In 1993 Ty Corporation released Flash the Dolphin, Patti the Platypus, Splash the Orca, Spot the Dog, Legs the Frog, Squealer the Pig, Cubbie the Bear, Chocolate the Moose, and Pinchers the Lobster. These small plush beanbag toys called Beanie Babies retailed for about five dollars. By 1997, there were over 181 varieties of Beanie Babies, and most of the original nine were worth more than $50.
The interest Beanie Babies sparked in so many kids, parents, and collectors stems from their reflection of the consumer aesthetic of the 1990s. Ty Corporation built a cachet for each Beanie Baby by portraying itself as one of the "little guys" in the toy industry. It limited stores to only 36 of each Beanie Baby per month and initially refused to sell to chain or outlet toy stores. Ty Corporation guarded its strategy fiercely, cutting off future supplies to stores that sold the plush animals at a mark-up. The company's efforts kept Beanie Babies affordable to almost all, but increased their aftermarket value. The result of Ty's strategy strengthened Beanie Babies' celebration of the individual. Each baby is assigned a name, a birthday, and an accompanying poem, all found on the small heart-shaped Ty tag, the sign of an authentic Beanie Baby.
Some regard the market frenzy around Beanie Babies as ridiculous, but others see it as a benign introduction to capitalism for many young investors. The babies are portable, easily saved for investment purposes, and offer a chance for friendly competition between collectors. Judging a Beanie Baby's current value can be a hands-on lesson in supply and demand for the young collector. The value of Babies increases when varieties are "retired" or produced in limited numbers; and when custom Beanie Babies are released for sporting events, to commemorate the flags of certain countries, and to immortalize celebrities like Jerry Garcia (see Garcia bear) and Princess Diana (see Princess bear). In addition, Babies with defects or odd materials are highly sought-after. Because it is never clear how many of a new animal will be produced or when they might be retired, hobby collectors and Beanie Baby speculators periodically swarm stores reported to be "connected."
The market demand for Beanie Babies has grown without television advertising. Babies were listed as one of the most sought-after Christmas toys by several stores during the 1990s. Beanie Babies are traded, bought, and sold at hundreds of spots on the Internet, and those new to the hobby can buy guidebooks like the 1998 Beanie Baby Handbook, which lists probable prices for the year 2008. The Handbook speculates that Quacker, a yellow duck with no wings, may be worth as much as $6,000 by that time.
Beanie Babies have worked their way into the mainstream consciousness through a regular media diet of Beanie Baby hysteria and hoax stories. Many local news programs would feature a story about how to differentiate between a real Beanie Baby and a fake. By the end of the decade, almost every American would see the sign, "Beanie Babies Here!" appear in the window of a local card or flower shop. Established firmly in the same collectible tradition as Hot Wheels cars and Cabbage Patch dolls, Beanie Babies draw children into the world of capitalist competition, investment, and financial risk. Their simple, attainable nature has gained them a permanent place in the pantheon of American toys.
Fox, Les and Sue. The Beanie Baby Handbook. New York, Scholastic Press, 1998.
Phillips, Beck, et al. Beanie Mania: A Comprehensive Collector's Guide. Binghamton, New York, Dinomates, 1997.