American Girl, Doll Collecting
Comments 3

American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide, Expanded Edition 

I was pawing through the piles of books at my local Costco when my friend who works in the prepared foods department snuck up behind me.

“Don’t you ever go home??” he demanded.  “You’re here more than me!”

My husband Forehead and I do come to Costco quite frequently–it’s like our own version of Disneyland–and we always make sure to say hello to our friend (and our favorite sample person, Maurice, who could sell snow to the Inuit).

Today I was there to see if I could find a copy of the expanded edition visual guide, and there was a nice stack of them on the table. 

First off: this is not a scholarly text.  It’s plainly geared for target aged girls up to the age of young teens, as shown by the color and tone of the extra interviews and the glossary of terms in the back.

This book, I feel, really was not made with collectors in mind and in that, I am a little disappointed.  It’s a wonderfully made, colorful hardback book with a dust jacket that opens up into a poster:

–like so, but if you want a true collector’s tome this will fall short.

I would have loved a visual guide with every version of every accessory and item in every collection…essentially, all the review guides and boards that you can currently find at American Girl Playthings.  I can understand why they didn’t do that, but it would have been nice.

Here is the table of contents:

And they’ve given summaries of all of the historical, GOTY, and a selection of Truly Me.  If I was target aged and just starting out, this would be a great book to have.

They start at the beginning and review the history of Pleasant Company, starting with the original three dolls.  They also look at designing each of the dolls, include some prototype outfits (Saige), and detail the work that went into creating Kaya’s character.
Packaging and logos through the years are included, and it’s nice to tap into the nostalgia at seeing the 1986 box and dress packaging you grew up with.

I wish there were more images and artifacts from the Pleasant Company days.  The catalog on the right hand side of this image was the same one my mother tossed to me with the offhand comment “here, go look at dolls that you’ll never be able to afford.”  (I stopped counting at around fifty.). I sure wish I had kept that first catalog.

There are two timelines in the book; one is a release for books, dolls and some accessories and the other shows all the historical dolls in chronological order.

They show all the dolls in the GOTY line too, and this is another drawback–the book is going to be outdated as soon as 2017 GOTY is released, which is a bummer.  I would definitely purchase add on adhesive pages released by AG to keep my guide up to date.
A minor quibble is that I didn’t find anything in the book that says “not everything in here is still available from AG.”  For example, while we collectors know that Marie-Grace and Cécile rode off into the sunset a long time ago, novices or others who haven’t been invested in the hobby as long may not.  (There’s always eBay.)

Since this does not show every incarnation of doll, clothing, and accessories, another thing collectors need to realize (especially if they are hoping for a completely comprehensive guide) is that the historical dolls are shown in their most recent version from AG.

Samantha’s current collection is given the most display space in her chapter, for instance.  (You will see a few small pictures of her PC collection in the company history chapters.) You won’t see much of her 80’s Victorian Remix here.

Felicity also has her purple dress and pink tea set for her chapter.  No chocolate pot, no rescue kit.

I can understand that they might not have had access to the vintage PC items and they had to go with the most recent version of what was last released, but dangit–I would have loved to have seen everything in one collector’s edition.

They run simple stats, like “most pieces” “tallest” item, “smallest pet”.  Even though Maplelea, OG, A Girl for All Time and others are giving them competition, by God no one can do a showstopper piece  like American Girl.

The “extra” pages are mainly interviews with AG employees and my favorite AG author, Valerie Tripp.

While there are a few older Truly Me/JLY/modern items pictures in the historical pages the Truly Me chapter is mostly dedicated to items that are currently or were recently available.  There is no compendium of twenty years of modern clothes, furniture and accessories for American Girl.  Again, it’s for a younger audience–and I bet its main goal is to kindle excitement in the brand and what is available right now.  

This is fine with me, even if I am a little disappointed this isn’t the complete collectors guide of my dreams (with details down to how many whiskers were on each edition of Kirsten’s cats or things along those lines).  I’m still glad I bought it and it’s nice to flip through–although I would have been incredibly annoyed if I had ordered it through Amazon only to see an expanded edition pop up at Costco for $15.

To be honest, I’m not even sure a detailed collectors compendium would even have much of a market unless it had a bunch of original content that simply couldn’t be found anywhere else–in depth interviews with Pleasant T. Rowland, the design teams, people who created each of the characters, current challenges the company faces today.  Who wants to buy a book to reference one object when you can go on AGPT or blog reviews?–but lengthy, sit down, grown up interviews with past and present employees and artisans of AG and PC, with more drawings, sketches, storyboards and concepts?  Now that would be interesting.

I have a soft spot in my heart for print books so I’m glad I bought this, and I do think it would be a great resource for someone new to the hobby to start with.


  1. Sarah B says

    I just got this book from Costco last night, and I feel the same way you do. I was so hoping to see everything AG has ever made and was rather disappointed that they pictured the more modern incarnations of dolls like Samantha and her newer collection. I really, really wanted to see the Historical (I don’t like the Beforever label) doll collections in their entirety. It does seem like the book is for a younger audience. My little girl will surely enjoy the book. We do love how the cover becomes a poster.

    Thank you for posting your thoughts! I hope AG reads these reviews. Maybe they will come out with a collector’s edition listing all things AG has ever made. I own many Barbie guides that do. I would gladly pay $50.00 or so for such a guide.


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