If you have a child who is interested in American Girl, but don't want to pay a new price for items or even want to create a retired collection, you can do so, slowly and for a huge amount less, using Ebay. My grandmother used to say, "it sound like Ebay is a big garage sale, but in the sky." In one way it is. I you look enough, you can find something your child will find valuable and entertaining, if you find it. The way that it's better than a garage sale is that you don't have to wait for that once a year church tag sale or get there early on a Saturday morning. It is like reaching out, across the world, for that one little thing that will enhance your child's life and give your both pleasure.
If your child or a child you know, want to collect American Girl, let's say retired American Girl, I would begin by articulating a plan. Have the child read everything online about each retired doll and decide which doll they like by reviewing which era they represent. In order to build a child's self esteem it's a good idea to get one that is similar in some way to them! If you have a brunette, she can learn that blonds don't have all the fun if you go with Samantha or Kaya or Josephina. Molly is a good choice if your child wears glasses. Be sure to review, online, which accessories come or came with each doll. They are all different and unique in their own way. Collecting one doll, for the purpose of this guide, means deciding, based on appearance, clothes, storyline and accessories like furniture, which doll most appeals to your child. This review and search, in itself, can take a lot of time, encourage a lot of research and require some independent thought.
Once you have decided on Samantha or Kirsten or any of the retired dolls (or dolls who have a lot of retired items), then you contact American Girl and ask them for an alphabetical list of all items so that you can "fill in a collection." I'm pretty sure this is a little-known list but can be of great value as you plan your collection. Their products usually begin, "Samantha's bed" or "Kirsten's craft books." So it's an easy step to printing out all information or writing a list from their list of all items that were initially available (or that they currently sell one at a time) for your doll. One good example is shoes, socks and glasses. As these things can be easily lost, it's always good to know that you can buy them one at a time. In this way, reviewing any online information and information you can acquire from American Girl, your child can learn how to make a detailed list of collectible and retired items. This, in itself, is a fun activity.
Once you see that each doll has a finite list of items, it's just a matter of budgeting for items, waiting for that one person who is selling an item at a good price for you and then marking them off of the list as you get them. This can take years, or even never if you aren't lucky enough to find that one thing... but Ebay also has "watch lists." This is very convenient or retired collectibles as they will email you when "American Girl Molly's glasses" magical appears on someones "to sell" sight. It can be exciting for a child, kind of like checking the real mail, if you set up the account so that this information only comes to an email you can check with and for them. I'd be uncomfortable having a child bid on things without adult supervision! The first and best item to get would be the doll. Once they have, let's say Kirsten or Samantha as they are two originals dolls, they can begin immediately to play with them and use the subsequent retired items.
Did I forget to mention that, to me, "retired" doesn't mean "put it in a display case" but lovingly and carefully play with it. There are adults who collect children's things, but I am a firm believer in toys leaving their boxes and being played with. If you can add at least one book to begin with, most of them are sequential for each series (each doll) except for a few that are general to each one and a few that are "short stories" for each doll. Which brings me to the next exciting thing!
If, as most of us experience, it's too costly to purchase a large doll, you can go another route entirely.
American Girl has something called "mini-American Girl" dolls. They are about 8" completely miniature replicas of the 18" dolls. Except for Amy, I believe there is a large version of every mini-doll. You can collect either new, or retired or any combination your child likes, of the mini dolls. The books are the same as for the 18" American Girl dolls. Each mini doll comes, if new and in the box, with a tiny version of her book. Not really big enough to read, but a book. This size is great for use with any Madeline accessories like the dollhouse or Mary Engelbreit" doll accessories if you are lucky enough to find the darling things, or any other 8" or even Barbie-doll sized accessories. The Barbie-doll clothes, though, will not fit the 8" American girls and it's not really as much fun, in my experience, for the youngsters to dress and redress such a tiny doll. It's a bit challenging and even laborious. Probably best to leave them in the clothes they come with and collect several. I know this is a guide to collecting American Girl, but I would be remiss if I did not include some helpful information about things your child can have a lot of fun with!
You can make a dollhouse out of a lot of things. If you take the dividers out, you can turn a wooden shoe holder into a dollhouse. American girl also has retired mini-boxes. The items are a bit too small for the mini-American Girl dolls (an unfortunate oversight, in my opinion) but the boxes themselves and some of the items are very useful in making a dollhouse, one room at a time. These can get a bit costly, so watch for a really good Ebay sale. Another items that is fun if you want to interest your child in something different is horses. Ebay has a few, there are many other brands almost as cute and more abundantly available. American Girl does or did have a book or two about horses and you can fill this in with other currently available bestsellers or Caldecott Winners or whatever your child finds fun. Another brand that is very "hardy" and just about child-proof is retired Briarberry Bears. The "dolls" are bears, but the furniture is adorable and just the right size for mini-American Girls. Another brand that is perfect in size is "Only Hearts" dolls, a company that makes a few pieces of furniture and some adorable little "pets" just the right size for mini-American Girl. Think Beanie-Baby, only smaller! These are available or a very good price on Ebay and there is a huge selection. This way you can branch out into books about pets, or the type of animal.
The options, using American Girl as a "jumping off point" are almost limitless. A good place to get new books, if you want to take your child there, is Barnes and Noble. If you want to look online together, and it's not on Ebay... try Abe's books. Between the two, you can find just about anything, sometimes for as little as a dollar and shipping! Many people sell their items in lots. If you have always just searched for one item, lets say American Girl Samantha, you are in for a real treat if you search for American Girl Samantha lot. The addition of the word "lot" gives you a list of anyone selling off their small, medium or large collection, in one big Ebay sale. Be careful, though, you want to keep a steady stream of excitement. If you get everything at once, you miss the chance of good and long experience for your child! American Girl has so much to offer to reinforce the reading experience. For some of the retired girls their are huge books, which can be used as a dollhouse when standing up with all pages open. They are adorable and I would not limit their use to just the 18" dolls. Children seem to love anything that goes with anything else and there's no reason not to begin a collection with American Girl and keep one's eye out for other cute things at a good price on Ebay.
But don't forget the list. It's a wonderful experience for children to research, make a list and then mark things off as acquired. It gives them the experience of planning ahead and following through, systematically. Not in order, of course, but in order of what would be the most fun. I have only ever seen one dollhouse large enough for the 18" American Girl and it was huge! I saw it in Ebay. People are really inventive. American Girl also sends a magazine to any girl who makes a purchase on there site. It's nice to have one from the very start as they are visually, pretty magnificent. It's like "The Sears Christmas Catalogue" for girls only. One small item of mention, is that each 18" doll has their own "pet." Some of these, alone, make adorable collectibles and fit perfectly with the Mini-dolls. If you can imagine it, American Girl has probably already made it. They have a doll hospital and your doll comes back with hospital clothes. They also make a wheelchair, crutches and so many other things. Adorable accessories include musical instruments every 18" is assigned their own "doll's doll." They are more of the kind of collectible one would be careful with as many are porcelain, but they are smaller than the mini-dolls and not really a size to play with alone.
Another alternative to collecting the dolls is something one would probably not think of. American Girl has a doll called "Bitty Baby" who, of course, has every accessory in the world available, for a baby! But, they also have retired "Bitty Baby Friends." They are small stuffed animals, a little bigger than Only Hearts pets, the list of which is short, not infinite, like with Only Hearts pets and includes the most adorable small things including a book for each pet and a few special occasion books. The biggest accessories for the Bitty Baby pets are a table and chairs, a cloth schoolhouse, a cloth bus and a few, again, special occasion items. The Bitty Baby outfits originally each came as a set with some special little accessory like a swing or a little rocking horse. If you can't get a list of the original items, alphabetized, from American Girl, there are sites that specialize in any doll you are interested in and some wonderful collectors have detailed descriptions about anything you can imagine.
Bitty Baby also comes in a boy version!
I would love to help American Girl design a doll-house for their mini dolls. It's something to think about.
If I left anything out, and think of it, I'll add it as it comes to me. The ideas are kind of limited by your imagination.
One hint about Ebay is that if you see an item at a good price, search the person's other things or sale. They usually will give you a box to fill in which items you want or general categories to narrow it down. If you can find more than one thing from one Seller, you can ask them if they "combine shipping." Which is a very good way to save money. Very few sellers exclude this option. They are, for the most part, quite eager to sell!
So begin your retired American Girl collection and have an enjoyable experience with your little reader. They are great keepsakes and never go out of style.
I'm glad to answer any questions, from my limited, but good experience. This is not yet spell-checked, but I will as soon as I have tune, English Grammar was not my major, please bear with me. Children's Literacy is my specialty.