Masked dolls and toys are stuffed fabric toys with faces made of plastic, rubber, or other material. While they, especially those with doll faces, may look like they have entire heads attached to their plush bodies, it’s really just their faces. Little plastic rubber faces like small Halloween costume masks — and that’s where the name comes from. However, not all all those in human form are actually dolls. For example, this little vintage masked cutie of mine is actually a music box.
My little masked plush music box has a face of molded canvas or other fabric which has been painted. You’ll see that she has a little “dimple” on one of her cheeks and a stress mark beneath her lip; proof of the fragile material giving way to fingers which held her face while turning the base to get the music to play. (Oh, the battle-scars of love!)
But these vintage masked “dolls” take many other forms too. You’ve probably seen those creepy tissue box covers, but there were more classy items as well. On a recent trip to an antique mall, I snapped this photo of a vintage child’s muff, in white. You’ll note from the shine on the face on the muff that the masked face is plastic; a thin vinyl, type of plastic.
At that same antique mall was another plush pink doll with a masked face that was used to store hair curlers. (The curler holder’s face is painted fabric, like that on my music box.)
I’ve also seen, a few times, these masked pieces with the faces made of composition (composed of sawdust, glue, and other materials). The faces on these dolls will be shinier — and usually they have quite a bit of crazing, cracks, or worse, damaged sections. Typically, those with composition and fabric molded faces are older than those dolls or items made with plastic, vinyl, or rubber masked faces.
Quite often these vintage (and, let’s face it, rather kitschy) items were handmade. For decades, especially the 1930s through the 1960s, dime stores and mail order craft catalogs were filled with assorted masked faces that you could buy to make your own masked doll or doll-like items. As you probably guessed, there was quite a cottage industry of women making these items. Along with the items mentioned here, there were purses, pajama bags, and likely things I haven’t even seen yet!
However, sometimes you’ll find a few of these masked doll-esque creations which appear to have been commercially manufactured. Though tags and labels are hard to come by (or, when they do exist, they are often impossible to read), you can include the names Rushton and Knickerbocker in your online searches for masked and rubber faced doll collectibles. Rushton and Knickerbocker are known for their fabulous and coveted rubber-faced stuffed animals and dolls — actual stuffed toys kids were to sleep and play with. But Rushton, at least, did make some wild pajama bags. And, well-intentioned or not, sellers often include those big names (or variants like Rushton-esque) in descriptions to try to capture collector interest.
But the more dreamy-sweet pastel doll items I’ve shown here are typically handmade.
Despite their rather fragile faces and handmade status, such vintage masked beauties aren’t impossible to find. While the seemingly most popular design of side-glancing eyes may give these doll faces a more life-like or active appearance, these items survived because they decorated the boudoirs and bathrooms of little girls and teens — or, in the case of muffs and purses, were only used on special occasions. They put the “fun” in “functional,” but were gently used if not purely decorative.
Collectors, you can find ‘em — if you keep your eyes moving more than the eyes on the masked doll faces.