American Girl re-released six original dolls—do they still hold up?
What our 21st-century kids thought of the historic dolls.
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Millennial parents, this American Girl reissue is for you. The beloved doll company (originally known as The Pleasant Company) has brought their original six historical dolls back from retirement to celebrate the brand’s 35th anniversary.
Obviously, nostalgic moms love these historical dolls, but what about modern girls? Would they find the old-fashioned dolls boring, or brilliant? We called in samples of all the reissued historical dolls—colonial-era Felicity Merriman, pioneer Kirsten Larson, Victorian orphan Samantha Parkington, Civil War-era Addy Walker, 1800s ranch girl Josefina Montoya, and WWII-era Molly McIntire—and had six girls, ranging in age from 6 to 9, tell us exactly what they thought.
What is the 35th Anniversary Collection?
Founded in 1986 by Pleasant Rowland, a retired teacher, the initial line of American Girl dolls included just three dolls: Kirsten Larson, Molly McIntire, and Samantha Parkington. With an aim to teach children about history through the perspective of a girl living in that time period, the line also included a series of books featuring each of the characters.
The 35th Anniversary Collection set includes an 18-inch doll (recommended for ages 8+), plus the character’s first book and original outfit and accessories. Samantha Parkington, for instance, comes in the same checked taffeta dress and Mary Janes from her 1986 debut, and the doll arrives boxed with a book, hat, purse, hankie, brooch, and reproduction penny true to her Victorian era. Collectors will appreciate that even the maroon box and book cover look original.
“For 35 years, American Girl has created powerful stories with smart, courageous heroines that have helped shape an entire generation of women,” says Jamie Cygielman, general manager of American Girl. “As we celebrate this major milestone, we’re thrilled to recognize the very first generation of American girls who grew up with these beloved, original characters and made them the phenomenon they are today. Knowing many of these women are now moms themselves, we look forward to creating special, multi-generational experiences for families via their shared love of the brand. We can’t wait to inspire and empower this next generation with even more relevant products, immersive experiences, and timeless stories.”
How much do the dolls cost?
You can buy the doll and book for $110, or opt for the 35th Anniversary special edition, which includes accessories, for $150. Accessories can also be purchased separately for an additional $24.
What our testers liked about the dolls
The were interested in the history
My nearly-8-year-old daughter, Ruby, says of the Josefina doll (released in 1997), “Five stars! I like Josefina because I liked her book. And I like the tiny accessories she has because they look like they’re from the olden times.”
As the girls pored over the dolls, and parents explained some of their historical context, I realized that the dolls offer a great way for kids to gain more historical knowledge. Bringing history lessons through the eyes of the dolls piqued the girls' interest in different subjects that they might not have found interesting on its own.
Eight-and-a-half-year-old Eleanor liked that Samantha “came with a book that talks about the time she lived in," and 7-year-old Rose couldn't get enough of Kirsten's story. As a kid I really enjoyed learning about the past through the American Girl books, and I can see how this is an opportunity for a new generation to embrace a love of historical fiction. In fact, I ordered Josefina’s book set for my daughter as soon as we finished testing the dolls.
They were fascinated by their clothes
I wasn't sure how the dolls’ historically-accurate styling would go down among girls who are used to Jo-Jo bows, flipsy sequins, and candy-colored hair. But the dolls’ hair was a popular aspect. It’s thick and high-quality, and perfect for styling. Most of the girls took their dolls’ original hairstyles out—which tested my collector heart—and immediately began playing with it. “I like that her hair is super long and I like the blue ribbon,” Ruby said of Josefina.
The clothes were a hit too. Eleanor said she “likes the cute old-fashioned clothes because they don’t look like clothes we wear at all today.” The girls loved checking out the historical details, like what kind of undergarments were worn in the 1800s, and they even learned what handkerchiefs are. Parents will appreciate the detail on the doll accessories and the fact that the materials are high quality.
They loved the accessories
Speaking of the accessories, they were such a hit, we highly recommend getting them in the 35th Anniversary set versus purchasing the doll solo. The kids loved the tiny, detailed pieces and they provided an opportunity for more history lessons. For instance, one of Addy's accessories is a water gourd, the precursor to today's water bottles, which the kids found fascinating.
What our testers didn't like about the dolls
They wanted more
Not all of the dolls have additional accessories available, which is a bit of a bummer. Ruby and Rose immediately wanted to splurge on more items for Josefina and Kirsten, like the lunch and Christmas sets that were available when the dolls were first released. American Girl spokesperson Julie Parks tells us there are no plans to rerelease additional character items at this time, “but you never know what the future may hold!” So, if your child is hooked and you want more outfits, furniture, and accessories, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Should you order a 35th Anniversary doll?
Yes, especially if you're nostalgic for your own childhood and you want to spark your child's interest in history. The dolls are definitely an investment, but they are well made, and provided hours of imaginative play for all of our testers.
Felicity is backordered, but the other five are available online and in stores now.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.