Friday, May 13, 2011

on the value of useless trinkets

I read an article today that filled me with total delight: What Your American Girl Doll Says About the Rest of Your Life. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions of the article, but who cares. Let's talk about American Girl dolls.

I had a Samantha doll for whom I purchased Molly glasses. I didn't particularly connect with the Victorian orphan's story, but she had brown eyes and brown hair like me, so she was in.

I had a variety of little outfits for my nearsighted orphan: a beautiful pink striped party dress, a navy winter coat with a snow-white muff, a crisp white summertime sailor suit, a stiff cranberry Christmas dress, and even a delicate nightgown.

photos from this American Girl collecting website

I read the little accompanying Samantha books too. They weren't particularly memorable aside from Samantha's birthday party, an elaborate affair featuring petit fours and home-churned ice cream, the latter of which is befouled with salt by evil neighbor Eddie. Not cool, Eddie. Not cool.

God knows what amount of whining I had to pitch for my parents to actually buy me some of Samantha's accessories. Anyone who is not familiar with the American Girl doll collection could not possibly believe how overpriced and useless these little trinkets are. I had a tiny doll (a doll for my doll!) and a tiny music box and a little brass lunch tin with a tiny plastic watercress sandwich and peach and a tiny embroidered handkerchief. But what really tickled my mom and me were the useless little kits.

I had two of these useless little kits. The Summertime Amusements set came with a tiny sketchbook, a tiny paint set with tiny tubes of real paint and a tiny artist's palette, and a tiny pine satchet that says "I Pine for You." This photo doesn't give a sense of scale, but the sketchbook is about the size of a business card.

Early 90s retail cost: $22
You thought I was kidding, didn't you.

Even more tempting was Samantha's Gingerbread House Kit, which came with impossibly small gingerbread pieces, a few tiny pieces of candy, a miniature pastry tube, and instructions for making the icing and assembling the whole thing.

Early 90s retail cost: $15
accessory photos from this alarmingly comprehensive American Girl dolls wiki

I'd beg and beg my mom to let me get into these kits and, I don't know, paint a teeny tiny picture in the sketchbook or (let's be real here) eat all of the stale component parts of the gingerbread house when my hammy little hands inevitably proved unable to assemble the tiny thing.

My poor mother. This was her:

Samantha still holds a place of honor in my childhood bedroom, all snugged up with my favorite stuffed snow leopard and a plastic Betty Boop doll who, characteristically, can't seem to keep her dress on. I guarantee that my mother could still put her hands on the still-pristine Summertime Amusements or Gingerbread Kit in five minutes flat if given the task. Guess whether or not she'd led me get into the kits if I asked her today.

So you can imagine my despair when I learned today that Samantha has been retired. Aw hell naw. But I am feeling grateful that my mom never let me tear into Samantha's accessories--I'll sell them on eBay one day to put my kids through college. Maybe it's time for a trip to Georgia, aka Doll Mecca, to visit Babyland General Hospital and then the American Girl Boutique and Bistro. Samantha can have a plastic watercress sandwich and get her hair did.

PS I have two relevant links to share: one which shares my sentiments exactly (and even makes a salty ice cream reference) and the first of eight YouTube videos of Samantha's movie, which I bet you never knew existed. In case you're wondering, yes, she does wear that sick signature checked dress in the very first scene.

Discussion Question: What overpriced silly stuff did you have as a kid?


  1. My sister and I each had more than one American Girl doll. It was an easy Christmas/birthday gift for our random family members. My favorite was always Kirsten (whom I received as an 8th birthday gift) and hers was Samantha. I found this fitting because I always thought Samantha was bratty (like most little sisters).

    We kept their hair pristine and all their little stuff as historically accurate as possible. NERDS. And I totally made a teeny tiny quilt for Kirsten's doll. :x I had to teach myself embroidery somehow!

  2. That is adorable. Thank goodness it never occurred to me when I was a kid that you could get more than one of those dolls because I would have been clamoring for all of them! (PS Samantha totally was a brat. A bratty orphan, which has got to be a rare breed.)

  3. Agh, my brain hurts, but I remember these. My sister had the nordic one- Kirsten?

    I think the most overpriced ridiculous toy I had was a high-tech paper airplane set where you had to painstakingly cut out and glue the pieces to build the planes. I don't remember if I ever actually finished and flew any, but when I was a little older I drew dirty pictures for private viewing and hid them between the pages of the kit. So at least it served some purpose.

  4. I like that story. If only I had thought to hide naughty pictures in the pages of my Samantha tomes!

  5. Oh, man, I have three of those dolls: Addy, Felicity and one customized to look like me. I still remember my grandmother asking me why a little white girl would want a black doll. (Ah, family.) Addy was actually my favorite, I think since it was 4th grade and we were studying slavery. When I was reading that series I had more than one nightmare that I was a runaway slave being chased by dogs and angry white dudes. Also, somebody bought me AG trading cards (for $18, no doubt), and I sat in my room for hours at a time, poring over the cards and reminiscing all the girls' stories. Nerd-alert!

    You gotta go to Babyland General, girl. It'll freak your freak. The American Girl doll spa or whatever (which I have seen at the Mall of America, holy overpriced trinkets Batman) has nothin' on that place. I look forward to reading your writeup.

  6. Can you please come back South so we can both have our freaks freaked at Babyland General???



  7. I asked for an Addy doll for Christmas, because well, you know I'm black inside. My ridiculous family would never agree to buy me a black doll, and they told me to pick another one. I immediately picked Josephina/Josefina, but they wouldn't buy her either (she was Hispanic). Losers. They ended up getting me a Kirsten doll because my middle name is Kirsten (and the doll was white). She was alright. I had her birthday set and a few other outfits.

    The first time my egg donor had a psychotic episode and chopped off all my hair, I chopped off all of Kirsten's hair and made her ugly like I felt I was. My grandmother got so mad at me for cutting off all her hair that I was on punishment for two months.

    I still want a non-white American Girl doll. I think I'm going to buy one when I get some $.

  8. Paula, there's a story in that doll hair cutting episode!! You're my little Addy doll.

  9. Katie, that would be delightful! But realistically we might have to settle for thinking about it until we go there in our dreams. Still fun.

  10. Maybe one day we'll take our kids there and scar them for life with the Cabbage Patch birth process

  11. Ugh, I love the Samantha outfits! I even had prescription lenses made just for her glasses and the same outfits tailored for all my cats! And I hate having to withhold food from my little darling so she'll fit into her Doll clothes, but she looks so cute in them!

  12. Best anon comment EVER.

    My mom had a Barbie back in the day that came with a toy weight loss book. The cover said HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT and the back said DON'T EAT

  13. Barbies always makes me think of panties