A woman boards an airplane headed to Hawaii. In the woman’s hand is a duffle bag filled with products she doesn’t want seen and can’t trust them to be shipped. In exchange for the bag, the woman receives $20,000 cash. No, the bag is not filled with drugs or counterfeit goods, it’s filled with…Beanie Babies.
The year was 1993 and a new company known as Ty Inc. was about to embark on a journey filled with chaos and heartbreak. At the time, Ty only employed approximately 14 people in a small, 5 room office building. In these offices, Beanie Babies would be created, cementing Ty Inc.’s spot in toy history. Clever business tactics coupled with a booming secondary market and sprinkled with a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that is uniquely American, Beanie Mania was created.
From 1993 to 1996, Beanie Babies were not much more than a pile of beanbags that mom and pop gifts shops had trouble moving. As we know, the slow sales didn’t last long. In 1996, Ty saw a 1000% increase in total sales.
As the years moved on, the creatures’ following started to grow. Sales increased, things like trade shows and special Beanie Baby publications started appearing, and a little thing called the internet popped up in American homes. While all of these things factored into Beanie Mania, you’ll learn in this film that it wasn’t until Ty Warner (creator of the Beanie Baby) decided to retire certain babies, 51 to be exact, that collectors took notice. Suddenly people turned collecting Beanie Babies from a hobby into an investment plan.
During the height of Beanie Mania, it wasn’t uncommon to read an article about someone investing $10, $20, even $60,000 into the stuffed animals. People of the ’90s thought Beanie Babies were a safe investment sure to stand the test of time. After all, eBay resellers topped $500,000 in profit in 1997 alone. According to Beanie Mania, at any given point there was up to 100 price guide publications on bookshelves, only adding to the mirage that investing in stuffed animals was a sound economic venture.
Ty Warner knew how to keep the Beanie market fresh. By limiting his availability to the media, giving the illusion of scarcity, and refusing to enter business agreements, an artificial market was created. In 1998, sales of Beanie Babies topped $1.4 billion. By the new millennia, sales began to slow and people quickly started to regret all the time and money spent on a bag of plastic beans.
In the modern day, Beanie Babies have once again started to make a comeback; this time, not in lieu of anyone’s 401k plans.
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Beanie Mania showcases a number of people who were considered heavy hitters during the height of the beanie baby pandemonium. Primarily made up of stay at home moms, this core group of collectors took a fun hobby to an extreme, and, in some cases, got rich along the way. This group of beanie crazed devotees made cross-country road trips, created spreadsheets for their inventory lists, and even made their love official with a vanity license plates “B BABIES” on their new Mercedes–of course paid for with profits from Beanie Baby reselling.
Kind of like crazy cat ladies, except the cats were stuffed, we see people hoarding stuffed animals all over their houses and consuming their lives. Some of those interviewed even admitted that their beanie collecting went from a hobby to a full addiction. Collectors risked credit card debt and bankruptcy all for the purposes of owning a few rare beanies.
As Beanie Mania enters it’s final few minutes, archived footage gives homage to all the people in the late-1990s that wishfully stated that there was no end in sight and touted what a fine investment Beanie Babies would be. Although we may see random upticks in the toy’s demand on sites like eBay, a lot millennials are left with nothing more than boxes of stuffed animals worth a few bucks, thanks in part to their parents greed taking over the market of a childhood toy.
Beanie Mania is streaming now on HBOmax. For more information on this film, visit our Beanie Mania post.
Worth the Watch?
Yes. Beanie Mania is filled to the brim with 90s nostalgia. From classic Socker Boppers commercials, the obnoxious sound of dial up internet, and tons cringe worthy footage of what at home computing used to look like, the film is a blast for those of us whose formative years were in the late-90s. Sadly, the film will also indirectly showcase how FOMA can completely take over an individual’s life affecting their relationships and financial health.
The Documentary District graded Beanie Mania a Worth It, B+, making it a must watch. The stories featured in the documentary will having you shaking your head, wondering how people got so wrapped up in the Beanie craze. I would have liked to seen a little more time spent on the history of Ty Inc. and how the idea of Beanie Babies was created. Even with the lack of Ty history, high quality archived news footage of Beanie Baby history pieced together with interviews from some of the earliest supporters of the toy, tells a great story of a crazy, yet some how simpler time, an era called Beanie Mania.