American Girl Dolls Are Still Expensive (But Not As Expensive As They Could Be)

samanthaYou may have seen Buzzfeed’s recent OMG post This Is How Much Your American Girl Dolls Might Be Worth Right Now, which, um, Buzzfeed? If you’re showing me an image where the eBay seller is asking for a starting bid of $1,990 but the listing has zero bids, this is less “what your American Girl dolls are worth” and more “let’s look at how these eBay sellers are deluding themselves.”

(I went and clicked through all of Buzzfeed’s listings. The ones with “you won’t believe” prices have zero bids. The dolls with bids sold in the $100-200 range.)

Anyway, the Buzzfeed nostalgia post, combined with the recent Samantha Parkington makeover—she’s been hauled out of the vault and added to AG’s Beforever line, which schoolteacher Samantha would circle as a misspelling—made me curious. Are American Girl dolls and their clothes more expensive than they were when the dolls first debuted?

The new Samantha, after all, has a short, sleeveless nightie; is American Girl charging more for this slip of fabric than they were for her voluminous, Nutcracker Suite-style nightgown that my mother lovingly sewed into an child-sized replica for me?  (I was lucky enough to have both Samantha and Kirsten’s nightgowns. My little sister had a Samantha nightgown and Molly pajamas. My mom made us so many of those child-sized doll clothes, and it was wonderful.)

Samantha’s new nightgown, which I am certain is historically inaccurate simply out of a sense of outrage, costs $24. Her original nightgown, according to the AG Wiki, cost $20.

It’s a bit hard to tell, from the available information, how much the prices have changed since American Girl first launched in 1986. However, it doesn’t look like they’ve changed all that much. I found some catalog scans from 1992 which confirm that Samantha’s tea dress, for example, used to sell for $24; currently, the dress—renamed Samantha’s frilly frock and given a pink makeover—retails at $36, but it also now comes with boots.

It feels a little weird, and a little right, that American Girl prices haven’t increased all that much in almost 30 years. (Yes, that’s right. Almost 30 years.) You used to be able to buy the basic American Girl doll plus paperback book for $82, and now the Beforever Samantha and her paperback book Manners and Mischief cost $115. If the price were adjusted for inflation, it would cost $132. American Girl hasn’t even kept up with inflation.

For comparison’s sake, in 1990 you could get a one-day child ticket to Walt Disney World for $25, and today that same ticket costs $93. American Girl had every opportunity to raise prices, and they chose to keep them relatively constant. I like this. It feels heartwarming, which is a common adjective associated with American Girl, so it’s on message. I’d like to think that they wanted as many kids as possible to have access to their dolls, with the understanding that the dolls are still a middle-class status symbol and out of the price range of many families.

But I don’t like the Beforever makeover one bit. It feels light on the history and heavy on the alliteration. It feels sparkly, not serious, and when I was a little girl I took things very seriously.

And that’s why people will continue to troll eBay for original American Girl dolls. But they’re not paying thousands of dollars for them, no matter what Buzzfeed says.

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