Caveat Emptor:
A Damaged Doll Checklist for Buying or Selling Used AG Dolls

Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware! Buying a used American Girl Doll is a buyer beware experience. There are numerous facets of the American Girl doll which may be damaged in one way or another, and we have been contacted by many a customer complaining about their experiences and now seeking to buy repair materials.

As AG Doll experts, we have developed a running list of things to check when a newly purchased pre-owned doll comes our way. We’ve decided to share this list with everyone in hopes that both buyers and sellers can have more information about used dolls, and therefore more positive experiences when buying or selling them.

1. The Eyes

American Girl Doll eyes are the most tricky and expensive part of an AG doll, so you need to be clear about what condition the eyes are in upfront.

First, the eyes need to open and close smoothly and completely, every time, without hesitation. If the problem can’t be permanently fixed with a blast of compressed air, then you are looking at a very expensive repair from the AG Doll hospital (as we do NOT recommend eye transplants).

Beware of:

                         One eye might hover 7/8 of the way closed
They may get stuck every once in a while, so check several times.
One eyelid may hesitate and then have to catch up to the other.

Second, a problem with older dolls is Silver Eye. Fortunately, this is easy to identify and the AG Doll hospital usually fixes them for free (see our AG Doll hospital guide), it just takes a bit of time and initial shipping costs to the hospital.

                         The earliest signs of silver eye can be seen in the pupil area, where one pupil has a ring around it where the other does not.

Third, check to see if the eyelashes are trimmed or missing. AG has produced a lot of different kinds of eyelashes. Don’t be alarmed if the doll has a few very long individual eyelashes – the early dolls have these kinds of lashes instead of the thicker, shorter kind seen today. It just means it’s an older doll.

Fourth, check to see if the tan paint around the eyelids is chipped, which happens most often near the eyelashes.

2. The Cloth Body

For a part that amounts to being a very tiny pillow, there can sure be a lot of issues here.

First and foremost, you need to know if there are any smells. If you are buying in person, give it a good sniff – no matter how silly you think you may look. There can be smells from smoking, pets, poor storage, etc. We once had a doll that was left in an outhouse. Make sure you aren’t getting that doll.  Oftentimes smells will have settled into the stuffing, so if there is an odor you’ll have to do a full disassembly, washing, and restringing to purge it.

Second, you will want to be on the lookout for holes. These most often are found along the cloth-to-cloth seams – particularly the crotch seams – but may be found  anywhere on the cloth body. Holes along the cloth-to-cloth seams can be fixed pretty easily but a hole in center is not usually repairable and may require a replacement torso or trip to the doll hospital. While a small hole in the center is unlikely to grow and won’t inhibit play, people are reluctant to buy a doll with holes in it. The most important holes to look for are along the cloth-to-plastic seams around the joints. Unless you have special machinery, you won’t be able to sew thread through the plastic. These holes will spread quickly and require a torso replacement or a trip to the doll hospital.

Beware of:

                         Holes along seams or in the center
Ripped or loose stitches along the seams (precursor to holes)

Third, and most obviously, are marks or stains on the cloth body. Stains aren’t a big deal so long as they do not smell. They may be faint watermarks or fading from the sunlight which are not easily visible and require close inspection.  Note that AG has produced a wide variety of cloth colors for the body, including white and peach colors which may not look right at first glance because the arms and legs don’t match it.

Fourth, the body tag. There may not be one, there may be a small one, or there can be a long skinny one. If there is a body tag, just make sure it says Pleasant Company or American Girl on it somewhere.

Lastly, the x-on-the-butt. Once a year in Wisconsin, AG sells returned dolls they have refurbished and overstock inventory. Dolls purchased at this sale have a small (about pencil-sized) X on their bottom near where the seams intersect made with a pen. This just means that these dolls are sold as is by the store and AG will not repair or replace them (with the exception of silver eye). These items tend to be missing packaging, books, inserts, etc. They are often of slightly lower quality. In many  circumstances when you are buying a used doll, that isn’t a problem. Technically, these dolls are not to be resold, but they often end up being so one way or another, and it isn’t a big deal to buy one.

3. The Wig

Since we sell doll wigs, this isn’t a big deal for us, but for most people the cost of a replacement wig runs $20-25, so the condition of the hair is a big deal. Obviously, don’t buy the doll if you don’t like the haircut it has, or you plan on replacing it. Dry and frizzy hair can be repaired or trimmed to some extent, but never back to a like-new condition.

Beware of:

                         Entire wefts of hair which may be detached from the wig (usually seen on older dolls). Just part the hair down the center and you can usually tell

Note that wigs taken out of their original manufactured style are often uneven, but this is not a sign of a haircut or defect. Molly and Kristen dolls originally come in pigtails, so they have a strip of shorter hair down the center of the back of the wig to cover up the mesh cap. When let down, they have two dips in the length of their hair. Samantha has sections of longer hair on the sides which were pulled back into her partial tail.

4. The Joints

What makes an American Girl Doll so unique is its individually strung elastic joints. Unfortunately, the elastic in the joints may become loose over time, or break altogether. If you can get a doll that passes the 45 degree test (explained below) or can hold a pose without falling over, great. If not, no big deal. Restringing can be done pretty easily and cheaply once you learn how.

Beware of:

                         Missing body parts – they can be tricky to find replacements, and the Doll Hospital won’t repair a doll without all of its parts.
Detached body parts – just because you have the detached limb doesn’t necessarily mean you have the hidden interior tension cups that go with it.
Dangling Limbs – a limb shouldn’t be dangling. Even if a limb is loose, it shouldn’t be visibly hanging off the body. This is a sign of improper restringing, and there can be serious issues with the doll if someone was messing around with it and didn’t know what they were doing.


The 45 Degree Test: When placed on its back and limbs lifted to 45 degrees diagonal from the floor, a properly strung doll’s limbs should stay in position when released and not slide back to the floor. If they drop slowly, they are a little loose. If they flop down immediately, it needs restringing.

5. The Vinyl.

Most issues with the vinyl fall into the unrepairable or only repairable over a long period of time categories. You can’t repair bite marks or shiny streaks. You can repair most ink-based marks to the vinyl with time, but that time can’t be while the doll is in use because repair involves a bleaching substance which may stain any fabric. Its up to you to decide if you can live with it or if you have the time and desire to repair it.

Beware of:

                         Nail polish – while it may be easily removed, the nail polish may have heavily stained the underlying vinyl.

6. The Neck.

An easy but important area to check out. It should have a Pleasant Company stamp or American Girl LLC stamp engraved at the back of the neck.

The head may be secured by neck strings of several different types, or a zip tie. Cut neck strings aren’t a huge deal, so long as they are functional (at least 1 inch sticking out of the knot). On the other hand, missing neck strings or zip ties make dolls much less desirable, since you will have to re-thread a new neck string if you want to take off the head for any reason, such as restringing.

7. Makeup

Doll makeup is actually just decals applied to the vinyl and can be easily removed with nail polish remover or scraped off accidentally. With older dolls, the makeup may have faded. Often, the painted on teeth will have been “chipped” and require repainting.

8. Earrings

All Elizabeth dolls come with earrings, and AG offers ear piercing services for all dolls. You should be able to see if the ears have been pierced, and if so, both earrings should be there. Empty earring holes look silly and are an invitation for dirt and dust to settle in there.

The Complete Checklist:

Eyes

Silver Eye

Stuck Eyes

Cut or missing Eyelashes

Chipped eyelids

Cloth Body

Smells

Stains

Holes

Ripped stitches along seams (precursor to holes)

X on the butt

Body Tag

Wig

Haircut

Dry or frizzy ends

Missing or detached wefts

Joints

All limbs attached tightly

No missing tension cups

Can stand on own

Can meet the 45 degree test

 Vinyl Arms & Legs

Shiny streaks

Dirt

Ink

Nail Polish

Chew Marks / Missing fingers and toes

Neck

Zip Tie instead of Neck Strings (i.e. doll went to AG doll hospital in mid-90s)

Cut neck strings (1 inch or longer is workable)

Pleasant Company or American Girl stamp

 Makeup & Earrings

Smudged or missing makeup decals (check eyebrows, teeth)

Freckles

Earrings & Ear Holes