Beanie Babies are a line of stuffed toys created by American businessman H. Ty Warner, who founded Ty Inc. in 1986. Notably, the toys are stuffed with plastic pellets ("beans", making them "beanie") rather than conventional soft stuffing (PVC and PE), giving Beanie Babies a flexible feel. The "babies" part of the name does not literally refer to an infant; the toys come in many different forms, mostly animals. In an interview, Warner said, "The whole idea was it looked real because it moved."
Although created in 1993, during the last half of the 1990s, Beanie Babies emerged as a major fad and collectable. They have been cited as being the world's first Internet sensation in 1995. They were collected not only as toys, but also as a financial investment, due to the high resale value of particular ones.
Nine original Beanie Babies were launched in 1993:
- Legs the Frog, Squealer the Pig, Spot the Dog, Flash the Orca, Splash the Whale, Chocolate the Moose, Patti the Platypus, Brownie the Bear (later renamed "Cubbie"), and Pinchers the Lobster (with some tag errors with "Punchers"). They were not in factory production until 1994. Sales were slow at first to the point that by 1995 many retailers refused to buy the products in the bundles Ty offered them while others outright refused to buy them in any form. Their popularity soon grew however, first starting locally in Chicago before growing into a national craze in the USA.
In 1996, Ty Inc. released a new product called Teenie Beanies, a miniature offshoot of the original Beanie Babies line. They were sold alongside McDonald's Happy Meals to celebrate that product's 17th anniversary.
Ty, Inc. stopped producing the product in December 1999, but consumer demand led them to reconsider. Production restarted in 2000 with a Beanie Baby named "The Beginning."
In early 2008, Ty released a new version of Beanie Babies called Beanie Babies 2.0. The purchase of a Beanie Baby 2.0 provided its owner with a code to access an online Beanie Babies interactive website. The website has since been shut down.
Beanie Babies are deliberately under stuffed. This led to a criticism that the toys looked "cheap"; however, this set them apart from most stuffed animals on the market which could not be posed easily. Ty Warner has said that this understuffing method made the toys look "real".
Another important design element is the tag. Since the beginning, Beanie Babies have included two tags for identification: a heart-shaped "swing tag" at the top, and a fabric "tush tag" at the bottom. Both tags have been redesigned completely over time. Between 1994 and 1996, the swing tags had "To" and "From" blanks in them for use as gifts. Starting in early 1996, the tags include four-line poems related to the Beanie Baby, and a date of birth for the toy. The poem and birthday concept was created by Lina Trivedi who is credited as authoring the poems on the first 136 Beanie Babies that were introduced to the marketplace.
It was not uncommon for Beanie Babies to be accidentally shipped out with incorrect or misspelled tags, which sometimes increased the toy's value. On occasion, the poems, birth dates and even the names have been changed on certain Beanie Babies.
Beanie Babies began to emerge as popular collectibles in late 1995, and became a hot toy. The company's strategy of deliberate scarcity, producing each new design in limited quantity, restricting individual store shipments to limited numbers of each design and regularly retiring designs, created a huge secondary market for the toys and increased their popularity and value as a collectible.
Ty systematically retired various designs, and many people assumed that all "retired" designs would rise in value the way that early retirees had. The craze lasted through 1999 and slowly declined after the Ty company announced that they would no longer be making Beanie Babies and made a bear called "The End". Some time after the original announcement that the company would stop production, Ty asked the public to vote on whether the product should continue; fans and collectors voted "overwhelmingly" to keep the toys on the market.
At its height of popularity people would flip Beanies at as much as ten-fold on eBay. Indeed, at the height, Beanies made up 10% of eBay's sales. Some collectors insured their purchases for a price in the thousands.
Following are key factors that contributed to the collectible nature of Beanie Babies:
- Unique Creative Elements - each product contained a unique birthday and poem that was printed on the tag of every Beanie Baby
- Supply/Demand - Scarce availability fell short of the product demand
- Availability - Beanie Babies were initially only sold in individually-owned small gift and specialty shops
- New Releases / Retirements - Several times a year, Beanie Babies would retire and the production of those characters would cease to make room for new designs
Warner was keenly aware that the Beanie Babies bubble could burst and eventually started requiring retailers who sold Beanies to also stock other product lines by his company if they wished to continue selling Beanies. None of these lines did as well as Beanie Babies, although they kept the company alive after the fad ended and eventually some became successful in their own right.
Ty, Inc. was the first business to produce a business to consumer website designed to engage their market. This is a major contributing factor to the early and rapidly growing popularity of Beanie Babies. By the time the first iteration of the Ty Web site was published in late 1995, only 1.4% of Americans were using the Internet. In tandem with the launch of the Ty Website, all Beanie Baby hangtags had the Ty Website URL and a call to action printed underneath the poems and birthdays that commanded audiences to visit the company website with text that read: Visit our web page!!! As a result, hordes of consumers were visiting the Ty website by the thousands to gain information about Beanie Babies which was completely unprecedented at that time. Ty is the first business to leverage their website to connect and engage with consumers of their products. This effort evolved into the world's first Internet sensation.
Notable Beanie Babies
Garcia the bear
Garcia the bear was released in January 1996 and retired in May 1997. He is a tie-dyed bear that seems to be a tribute to musician Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead who died in 1995, designed by Nicholas Scarbrough. A group of differently colored dancing bears, originally artwork from the back of an album cover, was one of the band's many iconic images. The bear was supposedly "born" the date that Jerry died (August 9, 1995). The fast retirement for this Beanie Baby was due to an alleged lawsuit that the Garcia family filed against the Ty company, claiming that the name "Garcia" was used without permission from the family. In cooperation with the lawsuit, Garcia was retired and a similar bear named Peace was released. Peace has a peace sign, while Garcia does not.
The bright colors on Garcia the bear made him one of the most popular Beanie Baby styles.
Princess the bear
Diana, Princess of Wales died on August 31, 1997. Warner announced the lavender Beanie Baby Princess on October 29, 1997 in honor of Princess Diana. Warner said that all proceeds would be donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The Princess Diana Beanie Baby was sent to vendors to distribute in the second week of December 1997. Some vendors had to wait until February 1998. Only 12 Beanie Baby Princesses were released to each vendor initially, but this changed due to strong demand. The 1st shipments are easily identified as "PVC Princess Bears" due to the tush tag stating "P.V.C. Pellets". The second shipment was during the switch to "P.E. Pellets" on the Tush in 1998 and are very common. Bears were made in both China and Indonesia.
Decade the bear
Decade the bear was made in honor of Beanie Babies' tenth anniversary. Decade bears were made in white, royal blue, red, purple, orange, hot pink, green, gold, brown, and light blue. Most Decade bears have silver sparkles on their bodies. It was made in 2003.
Tabasco the bull
Originally named after the Tabasco sauce, the name was changed to "Snort" to avoid trademark infringement. Tabasco has all red "feet" while Snort has all white. The poem stayed the same.
Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant
Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant is one of the most notable of the Beanies. It first started production in 1995 as a royal blue color. Then, Ty noticed that the fabric coloring was wrong, and that it needed to be the light blue color, so they started the light blue version and stopped the royal blue. They made the light blue until his retirement in 1999. They only made about 500 of the royal blue variation and these beanies can go for $1500 with an original tag.
Counterfeit Beanie Babies
Counterfeit Beanie Babies began to surface in 1997. Early on, cheap knock-offs and fakes of commons were widely available at discount prices.
Authorities cracked down on counterfeit Beanie Babies in the late 1990s. People were prosecuted for their involvement in the commerce of counterfeit Babies. In 1998, English authorities seized more than 6,000 Princesses and Britannias. In 1999, a Minnesota man was imprisoned, fined, and put on probation for involvement in smuggling counterfeit beanies.
During the wake of Beanie Babies' success, Beanie Baby-centric publications were issued. One of the largest was Mary Beth's Bean Bag World, a monthly magazine dedicated to Beanie Babies and competing plush toys. This magazine ran from 1997 to 2001.
In the late 2000s, Beanie Babies modeled after characters from popular children's franchises by Nickelodeon, DreamWorks and Paramount began appearing. These included characters from cartoons on the Nickelodeon television channel such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues, as well as characters from DreamWorks Animation movies such as Shrek the Third, and 20th Century Fox's Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Beanie Babies have also been produced for characters from Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole and Guardians of Ga'Hoole book series, Scooby-Doo and Hello Kitty. Recently Beanie Babies modeled after Disney characters have been created, including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and Olaf from Frozen. In addition, they’ve also produced toys based on characters from the Disney Junior TV series Doc McStuffins, Pixar films like Cars and Finding Dory, and Marvel Comics superheroes. They’ve also recently partnered with Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, and Hasbro for characters from franchises such as Despicable Me, Sing, My Little Pony, and The Emoji Movie. In addition, Beanie Babies have also expanded their Nickelodeon lineup with characters from PAW Patrol, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Peppa Pig.
- Beanie Babies 2.0
- Economic bubble
- Tulip mania
- Cabbage Patch Kids
- Chia Pet
- Pet Rock
- Sock monkey
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Punchers the red lobster. Originally introduced in 1993 at a toy fair, Punchers was redesigned in 1994 and renamed Pinchers.
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