Tuesday, September 25, 2012

American Girls Dolls

It was 1994. The year of Tonya Harding attacked Nancy Kerrigan, OJ Simpson fled from police in his white Ford Bronco, and Clinton was president. I didn't care about any of these things. I was 8 years old.

Sometime around the summer of 1994 I learned about American Girls dolls. My mom seems to think that I saw a catalog at Caitlin's house and fell absolutely in love. I spent HOUR pouring over every page of the catalog and dreaming of one day, owning a doll of my own. I got my hands on the books and read all about each girl. I contemplated which one I would buy.

I remember attending what was (I think) a baby shower for my aunt Chris and finding out somehow that her nieces had the dolls. They were teenagers at the time and my mom asked if we could see them. Even though I'd memorized each catalog (even now I can smell the pages and feel their slickness under my fingertips...is that crazy?), I hadn't held one in person and that was the first time. The nieces got their dolls out of the boxes (I only remember Samantha) and I was so intensely desperate for one of my own that I actually ached. There was nothing I wanted more.

I BEGGED my parents to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me have Samantha for my birthday. These dolls were not cheap. I remember they were 84 dollars for the basic doll 110 dollars with accessories...plus shipping and handling--I remember my dad explaining what shipping and handling was in a very long and detailed explanation (complete with analogies and props/hand gestures in true Tim Marsden fashion). It was a LOT of money and I realized what I was asking but I also knew how wonderful it would feel to have Samantha.

I remember the Pleasant Company box coming in the mail a few weeks before my birthday. My parents kept it shelved in their closet and I'd go in there to sneak peaks. My dad teased that it was a giant box filled with bubble gum. As I type this, I can actually FEEL my parents bedspread and hear my dad's voice tease as I INSISTED it was the exact shape of an American Girl box. My dad would check inside the box, not letting me see and confirm that it was in fact, a box of bubble gum. Finally, on October 10th, 1994 I went into my parents room and opened the box to find MY SAMANTHA doll. She was perfect, just as I'd imagined her. I didn't want to go to school, I didn't want to go to dance, all I wanted was to stay home and play with my perfect doll. The only perfect way to describe her is from the Pleasant Company catalog circa 1994:

Your Samantha doll has sparkling brown eyes that twinkle as they open and close. Brush her long curly hair and tie it up with a big, beautiful bow like Victorian girls wore. Hug her soft body and mover her arms, legs, and head. She can site, stand, and hold all the treasures that come in her collection.
Samantha’s checked taffeta dress has a fashionable pleated front and a dropped waist circled in burgundy satin. Her matching bow holds back her thick brown ringlets. She wears long black stockings and black shoes with ankle straps. Samantha’s hat is big and fancy, like everything else in Victorian times. It is made of burgundy plush and trimmed in ribbons of rose, dove gray, and gold.
Pin a golden brooch on Samantha’s dress. The heart-shaped locket that hangs from it opens and closes. Inside is a place for her pictures of her mother and father. You can cut them out and paste them in yourself.
Samantha carries a rose velvet purse with a gold chain to slip over her wrist. Tucked inside is a beautiful handkerchiefand a shiny Indianhead penny. It’s a real coin used during Samantha’s time and is worth 78 cents today!

Oh, how I loved that doll. I read with her, I slept with her. I did everything with her. If I think about it now, I can smell her hair, feel her taffeta dress and velvet purse, and feel her weight in my hands. I.loved.that.doll. Of course I was a 9 year old who couldn't be satisfied with just ONE doll, so I asked Santa Clause for a Kirsten doll. 

Your Kirsten doll has bright blue eyes that open and close, and beautiful blonde hair that you can brush, braid, and tie withribbons. She has a huggable soft body with head, arms, and legs that you can pose. She can sit, stand, and hold the accessories in her collection.
Kirsten comes in a blue calico dress—her first real American dress. It has a “grow stripe” at the bottom that her mother let out as she grew taller. She wears the red and white apron she brought from Sweden with a pocket to hold her treasures. Her brown-striped stockings are covered by fancy pantalettes. Girls took pride in keeping pantalettes snowy white—a hard thing to do in muddy fields and cabins on the prairie. Soft brown lace up boots complete her outfit. Tuck her embroidered hankie in her apron pocket and tie her spoon bag around her waist. It comes complete with a wooden spoon. Swedish farmers had just enough knives, spoons, and forks for their own families. When they went to feasts or celebrations, they took their own eating utensils with them in a spoon bag. Tie Kirsten’s red-checked sunbonnet on her head and hang the amber-colored heart around her neck. It’s Kirsten’s keepsake given to her by her grandmother before she left for America.

Not only did I get my Kirsten doll, but my best friend Megan got a Molly doll. We did everything together, and now we did everything together with our dolls. 

The dolls weren't my only purchase from Pleasant Company. I also bough a theater kit, Samantha's cook book, several paper doll sets, Samantha's needle point project (*Actions Speak Louder Than Words), and many many books. Back in THOSE days you couldn't hop on the internet willy nilly and order. In each catalog there was an order form or you could order by phone as well. 

I remember aunt Lesley had her own Samantha doll. I loved to go to her house and see what outfit Samantha was in. She was always displayed in her front room. The first thing aunt Lesley would say when we'd come to visit was "Come see Samantha's new dress!" I always thought she was so lucky to be an adult and buy whatever she wanted. 

American Girls taught me to save my money and earn things. I even had a savings chart provided by Pleasant Company. You could say what your goal was (to buy this certain item) and it taught you how to calculate exactly how and when you'd be able to buy the thing based on your allowance. 

My next addition was GT...or Girl of Today. Pleasant Company decided to switch gears a little from the historical dolls and broaden the market so they designed a bunch of dolls that girls could buy that looked JUST LIKE THEM. I chose a blond haired, brown eyed doll and named her Caroline. Megan got one of her own as well. 

My final addition was a little bit of a spontaneous choice. I got Josephina, who was a brand new addition to the collection. Looking back, I really should have gone for Felicity. My Josephina doll was a BEAUTIFUL doll, but I didn't feel the same connection to her as I did to my other dolls. That, and the fact that I was now 12 years old and me and my friends had for the most part grown out of playing with dolls. I displayed my dolls in my room for many years, and even after I put them in my closet they were displayed in shelves. 

They were one of the only things I took with me from my childhood when I got married and moved away from home. It was strange laying them in a box and packing them away. For the last six years, they've remained in their box. 

In 2009 we went to the American Girl store in New York City. It. was. amazing. If I'd been their by myself I would have spent a couple hours there, instead, Adam was just flabbergasted at the cost. I for one, can not put a price on the memories I made. I know that is intensely cheesy, but these were my whole childhood. They were my friends! They were my most precious possession. When we moved they were both my tie to Megan and a way to connect to new friends. Adam put the dolls up in the attic earlier this year and I kind of wigged out on him. I told him they needed to be in a good temperature so they could stay in good condition. 

Yesterday I got them out to show Hannah. I was once again filled with the intense love and adoration for these beautiful dolls.Hannah thought they were incredibly awesome (even though I didn't let her touch Kirsten and Samantha). I've had the dolls for 18 years, played with them, loved them, and they look brand new. They are selling for hundreds of dollars on Ebay (Samantha and Kirsten are now "retired" along with Felicity). Speaking of Ebay, I've spent at least an hour browsing the many many auctions of people selling their dolls and accessories. I've debated selling Josephina and my GT doll (I would use them to purchase a Felicity doll). 

 Special shout out to my mom for the wardrobe. I was teasing her about how horrible I look in most of my outfits and she said "they were in style" Oh yeah? I'm pretty sure it has ALWAYS been a fashion DON'T to wear this delightful number. I was always dressed like Megan. Yes, you heard it right. I was dressed like my toddler sister. :) This is me dreaming of my Samantha doll. 
 Me trying to recreate the cover of a catalog 
 Christmas 1994

Christmas 1996


Lesley said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I have always loved dolls and I don't think a girl is ever to old for a doll. But I also think I'm going to check out ebay... my Samantha doll has been retired from display in my living room to being stored in her box with her "vast" wardrobe :)A few months ago I did get her out to show Miss Avery.

I remember that you loved the dolls and earned money to purchase them. I remember you and Kirsten having matching dresses and also that Kirsten had a little mishap with her braids, but it all turned out perfectly... thanks to your mom :)

Sheena said...

I love this post! Like I said on Facebook I had a doll that looked like me...I got her out about a month ago and I was flooded with similar childhood memories! My Grandma would get me the books for special occasions and I still have like the first 5 girls.---Samantha was my favorite and then Kirsten :)
Anyway...totally fun to remember those fun memories! I totally hope my baby girl loves them too :)