Peace bear beanie baby

by Dr. Lori Verderame

In the world of Beanie Babies, where I have appraised nearly 100,000 of the cute stuffed toys, many online discuss names, poems, tags, errors, the craze, etc. Here, a discussion of how these toys represent American culture of the 1990s will help collectors learn about their long term investment value. Beanie Babies were a nostalgic toy, one which was familiar to multiple generations—young and old alike. Beanie Babies were cute, cuddly, and witty with names like Roam the Buffalo and Chocolate the Moose. They were also marketed as limited edition collectibles like Norman Rockwell plates or Hummel figurines maintaining that since they were produced and manufactured in limited editions that they would increase in value based on rarity and market interest over time. With the benefit of hindsight, Beanie Babies lived up to the hype and many collectors did indeed cash in.

Beanie Babies Internet Craze

Peace bear beanie baby

Beanie Babies have their place in American culture and hold a special place in American business history and internet marketing or e-commerce. The Beanie Babies website, an early example of a toy’s web presence dating to 1995, was arguably the first website to provide an e-commerce offering and gave users the ability to buy/sell toys online. The website engaged collectors and sellers alike and was an important tool in showing how the Internet could influence business, marketing, and sales of just about everything. The Beanie Babies website had a guest book and chat area which allowed collectors and others to discuss the collectible toys which increased awareness and popularity of Beanie Babies.  This online “word of mouth” had a great impact on the way that the Beanie Babies craze spread. From the suburbs of Chicago, IL where the most die hard collectors originated because of its proximity to Oakbrook, IL, Beanie Babies’ collectors got their hands on the stuffed toys using methods that were more common to rock concerts and sporting events.

People who collected Beanie Babies slept out overnight in front of toy stores and entered website contests to win the opportunity to buy a rare and sought-after Beanie Babies toy such as the Original Nine or the Historic themed toys. Once obtained, children were often not allowed to play with the stuffed toys for fear they would get dirty, trap odors, or become damaged. Like Sunday Dolls of the 19th Century that were only played with on Sundays and kept protected the other days of the week, Beanie Babies were known to be placed on display shelves or stored in air tight bags with their tags hosting tag protectors. Children for the most part were interested in Beanie Babies as collectibles that would “pay for college” or “increase in value” since that was the reason why their grandparents or parents purchased them. Many children gave up the option to play with Beanie Babies in favor of displaying them and adding important Beanies to a collection.

The general cultural interest in American business practices in the late 1980s and early 1900s helped drive the Beanie Babies craze, too. In colleges and universities, undergraduate business and MBAs degrees were popular. In many middle and upper class, blue collar American families, both parents worked in business management jobs. And, as parents were involved in the 1990s era love affair with money and a healthy interest in the workings of Wall Street, children who were also collectors of Beanie Babies were raised in homes where entrepreneurship and business were part of the family fabric. During this time, children were comfortable in entrepreneurship roles and the marketing notion that Beanie Babies would increase in value with time was attractive to children, parents, and grandparents. As well, with more mothers entering the workforce than ever before, grandmothers were involved in child rearing and in large part, grandparents were responsible for fueling the Beanie Babies craze along with children.

Beanie Babies and Walt Disney

Grandparents purchased Beanie Babies along with parents and of course children. Children bought Beanie Babies because they were priced within a child’s budget. Children could use their allowance to pay for a Beanie Babies toy without having to ask an adult to buy the toy for them. Marketing to children was not new as the children’s toy market was a big player in the world of business. The market research that connected Beanie Babies to children’s wallets recalls the relationship between Walt Disney and Ingersoll watches which sparked the Mickey Mouse watch craze.

Ty Warner was a savvy businessman and he was wise enough to link up with major corporations as well as mom and pop toy shops to sell his Beanie Babies. From the corner toy store to conglomerates of great size like McDonald’s, Beanie Babies were front and center. And, Ty Warner required that those stores that sold Beanie Babies must also sell other Ty Inc. products. If the stores would not sell the other products, Ty would take the best-selling Beanie Babies off those stores’ shelves.

A Kinder, Gentler Stuffed Toy

The tumultuous time period of the early 1900s made many Americans long for a Kinder, Gentler nation as President George H. W. Bush famously noted. The simplicity of the Beanie Babies stuffed animal toys indicated that Ty Warner had touched upon a nerve in the world of toys. Beanie Babies reminded many of the toys of the past—not toys that were only associated with tv, comic book, cartoons, or movie characters—like stuffed animals that were common to post-war Americans following World War II and during the mid-century baby boom.  Beanie Babies with a few exceptions like Righty and Lefty were largely not political in nature. A collector didn’t have to be familiar with a particular movie, cartoon, or comic strip to enjoy collecting Beanie Babies.

While Beanie Babies had a healthy following, they were involved in current events such as bears that were engaged in charitable offerings like the Princess Diana Memorial Fund “Princess” Beanie Babies bears that were introduced after the death of Princess Diana in August of 1997 and raised money for good causes near to Princess Diana’s heart. These were not the teddy bears of the early 1900s nor the Holly movies action figure toys of the late 1900s, but Beanie Babies were more closely aligned with wholesome toys of the 1940s and 1950s.

The tumultuous time of the early 1990s made Americans pick sides and become embroiled in current events such as the O.J. Simpson trial or the Rodney King incident. Beanie Babies did not prompt such emotions. The toys were enjoyable, simple, and offered a laugh in the creativity of the stuffed animals’ names and whimsical look. Today, the secondary market for Beanie Babies has lived up to the early 1900s hype that these little stuffed toys would be valuable someday. A Beanie Babies craze that began in the early 1900s has lived up to its claim that the toys would make one rich. Today many collectors are still seeking out and collecting various Beanie Babies and trading them for top dollar.

Watch videos on my YouTube channel where I talk about the Beanie Babies craze. You can show me your Beanie Babies during a video call to learn about their value.