Investment and Resale Value: Nothing at American Girl is cheap! Not just in terms of quality, but also in pricing! However, just like boutique children's clothing, American Girl products that are taken care of, retain their value over time. I know a lot of moms don't want to commit to the price of American Girl without knowing that their child will love it, so they start with Our Generation (Target), Journey Dolls (ToysRUs) or MyLife (Walmart). If your budget is very limited and it's what you can afford, by all means, provide your child this wholesome play opportunity however you are able! However, if your budget does allow some splurges in this area- I think that less, well-chosen, high quality items will produce more quality play time. At the end of the day, if you splurge on American Girl and your child rarely touches it, you can easily resale it on the many American Girl BST boards! For items that are in excellent condition, you can expect to get at least 75% of your initial investment back and even more for retired items (American Girl retires items constantly which lends itself to a strong resale market). There are a select few Our Generation items that I've found to be okay in quality, but for the most I prefer the American Girl brand. I'll also share tips at the end for getting the best deals at American Girl.
Historical and Educational Value: I'll break down the different American Girl Doll lines below, but my favorite line from American Girl (and what truly attracted me to the brand to begin with) is their line of historical dolls, currently referred to as the BeForever line. Holiday loved her Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins but started to get interested in the larger, 18 inch dolls right around her 4th birthday. This was mostly fueled by trips to our local American Girl store and also because she fell in love with the Samantha movie- which is a very well-done movie based on Samantha Parkington, an American Girl character from the Edwardian Era (1890's-1910). While the BeForever characters are fictional, the history and details surrounding their collections and stories are right out of your American History book! This connection to the American past is one of the most endearing and enduring qualities of American Girl and its legacy. I'll talk more about the BeForever line below.
Open-Ended Play Value: When deciding what toys to bring into our home, choosing toys that are open-ended in their play value has always been at the top of my priority list. Toys that are open-ended are toys that can be played with in a different way every time you pick them up. There are countless ways for your imagination to use them and pretend with them. This isn't only a nice concept, it's important developmental work for children. Providing open-ended toys enables you to capitalize on your children's play time-- it's doing so much more than merely keeping them busy and occupied. Plato once said that you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Doll play is extremely open-ended. Anything that can happen in a child's real life can be re-created with dolls. Most anything you purchase from American Girl can really lend itself to open-ended play. However, when I'm choosing which doll items to purchase, I still gage how "open" a toy is. For example, Target released an adorable Ice Cream Truck in their Our Generation Doll line early in 2016. I rushed out and bought it right away. It is cute and it is a good value for the money considering the amount of accessories that come with it. However, over time, I've realized this toy is extremely limited in its play value. For starters, all of the (mostly hand-held) ice cream/ popsicles/ sno-cones that come with it are super cute and well made, but it's nearly impossible to get those items to balance in the dolls' hand. Also, it's hard to think of ways to play with this toy outside of the dolls lining up for their ice cream. Contrast this with Maryellen's Diner from American Girl. Where dolls can sit at the counter, in the booth or "dance" over by the jukebox. Girls can easily get behind the diner and interactively cook and serve. The food items are all things that sit on the trays/ plates/ counter. The Diner is a truly open-ended toy whereas the ice cream truck is quite limited. It's also difficult to stand a doll in the ice cream truck and once you do-- it's very difficult for anyone to move anything around from inside the truck. Consequently, the ice cream truck is rarely played with, but the diner is played with constantly.
Navigating American Girl Doll Lines
Bitty Baby is a 15 inch doll line from American Girl that represents infants. Their outfits and accessories represent a baby from newborn through 1 year-ish. They have hard heads, legs and arms but their bodies are soft. There are lots of accessories, big and small. From cribs and car seats to changing table and Bitty Check-Up sets. Bitty Baby was Holiday's first American Girl doll that she fell in love with and is still a huge favorite. Around 4, she became very interested in the 18" dolls and Bitty sat for a big, but now at 6, Bitty Baby gets LOTS of regular love and attention! She even has several Bitty baby items on her Christmas list this year. Bitty Baby is a great first doll for any little one! They currently run right around $60 and you get to select which onesie to bring your Bitty Baby home in. There are a variety of skin/hair/eye color options for your baby. You can check them all out here.
The Bitty Twins line are also 15" dolls with hard heads, legs, arms and soft bodies. Bitty Twins have a little hair (long enough for pig tails) and their line represents the toddler years. Bitty Twins have recently been phased out in lieu of the new Wellie Wisher line. We LOVE Bitty Twins (Holiday has a set of blonde and brunette girl twins) and are sad to see their line go. Bitty Twins also have boy options which are nice if you want a little brother or have a little guy who would love a doll of his own! You can still buy the Bitty Twins dolls here on the American Girl website. If you click on the gender set dolls you want, you can customize hair/skin/eye color for each of your twins. Unfortunately, all of their outfits and accessories have been retired. However, Bitty Twins and Bitty Baby clothes are completely interchangeable (since they are both 15 inch dolls) so you can still buy Bitty Baby items for Bitty Twins.
Wellie Wishers are a brand new line for American Girl that released at the beginning of summer 2016. They are a 12 inch doll with completely hard bodies. So all of the Wellie Wishers dolls, clothes and accessories are exclusive to their line and will not fit the bigger dolls. These dolls are strategically marketed to girls in the 3-7 year old age group and American Girl has done an excellent job of creating a line that really resonates with this age demographic. Wellie Wishers are also less expensive than the 18" dolls coming in at $60/ doll. With having so much first-hand experience with American Girl, my take on Wellie Wishers is this: they have beautiful faces and are very well-received by their target demographic. However, I have been disappointed with their wig quality and I don't feel like their clothing is quite on par with any of the other clothing/doll lines from American Girl. The outfits they come with are cute enough, but the extra outfits available for purchase are lacking, in my opinion. That being said, Holiday LOVES them and plays with them constantly. They make excellent little sisters to the 18" dolls. Bitty Baby and Twins frequented the little sister role before Wellie Wishers came along, however, the scale of Bitty to the 18" dolls really isn't a very good fit. Any time we travel, Holiday always wants to take one of her AG dolls along and I've realized that Wellie Wishers are much easier to travel with than a regular 18" doll. They are smaller, more compact and lightweight. Plus, I don't mind the fact that we're toting around a less expensive doll when there's always a chance of the doll or her many accessories getting left behind somewhere.
BeForever, as mentioned above, is American Girl's original line of historical dolls. This is the line that began that great empire so many of us love today. The originator and founder of American Girl, Pleasant Rowland, had the idea for Pleasant Company (original name) after visiting Colonial Williamsburg. She came away from that trip wanting to publish a series of children's book that taught history while inspiring girls through the lives of their heroines. She simultaneously wanted to launch a doll company with beautiful, detailed dolls and accessories so girls could re-enact those stories. From that dream, the three first dolls were released, Samantha, Kirsten and Molly. From there the dream has grown and expanded into a multi-faceted brand.
The BeForever dolls are an 18" doll, each representing a different era of American history. While the characters are fictional, there is great effort placed into making the stories, dolls and their accessories as true to their place in history as possible. As mentioned earlier, this is the line of dolls that made me fall in love with American Girl. I love the connection to the past and the valuable lessons girls can learn from history. In an article by Michele Willdgen, she says of the historical collection, "The story themes and subjects, the historical moment and the doll's accessories all aim to create a character who embodies an iconic time in American history. The goal is a girl who is accurate and alluring at once, familiar enough that a child identifies with her and enticingly different, so that a child wants to learn more."
As a Homeschool Mom, I've really seen the benefit of the BeForever stories. When we were studying the early American colonies, we pulled out the Felicity movie. While discussing the role of the Native Americans and how they were living in America prior to the colonists, we talked about Kaya's story. The BeForever line makes history come alive. It takes history from the textbook to girls' bedrooms and playrooms and into her heart in a way that reading alone cannot achieve.
While several BeForever dolls have been retired over the years, these are the dolls currently available for purchase:
Kaya, 1764 Pre-American Colonization
Josefina Montoya, 1824- New Mexico, Post Spanish Independence
Addy Walker, 1864- Civil War Era
Samantha Parkington, 1904- Edwardian Era
Rebecca Rubin, 1914- early 1900's, daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants
Kit Kitteridge, 1934- Depression Era
Maryellen Larkin, 1954- Fabulous Fifties
Melody Ellison, 1964- Civil Rights Era
Julie Albright, 1974, 1970's Era
Girl of the Year
The girl of the year is an exclusive doll released on January 1st of each year and only available for that given year. GOTY are modern American Girls with a variety of present-day stories. The GOTY collection generally includes a series of books, several outfits and both large and small accessories and/or furniture pieces. The current doll of the year is Lea Clark- a 10 year old girl from St. Louis, Missouri who goes on a wild adventure in the Brazilian rainforest. You can view Lea Clark and her line here. Lea Clark and her line will all be retired on December 31, 2016 or until her items sell out through the Christmas shopping season.
How To Save on American Girl
1. Sign up for emails here
2. Request a catalog here: There are often print coupons included
3. Sign up for AG Rewards: This is a new system that just launched in Summer 2016. For every $200 dollars spent at American Girl, you can get $10 in rewards, awarded each month- up to $50 on any given month.
4. Shop American Girl Costco: Costco often has AG gift cards ($100 worth of gift cards for $80). This is a smart way to shop as it is essentially saving you 20%. Even better if there's a sale and you can use your gift cards for additional savings.
Costco also has several American Girl dolls and products at a discount. Currently at time of writing this (November, 2016), there is a Samantha Holiday set with her winter coat and Christmas dress. There is also a Bitty Baby with several outfits and accessories. In addition to small pets (cats, dogs), a large horse and several books and craft sets.
5. Watch for Sales. Check in on the website often or follow some of the American Girl BST boards on Facebook-- all good ways to stay in the know on sales. Last year, I purchased gift cards at Costco and used them during a 20% off total purchase sale before Christmas- the equivalent of 40% off total purchase.
6. Buy Second-Hand. Between Ebay and B/S/T boards, there is a vibrant resale market for American Girl products. I also know lots of people who have stumbled upon great deals at their local Goodwills and places like that. In addition, I check my local Craigslist every week or so to see what new AG products have been added! You never know where you might stumble across a great deal! You may run into dolls who need a little TLC. Thankfully, there are loads of Youtube videos and blogs out there on how to refresh dolls. You can also send dolls to the American Girl Doll Hospital for just about anything. The price list is online so you can determine if it's worth it to have the doll fixed or just replaced.
MY TOP AMERICAN GIRL PICKS
DOLLS: Which dolls you purchase are obviously based on your child's preference. Even with an ever-growing collection of 18" dolls, Holiday still plays with her Bitty Babies very regularly. Bitty Baby is a great doll for all girls to have, in my opinion. My niece, Emme, is 8. She has several 18" American Girl dolls, but recently received her first Bitty Baby and is in love!
My personal favorite dolls are Maryellen, Samantha and Kit. Maryellen Larkin is a 1950's era doll. She and her collection always remind me of my grandmothers and the decade my parents were born in. Kit Kittredge is the depression era doll. She also reminds me of the many stories my grandmothers told me about their own childhoods-- stories that I love to pass onto Holiday as we play with Kit and her furniture/ accessories. Samantha Parkington is the quintessential American Girl Doll. She has the largest collection of any of the dolls and just represents a time period of all of my favorite L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott heroines.
ACCESSORIES: I personally think it's smarter to build an American Girl Doll collection by actually buying clothing and accessories for your doll rather than only buying additional dolls. The dolls' play value is more limited when you don't have anything to go with them or seasonal outfits to change them into. Buying more dolls with nothing to go with them isn't going to increase play value or play time-- it's just going to be another doll lined up on the dresser.
DOLL CLOTHES: Because Holiday does have a lot of doll outfits, I see every little girl's eyes light up in the doll room. Changing their clothes is the number one way all the girls love to play when they come to our house. Even all of Holiday's high school babysitters are in heaven when they get to "play" in the doll room! Again, I abide by the rule that fewer quality items is better than just having a lot of cheaper stuff. I know some people have a hard time getting over the cost of the American Girl Doll outfits, however, from a collector's standpoint, the outfits are often much more valuable than the dolls. I have purchased several Our Generation outfits just because they were cute and inexpensive, however I've had issues with every last one. They just aren't cut for American Girl dolls. I'm sure there are some that work just fine, but I've found myself having to cut the sleeves of the jacket to work or the boots being unusable because they won't fit on an AG doll foot. You also have to be careful with some of the cheaper doll clothes which can stain and bleed onto the doll's "skin" and bodies. I have just quit buying anything other than American Girl brand for doll clothing. Watch for sales and stock up when they have them!
One disclaimer- some of the American Girl outfits are made with delicate silk and lace-- they are gorgeous and period correct. However, the Velcro on nearly every clothing piece is the enemy!
FURNITURE AND LARGER ACCESSORIES: If you're in the market for a larger accessory, I would suggest buying a doll bed first. This is a main way all little girls love to play with their dolls. All of the AG doll beds are gorgeous (Samantha's and Kit's are my favorites!) Kit's retired bed is actually my preference over the newer model. I purchased a brand new, retired Kit bed on Amazon for around the same cost as the current Kit bed.
Another favorite large accessory is Maryellen's Diner. It is pricey, but the play value on this piece (as discussed above) is SO open-ended. For other accessories, consider buying around what your daughter is really into. Holiday rides English Horseback-- consequently, we have the stable and two AG horses that are played with daily in our home. I actually purchased the Our Generation stable a few years back. It is pink and adorable! However, in order for the big horses to fit, we have to use the corral. The quality of the Our Generation corral is terrible, it constantly pops off (though the horse barn itself is well made). Consequently, we have combined the corral from the AG set to the front of the OG horse barn. It works for our play and looks cute, it's just another example of why I prefer to buy American Girl brand over the less expensive options which are lacking in quality.
Over the past few years, we've collected the accessory/ furniture sets for the activities/ lessons Holiday participates in on a weekly basis. In addition to horseback riding, we have an American Girl piano, gymnastics set and ballet set. Often in the afternoons, the dolls are all dressed and set up at their various lessons!
Any of the school sets also make great open-ended accessories. Maryellen has a school set that you can see here. It features an easel with chalkboard, map, pointer and flashcards. Nearly all of the BeForever Dolls have a school outfit and accessories. The TrulyMe collection has several school sets and accessories as well! If you're a collector like me, I have tracked down retired Samantha school desks (2) for Holiday for Christmas. In general, my rule of thumb is to always buy accessories that are open-ended, that can be played with in a variety of ways.
A new item this season for American Girl is the Gourmet Kitchen Set! Another amazing, open-ended toy. We actually already owned Kit's retired Cookstove, but we added the new refrigerator recently added to Maryellen's collection. The refrigerator is darling with tons of nostalgic flare and amazing food accessories! (Note: the quality of the included TV trays is subpar in my opinion, but don't let that detract you from the main attraction which is certainly the fridge!)
For the Bitty Baby collection, the Doll Cradle and Changing Table are absolutely gorgeous, wooden, heirloom quality pieces. I'm a big fan of retired Bitty Baby clothing items and have found quite a few on eBay. I love American Girl Wiki- you can research all retired items so you know exactly what you want to look for on eBay. I have been fortunate to find all of the ones I've looked for-- generally all under the $40 range. Bitty Babies, through 2010, came with Bitty Bear which is an adorable accessory. The older Bitty Baby clothing sets almost always came with a toy for Bitty Baby and accessories for Bitty Bear as well-- so you can really get a lot of value for the money with the retired sets! This is an example of a retired Bitty Baby Halloween set we have-- look at all the great extras that came with it!
WELLIE WISHERS: As stated above, I'm not as crazy about the quality of the Wellie Wishers collection. It is very common for Bitty Baby and Bitty Twin items to be made out of plastic. However, they are generally a very heavy duty plastic, but with Wellie Wishers being smaller, their accessories aren't as heavy duty, in my opinion. A friend was just telling me her daughter received the WW table and chair set and it constantly tips over. It's just not ideal for a doll line geared towards younger girls. That being said, I am highly impressed with the Wellie Wishers Playhouse. We have seen and played with it many times in the store and I did purchase it for Christmas.
PETS: The American Girl pets are also totally adorable and all of the little girls in our family seem to love them!
OUR DOLL ROOM
I will share some pictures of our Doll Room. Many of you know of my love for decorating-- this room is NOT decorated (yet) but it is organized well!