Remember the '80s Cabbage Patch Kids craze? And the '90s when car dashboards spilled over with Beanie Babies?
Some people never let a kid touch those novelties and cast an eye to the future, hoping these "it" toys would rain astronomical amounts of money someday.
That's precisely what made them worthless, said Josh Levine, a collectibles expert and owner of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale, Arizona.
"Kiss of death," Levine told All the Moms. "Of all the dolls that were worth $300 to $400 new at the time — they're worth $20 today."
You know which doll breaks the collectible-gone-wrong mold? Barbie, because, well, she's the reigning monarch of doll collectibles.
If Barbie is queen, American Girl dolls are the princesses.
"Dolls are usually a loser's game," Levine said. "But I was pleasantly surprised. There is a decent market for American Girl dolls every day of the week."
There is a set of American Girl dolls, including Samantha, Molly and Addy with multiple outfits and furniture, for sale on eBay right now for $11,500. The dolls, originals made by the Pleasant Company before it was sold in 1998 to Barbie-makers Mattel, are extremely valuable to collectors.
Big money in the little dolls
American Girl dolls and accessories that have sold on eBay in the last three months include:
- $5,400: A signed collection of three of the original, pre-Mattel American Dolls in boxes with paperwork.
- $4,500: American Girl doll Grace Bakery that was set with a bonus Grace bakery outfit.
- $3,200: 8 American Girl dolls, including Lindsey released in 2001 and the Dolls of the Year from 2005-2010. All are new and never removed from the box.
- $1,495: Kanani, 2011 Doll of the Year, never removed from her box, plus clothing and more accessories.
- $1,450: American Girl Samantha doll in original box and signed by American Girl founder Pleasant Rowland.
- $1,150: A signed American Girl Felicity doll still in the box.
An idea with heart
American Girl was first marketed in 1986 by the Pleasant Company in Middleton, Wisconsin. Former teacher Pleasant Rowland created the 18-inch dolls and gave them backstories of young girls living during important times in American history. Each doll came with her own historically appropriate book and clothes. Rowland's idea was that "girls could play out the stories."
The doll's had personality, culture, challenges and heart.
The first three dolls released in 1986 are among the most valuable to collectors.
- Kirsten Larson, a Minnesota pioneer who grew up in 1854. She was retired in 2010.
- Samantha Parkington, a Victorian orphan who lived in 1904. She was retired in 2009, but re-released in 2014.
- Molly McIntire, a patriotic child who grew up during WWII. She was retired in 2013, but re-released this year.
The 11 original Pleasant Company historical character dolls, especially if they've been retired like Felicity, can fetch hundreds if not thousands, on eBay.
A growing, diverse collection
Now the company sells more than four dozen versions of the dolls, including a limited-edition "Girl of the Year."
In 1995, the company introduced what would become the My American Girl line with customizeable dolls that allow girls to select skin, hair and eye colors so the doll can look just like they do.
The first American Girl store opened in Chicago in 1998. Now there are 20 across the country and international locations in Canada and the United Arab Emirates, according to the company's website.
American Girl introduced its first African-American doll in 1993 with Addy Walker. Since then, it has further diversified its collection. The first Native American doll was released in 2002. The first boy doll, Korean-American and doll of Hawaiian descent were introduced in 2017.
What makes an American Girl doll worth a lot of money?
If you loved your American Girl doll soooooo much, she went everywhere with you – from parks to family parties – and you styled her hair like yours and applied make up, that's precious. But it's not going to fetch you much cash.
Most of the dolls and accessories that sell for triple figures and more are in unopened boxes or are gently used. Other things to note about items that sell well:
- The hair has not been cut.
- The face is unmarked.
- The eyes are intact.
- The doll still has the original, clean clothing.
- The doll comes in the original box.
- The doll has been retired.
- Paperwork is available that includes receipts and information cards.
In addition to being among the original dolls released by the Pleasant Company, limited-edition dolls, like Hawaiian doll Kanani, that are on the market for only a year, also are valuable.
'They're not just dolls'
Levine does a lot of business in auctioning jewelry and guns, many that have tantalizing stories connected to the owners. Those stories always up the ante.
When he first walked by an American Girl store in Scottsdale, he didn't understand the draw of parents and children packed inside until his wife explained it to him.
"'They're not just dolls,' she said. There's a whole story to them and books, too. After she explained it to me, I was like, 'Oh, I get it now. I see why they're so popular.'"