The rise and fall of Beanie Babies

"The Richest Man in Babylon" was not available at the local library. (AJC photo from 1997)

"The Richest Man in Babylon" was not available at the local library. (AJC photo from 1997)

Twenty years after the introduction of Beanie Babies, you have to think that if they’d been stuffed with actual beans, at least you could eat them and they’d be worth something.

Alas, they were stuffed with inedible plastic pellets and are now mostly worthless.

That wasn’t always the case. Just a couple of years after being introduced in 1993, the tiny amalgamation of bean bag and cuteness sold like hotcakes and were considered highly collectible.

A few years later, however, demand went south faster than a deputy accused of murder and collectible value plummeted.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, like most other media outlets, reported on the craze. Our archives contain dozens of photos of happy (and later unhappy) Beanie Babies buyers.

“They’re cuter than trolls and softer than Pet Rocks. And right now, they’re hotter than Matchbox cars,” was the unfortunate lead of a 1996 article.

“You’d think they have wings, ” said Marc Goldberg, a marketing director during the frenzy, because “the $5 toys usually fly off the shelves as soon as they are delivered.”

In 1997, fast food megachain McDonald’s began including miniature versions of “the hottest toy around” and predicted “one in every three Americans will have a Teenie Beanie Baby in their house by mid-May.”

The same year, a “Beanie Baby benefit dinner” at Buckhead’s Corner Cafe sold out of $25 tickets in “less than an hour.”

The toys were still hugely popular in 1998, when the AJC reported “extra employees and security [were needed at a McDonald's in Riverdale] to keep the final rush for toys under control.”

By 1999, the bloom was off the rose. In January of 1999, the AJC ran an article with the title “Beanie Babies don’t always equal big bucks.” The sobering advice included the fact that a toy listed at $600 in one price guide probably couldn’t be sold for more than the $5 it cost.

The writing was on the wall (and in the AJC): “When we asked 16 of our readers around the country how Beanie Babies were faring in their neck of the woods, 13 said they seemed to be losing popularity.”

“The bottom line. ‘I don’t advise anyone to buy them for resale,’ said Patricia Van West, a writer for several Beanie Babies magazines. ”The market for Beanies could crash next year. They’re not a good investment. Buy them because you love them.”

Van West was right. Production was temporarily halted in 1999 in an effort to increase demand, but Beanie Babies’ time in the sun was over.

National Public Radio’s Marketplace had a segment this morning about one family whose father invested more than $100,000 into the stuffed critters.

The father began collecting Beanie Babies at the peak of their popularity, thinking he could later sell the toys for a huge profit and pay for his five children to go to college.

As he says in the “Bankrupt by Beanies” mini-documentary by his son, filmmaker Chris Robinson, he’s never sold even one. Most would now sell for less than $1.

The man who introduced the toys, Ty Warner, mortgaged his home and invested his life savings to launch the Beanie Baby line. At the peak of the craze he invested in hotels and now owns the Four Seasons in New York City, among other properties.

His estimated net worth is $2.5 billion and he donates millions to charity.

So, maybe Beanie Babies were worth something after all.

14 comments Add your comment

Class of '98

August 13th, 2013
11:01 am

“The father began collecting Beanie Babies at the peak of their popularity, thinking he could later sell the toys for a huge profit and pay for his five children to go to college.”

Buying something at the peak of it’s popularity is not a good investment scheme.

Joe

August 13th, 2013
11:32 am

No doubt the father didn’t have a clue the market was at its apex. So these puppies are only worth $1 now? Can I get $2 if it is in a plastic case with original tag? I had to have cases for all mine to protect my investment…

centrist

August 13th, 2013
1:08 pm

Sounds a little like my investment in Coca Cola in the late nineties. Bought high, stock tanked, sold low. I am the anti-Warren Buffet.

JF McNamara

August 13th, 2013
1:56 pm

So……..It’s a good time to buy Beanie Babies?

HS Mom

August 13th, 2013
2:43 pm

I’ve seen them given away at garage sales.

Prettypearlz

August 13th, 2013
3:33 pm

Momma use to spank us if we ripped the tags off, like we was throwin away money. My sista traded one for a knock off brand and she got a whoppin like I have nevr seen again! Good times thou, good times!

ABBYSENIA

August 13th, 2013
4:03 pm

Will they ever come back!? it’s like the cabbage patch craze of the 80’s! But I think some of them are still considered valuable! Crazy how people acted like that. Even if they did want to invest…they should’ve sold them as soon as they bought them…like concert tickets. it was a game of hot potato!

Really?

August 13th, 2013
4:07 pm

“Van West, a writer for several Beanie Babies magazines.”
——————————————

The fact that there were magazines to support this craziness shows the collateral damage from the fallout had to be very bad.

Crystal

August 13th, 2013
4:14 pm

I remember selling the armadillo beanie baby that I had for $40. The most expensive beanie baby was the Lady Diana bear. That could fetch up into the hundreds.

Bumper

August 13th, 2013
7:56 pm

Hard to put a price tag on the enjoyment the BBs brought to countless little kids back in the day. But as an investment, an item that the manufacturer can continue to produce ad infinitum in unlimited quantity is usually not going to soar in value.

worth something long after we are all dead

August 14th, 2013
11:43 am

give it about 100 yrs..then check market value..it never fails.

[...] Security Needed at McDonald’s in 1998 – August 13, 2013 George Mathis of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes a little bit of the rise and fall of Beanie Babies prices. Including the tidbit that in [...]

Donna Outlaw

August 18th, 2013
10:22 am

Two reasons helped cause the rapid decline in value – over-production of later styles and influx of fakes into the market, mainly via eBay. I sold my valuable ones just before the fall. I was one of ten chosen by Ty site members to be featured in Ty’s magazine (my username was Sugar Magnolia). It’s illegal to buy, sell, or possess a trademarked item and I recently saw an AJC article about a store raid for counterfeited items. Some think they aren’t hurting anyone but stealing is stealing and that’s what one is doing when buying a counterfeit item.

Donna Outlaw

August 18th, 2013
10:23 am

Also, Nana was actually the one that sold for the most money – one sold for $6500.