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Determining Age of Skookum Dolls

n the last issue of Skookum News we illustrated how Skookum labels can be helpful in dating your dolls. But what if the label is missing? If that’s the case, we can look at the materials used in making the doll’s masks and their feet to determine their age.

The earliest dolls from the mid to late teens with apple heads had no feet at all and were constructed of simple blocks of wood serving as their base. This style continued into the early 20s when some rare apple heads had shoes made of composition. Later in the thirties, the traditional leather over wood moccasins were used on the last of the dolls made with dried apples.

In the years when apple head dolls transitioned to composition masks, leather covered wooden feet were used exclusively. (The only known exceptions being the 10" Skookum children with multi colored felt moccasins with bead decoration and female dolls with pueblo style white cotton wrapped leggings.) The use of composition masks spanned over 20 years from the late teens until the 1940s. The earliest of these were somewhat primitive but as production increased new styles were added and the facial features became more refined. Many of the composition masks were marked "Germany". Germany was well known for its high quality doll masks and was the largest maker of doll parts for export at the time. Dolls with composition masks have leather covered wooden feet. The leather can be either paint decorated or in some cases decorated with fancy beadwork. It is in this time period that the most elaborate and detailed Skookum dolls were made.

 In the 1940s, when paper tape moccasins replaced the leather ones, plastic masks made in the U.S.A. replaced the earlier composition. It is interesting to note that although some dolls made during this time period have leather moccasins with plastic masks, generally, if a doll has the paper tape style moccasins the mask is plastic and not composition as is commonly believed. The plastic masks are painted to have the appearance of composition but a light tap on the surface will produce a different sound. Subtle differences in the surface sheen and mask detail can also be noted. In the 40s when plastic masks were in use, many styles of masks were taken out of production and the variety of dolls available was reduced greatly.

Plastic masks continued being made through the 50s and in to the 60s when plastic moccasins were used on the dolls. The use of plastic molded moccasins makes these late dolls very easy to date.

These should be used as general guidelines as it is a combination of all the elements that determine a doll’s age. In the next issue we will look at the fabrics and blankets used in dressing Skookum dolls.

The chart below is just a sampling of the variety of dolls made. From left to right, masks and feet illustrate in a general way the materials used and their years of production.

Apple head dolls from left to right:
c1930   c1920   c1914

Corresponding feet left to right:
c1930   c1920   c1914

Composition masks left to right:
c1936   c1930   c1922

Corresponding leather-covered feet left to right:
c1936   c1930   c1922

Plastic masks c1940s

Corresponding paper tape-covered feet c1940s

Plastic masks continue into 1950s–early 1960s

Corresponding feet. Introduction and use of plastic molded moccasins 1950s–early1960s