Beanie Babies- The Rise and The Fall
There have been a handful of times in humanity’s history when we’ve all collectively lost our shit.
The recent crypto and NFT craze is a fantastic example. Despite rug pulls, failed coins, and even the recent crash- most people’s enthusiasm for cryptocurrency and blockchain technology remains foaming at the mouth high.
(I’m a crypto fan too btw- I walk around with napkins at this point… Get it? For all the foam?
Yeah jokes are usually funnier when you explain them…Definitely.)
Another recent batshit crazy moment? The last episode of Game of Thrones…
I know… If you threw up in your mouth a little bit- I get it. The most incredible series of all time, ever- ruined all at once by a single episode. Although, I guess if you think about, things not going as you expect them to is pretty on theme for GOT.
Either way, back in the 90’s, there was another seemingly insane phenomenon that actually created its own microeconomy- well before blockchain or any other technology made digital microeconomics possible.
What Were Beanie Babies?
Nutshell answer: Beanie Babies were $5 plushies, stuffed with pellets and designed in the shape of a variety of animals. There were 9 Beanie Babies at the time of the first launch in 1993. They were made with an inner lining that made them “posable”. So unlike other stuffed animals, which couldn’t do much outside of being propped up on a wall, Beanie Babies had a certain “character” to them.
Each Beanie Baby had two tags that were used as a form of identification. A heart-shaped “swing tag” at the top and a “tush tag” at the bottom. Initially, these tags were labeled with “To” and “From” making them decently customizable gifts. You can think of a Tush Tag, like a Tramp Stamp, with a lot more words on it.
Eventually, however, Beanie Babies would be produced with a 4-line poem about the respective baby. These poems named each Beanie Baby individually and gave them a story. Making each one it’s own unique item, rather than merely one of a mass produced “batch”- but more on that later.
Physically, that’s about all there was to Beanie Babies, besides the variety in models, there really wasn’t all that much to them. They didn’t bounce, make any noises, have any “action” features or anything of the sort.
Ty Warner, the creator, intended simply to create a toy that was cute and cheap, making it accessible to all Americans.
What Made them so Crazy Valuable?
At this point, you’re probably wondering wtf the craze was about. If Beanie Babies didn’t even do anything special, what made them so valuable?
Answering that with 100% accuracy probably requires both philosophical and sociological analysis, that can’t really be covered in this blog. Fundamentally though- the truth, is that beanie babies were successful almost by accident.
At least- if we take their creator’s intent for granted.
You see, Ty, really didn’t want to “sell out” to a big manufacturer but he also wanted to keep Beanie Babies reasonably priced. To pull this off, Ty would limit production and only sell to smaller retailers in batches of 36.
Since the points of sale, were often small retailers, large ad campaigns were rare and arguably useless. The hype generated by upcoming retail however, would have collectors and other Beanie Baby fans, camping out in front of small retailers to snag one of the dolls before stock ran out.
The unpredictability of releases paired with small batch sizes that were only ever released at small retailers, created an artificial scarcity that did wonders for beanie baby sales. This effect was heightened even further, when in 1995, Ty would begin “retiring” particular models, driving scarcity even further.
Crazy Beanie Stories
Beanie baby resale values were pretty astronomical.
Reselling has become popular again as of late, but at the dawn of eBay reselling- there were beanie babies. These little fluff balls would resell for an average of $30 -six times their retail value- however, several of the rare “retired” beanie babies would pull in astronomical resale value.
Even today, some beanie babies are worth ridiculous amounts of money. One curly the bear, recently auctioned for $9500 (on eBay of course) and curly isn’t even a particularly rare bear. Historically, thousands of Curlys were given away at major sporting events, so they aren’t particularly difficult for collectors to find.
Steg, the Stegosaurus on the other hand, tops the auction list at a whopping $50,000. Steg was first produced in November of 1994, but was released alongside two other adorable dinos, Bronty and Rex in June of the Following year.
Authenticity is everything when it comes to Steg.
Unfortunately, counterfeiters have had arguably the most success recreating the tye dye dinosaur, but collectors in turn have learned how to spot original work. Apparently, Steg was only ever produced one time, which is part of what makes him so valuable. This makes his tush tag pretty unique, since it will always have 1995 on it.
Bankrupt for Beanies
For every story of outrageous Beanie Baby wealth, there are a thousand tales of lost money and family woe- typically originating in the year 2000. The year the bubble popped.
One such family, was documented by, Chris Robinson, in a mini documentary for a university project. The story is a pretty captivating telling of his family’s over investment into the Beanie Baby craze.
They spent years acquiring the plush nuggets of gold, expecting to cash out as values continued to soar. As a matter of fact, they amassed collections for each of their children, hoping to start a college fund for each of their children.
Unfortunately for them, they jumped in at the peak of Beanie Baby hype expecting them to continue growing in popularity, as we’ll see in the next section. This was sadly not the case…
Sorry to Bust Your Bubble
In the year 2000, Beanie Babies imploded.
Not literally -since that would have made Ty a criminal mastermind of Batman proportions- but figuratively, which actually made Ty a criminal mastermind of Mr. Bean’s proportions…
In the year 2000, Ty announced that Ty inc. would stop producing Beanie Babies at the end of the year. Looking at the move now, it’s clear that it was a marketing tactic. Artificial scarcity was Ty’s bread and butter and it had transformed him into on of the wealthiest men in America, with over $1 billion in annual sales by 1998.
Predictably, due to public outcry, Ty agreed to continue making Beanie Babies, but damage had already been done.
Beanie Babies were no longer the fad. Pokemon and Furby had taken over and the dotcom bubble was about to pop. With the announcement, the market was flooded with Beanie Babies from desperate owners trying to offload their now worthless product.
Families like the Robinsons, were left holding the carcass.
Where Are They Now?
As mentioned briefly in the blog, Beanie Babies are still around today. Production has long ceased, with the final Baby “The End” bear being released in 2000, however, beanie babies are still being auctioned on eBay to this day. With The End Bear selling for anywhere between $1000, to $12,000 USD.
With the resurgence of collectibles, is there a chance that Beanie Babies return?
Maybe in partnership with an NFT, since many millennials are now sitting on disposable cash, but- there’s no real way to say for sure. Pokemon made a resurgence and trading cards shot up in value in recent times. But Pokemon is still a very active brand and arguably the single most successful media franchise of all time.
So, if I was a better person- No. Beanie Babies are probably not coming back any time soon.