That's one of the frustrating things about dealing with AE. I know that this is an "appreciation" thread, and I love AE shoes (own nearly 20 pairs) but my burgundy shell Daltons are the only pair of AE shell cordovan that arrived at my door with zero defects. They seem to have consistent struggles in working with shell cordovan. I don't believe I ever had to send a pair of calf AEs back due to defects...but my shell Park Aves, Patriots, MacNeils and now my Jeffersons had a problem. I'm now at the point where I'm reluctant to buy shell from AE. I have had better luck with Alden shell in terms of quality, so they may become my go-to for shell in the future.
I'm surprised by this. For the record, I certainly prefer Alden shell to AE, but that is based on Alden's finishing on the leather (the Alden "glaze.")
I've found, however, that AE's QC is much higher than Alden's. Pop over in the Alden thread and it's littered with examples of people buying shoes with defects as "firsts." Most people will pay full price and keep them because even models in #8 are becoming increasingly hard to find. Even more leeway is given for rare shells (e.g. ravello, whiskey, cigar).
In any case, I'd recommend just inspecting your shoe before buying, or, if ordering online, once you receive the shoe. AE has one of the best return policies and is very customer service oriented. So evilWagon, I'd recommend you pick up your first AE shells with confidence.