvious fake because it didn’t look like any Skookum I had ever seen. Leave it to me to miss an original, Mary McAboy apple head. That will never happen again! But if I don’t laugh about that story, I’ll cry!

Hopefully these simple steps will enable you as a collector to better know your Skookums and give you the know-how to sort out the good from the bad. Just use your brain, eyes, and sense of humor and you will not be easily fooled!

—Lesley Mitchell-Polinko


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