Steele: These dolls are great collectibles – North Platte Telegraph

Recently at a friend’s auction — full of a lifetime’s accumulation of hopes and dreams — I found these two little dolls in a box all alone waiting for their time at the auction block. I had remembered seeing these through the years at antique and collectible stores and was totally aware of the kind of memories these dolls had given to my friend’s childhood. I have also been through an auction of personal things — about 28 years ago — so I was fully aware of the decisions that had to be made as to what would be put on the auction block and let go or what could be kept for a bit longer. My friend did an amazing job of letting go of many once-treasured items.

As I was looking through the few things that I did purchase that day, I asked her about these little Skookum Bully Good Native American dolls. And she told me a little story about them: She had found them on a trip with her parents when she was a little girl. We all have stories like this to tell and we should tell them to our families, but it seems that everyone is so busy any more that seldom do we take the time to talk about our family history.

Naturally, because I am into antiques, I always ask questions about something that I may want to purchase at a private sale or public auction, when given the chance. Antiques are history — and all families have histories of some sort. Maybe some of the antiques and collectibles have been disbursed through the years by other means, and that is probably good in many respects. But sometimes, we have to do what is necessary to make room for us and make life changing decisions.

There’s an old saying, “You can’t take it all with you,” and sometimes it seems I am trying to do just that. I do not mean to, but it just happens. When I see something I like and probably has a story behind it, I want to know more about the item: Where did it come from? How long have you had it? Why did you collect it or purchase it when you did? All of the above questions seem to fall right into my antique and collectible stories of a lifetime for someone, or myself.

When looking up the history of these darling dolls, I discovered a lot more than I had realized. I have had several through the years — 50 years of antiquing and collecting. I think I had one once a very long time ago when I was in a trading post on a trip to California to see my grandparents. I do not know where it is today — I probably played with it and did not take care of it like I should have. But you live and learn, and do not really think about the future when you are a little girl with a cute doll to play with.

Mary Dwyer McAboy was the creator of these cute little Native American-like dolls. She had remembered that her mother had sold carved apple dolls at church functions and sewing club circles and she continued her mother’s ideas from that point on.

Mary was born in the Missoula, Montana, area. She was a school teacher but lost her husband very early in their married life, so she had to continue on her own. She has quite a story and her business evolved quickly. She made a village of dolls that a famous Vaudeville actress purchased, which spurred Mary on to keep making them.

These dolls were sold as souvenirs throughout the West or Northwest. They caught on so quickly that in later years they had to be mass produced, whereas when they were first produced, they were made by hand and she carved the heads from apples. The apple heads would deteriorate and she started using composition heads. They have no arms or legs as they are bound in Native American-style blankets made of felt or cloth like Navajo or Pendleton or Hudson Bay blankets. They caught on so quickly that she had to turn her manufacturing over to the H. H. Tammen Company in Los Angeles.

The dolls range in size from 2 inches to 36 inches. Mary started out using human hair and then later used mohair. If you have ever seen these cuties, you would remember that the eyes are all looking to the right — except for a rare few dolls she had changed. The dolls made in 1913 had moccasins made from leather. A few years down the road they were simulated with a suede applied to wood legs or feet. By the early 1920s they were made of composition material and by the late 1940s and early 1950s, all of the cute little dolls had plastic feet.

Interestingly, the production of these dolls was discontinued in the early 1960s — which helps us to identify these adorable little dolls in which period they were made and how they were played with through the years. They usually came in an original cardboard box with the word “Skookum” written in large letters on the top of the box. Very seldom do we find the actual boxes — but when we do, naturally, that adds to the value of these adorable keepsakes.

Most of the earlier dolls in good condition today bring a $100 or more — depending on size, condition and style. The later ones made of plastic are worth less, but it would be fun to find as many different ones as you could. Studying and researching the different styles would also be quite interesting. Remember that after she had them made commercially, they were strung out across the United States. Actually, you could find these in the Eastern part of the U.S. as well as the Northwest. It is just a fun little collection to get a young girl interested in looking for a few more to add to her collection.

Please remember that almost anything and everything we see in the antique/collectible shops today has a story behind it if you are interested in seeking it out. There are getting to be fewer “mom and pop” shops in our country today. Larger antique stores or malls have been created for the convenience of searching for items, as well as for selling them. But just like anything we may try to sell today, it takes a lot of time to hunt for items for resale and to keep it as authentic as we can. It is terribly hard to keep up on exactly what the markets are showing as “most wanted” items that collectors or dealers are looking for. It is a crazy game of sorts but oh-so-fascinating.

Keep in mind that your local shops here in North Platte or other areas of Nebraska are counting on you to help them stay open. Just as we are losing our regular grocery stores and department stores due to lack of local business, we have the same problem with antique dealers selling their wares and finds. And all of us who are in the business of antiques and/or collectibles, we want to thank you for your loyalty and dedication of shopping locally. We have several antique shops here in North Platte. Next time you visit one, please tell them that Judy sent you.

Just a reminder: the “What’s It Worth” antique classes are being held now at the Wild Bill’s Fun Center at 1000 S. Jeffers St. It is still on Tuesday evenings starting at 5 p.m. with dinner and the show and tell start at 6 p.m. You are welcome to come and go as your schedule allows and I will try to visit about your item as your schedule permits. There is a $5 charge for one item, and more information regarding that item at the next meeting or whatever works for you. Please call me at 308-530-4572 if you have questions. Hope to see you at Wild Bill’s next Tuesday.

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