I got a letter the other day from my friends at the American Girl company in Middleton, Wis.
Well, it wasn’t to me personally, just all of us poor saps who granted our daughters’ wish for an American Girl doll — in this case, Felicity Merriman and/or her best friend, Elizabeth Cole.
My daughter was smitten with Elizabeth (I think she liked her fancy dresses) and waited patiently until her sixth birthday last year to get her doll. Given the price tag, we hoped to milk years of enjoyment out of it and the accompanying books about Felicity, that “spirited colonial girl,” and her best friend Elizabeth (a Tory).
We didn’t know their days were numbered.
“Dear Felicity fan,” the Aug. 31 letter began. “We’re writing with important news about one of our most treasured American Girl dolls — Felicity Merriman®. We wanted you, as one of her biggest fans, to be among the first to know that soon, Felicity’s complete collection, including her best friend Elizabeth Cole™, will be moving into the American Girl Archives™.”
Archives. Storage. Land of the Has-Beens. (Just ask Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete.)
“Like you,” the letter continued, “countless American Girl fans have found a friend in this spirited colonial girl since her introduction in 1991. Bringing Felicity’s world to life — from saving a beautiful horse named Penny, to learning how to be a proper gentlewoman with Elizabeth® — has been a journey we’ve enjoyed sharing with you.
“As we bid Felicity and Elizabeth a fond farewell, we do so knowing their departure will make it possible to introduce new characters and time periods for our customers to enjoy.”
Meaning: lots of new things for us to buy.
“Watch for more information in our catalogues and at americangirl.com. In the meantime, don’t miss the opportunity to purchase items from Felicity’s collection before it’s too late.”
In other words, step on it and buy all the stuff before it’s gone forever and your daughter is crushed because she can’t get Elizabeth’s cloak or Felicity’s pony.
This ranks right up there with the Disney “vault.”
I knew going down this road that I was up against marketing genius. My older nieces had American Girl dolls back in the day, when they were still a new concept from a small firm known as Pleasant Company. We were all attracted to the authentic feel of the dolls, the craftsmanship of the accessories and the history behind them.
The books featured stories about life in different time periods told from the eye of their 9-year-old heroines — from pioneer girl Kirsten Larson and Victorian-era Samantha Parkington (both now in the “Archives”) to the perky Molly McIntire of World War II. The stories had good life lessons, and so what if Molly’s glasses cost more than my drugstore readers?
The company gradually added more dolls, including Felicity and the wildly popular Kit Kittredge, the resilient girl of the Depression who yearns to be a newspaper reporter.
At some point, American Girl apparently realized all the dolls had the same skin color, and added an African-American doll (Addy), a Latino doll (Josefina) and a Native American doll (Kaya), all from relevant periods of American history.
Next came Bitty Babies (you can even get twins), then an annual American Girl of the Year with names like Chrissa and Lindsey. These days you can buy a doll to look just like your child, with virtually every combination of eye color, skin tone and hairstyle.
(One of the latest “historical” dolls is Julie, from the 1970s. My childhood is now considered an artifact. I even had the same pink foot rug.)
Add to all of that, a magazine, TV movies and a motion picture starring Kit, plus stores cropping up in new cities every year.
As it happened, we just made our first pilgrimage to the American Girl Place store in Chicago in mid-August. I managed to get away with spending only $30 — $15 for a Felicity video and $15 to give Elizabeth a new hairstyle at the doll hair salon (I know, I know). It could have been worse. We avoided the $250 package that includes lunch/tea with your doll and heaven knows what else.
(That doesn’t count the unfortunate encounter I had with a parking-garage post on our way out, but... hey, we have insurance. To be fair, it was one of those downtown garages designed for munchkin cars, where you duck every time you go down a level and wait for your roof to scrape the ceiling.)
This was a long-awaited trip for my daughter, and she was just thrilled to be there and see all the dolls and their accessories. She and her friend happily watched the Felicity video that night, and the next morning, and planned what to save up for next.
Two weeks later, we got The Letter. Now the website even warns, “Last holiday to bring Felicity and Elizabeth home!”
The books and DVDs will still be available even after they’re retired. And it’s possible, says company spokeswoman Julie Parks, that Elizabeth and other archived dolls may return someday.
In the meantime, I’m drafting a letter back to the company. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
“Dear American Girl: We are writing with some important news about our family. We wanted you to be among the first to know that our American Girl resources may soon be moving into our archives.
“We know you have enjoyed the use of our money since we were first introduced to your collection in 1991, but we think it will be better invested elsewhere. As we bid you a fond farewell, we do so knowing our departure will make it possible for us to send our daughter to college.”
I doubt I’ll send it. And if my daughter wants more Elizabeth accessories, I’ll probably buy them.
Or maybe she’ll switch to Julie. Surely she’s too young to be archived. Right?
Photo: Felicity Merriman (left) and Elizabeth Cole. Courtesy American Girl