Yesterday morning I started cleaning the basement. This would be no small task. It may even turn into a week-long project, as I rummage through bags of ancient Christmas presents, old clothes, old books, mementos, garden supplies, and evidence of our patronage to Costco. Our family has been living in this house for 30 some years and this basement was our storage room for important things, forgotten things, can’t-decide-whether-to-keep-sell-discard-or-donate things, and to summarize it all, miscellaneous things. This was the limbo of household items over the course of decades, and the process of organizing this space would unearth many bittersweet memories.
And it did.
I found among my own belongings – coloring books, jigsaw puzzles, my Sailor Moon collection, and of course, Beanie Babies! I could shrink away in embarrassment or I could blog about it for your entertainment. You can tell from the title, I chose the latter.
It must have been 1995 or 1996 when the craze infected the youth of America. Children begged their parents for not just one bean-filled plush toy, but another and then another and then another…By a stroke of marketing genius, each Beanie Baby was priced somewhere around $6 plus tax, affordable by many middle-class families. So it was insinuated that one Beanie wasn’t enough. You might as well get a few.
With a heart-shaped Ty tags displaying the name of the cute little critter and a character description written in verse, each miniature animal was imbued with a unique personality by the marketing gods working under Ty Warner. Soon, schoolyards across the nation would be populated by the likes of Peanut the Elephant and Freckles the Leopard.
This was around the time that I had reached the age of reason and Dad entrusted me with a monthly allowance. I felt proud to be given the opportunity to manage my own finances, and I stashed up quite a bit from that, plus birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions.
Yes, every child deserves to have toys.
But no, Beanie Babies weren’t just toys for precocious and intelligent children. Although I couldn’t say it in these exact terms back then, Beanie Babies served as a buffer against the economic uncertainties of the future. In other words, they were a long-term investment.
Shortly after the introduction of Beanie Babies, Ty Warner and his henchman deployed their next marketing tactic against us, vulnerable children. Scarcity. They created scarcity by limiting the production of certain Beanies. “Retired” was the term used to suggest a soon-to-be rare collectible.
By sheer logic, one should acquire as many Beanie Babies as possible, in the hopes that among theirs would be a very special retired Beanie, worth much more in the future.
At the same time, Ty began disseminating written propaganda to strengthen their campaign. Official books were published, describing the multitude of nuances in product design that rendered a Beanie rare or valuable, in addition to the projected value of Beanie Babies and the current value of retired ones.
It was inevitable that children began expounding the cuteness and the earnings potential of the Beanie. As a result, I and many others began taking measures to shield our investment by purchasing accessory items such as carrying cases and clear plastic covers to protect the heart-shaped tag from any wear and tear that would diminish its future returns.
So it followed, I allowed my savings to trickle into the Beanie fund. From what I could tell, the market for Beanies looked remarkably “bullish”. My classmates acquired their Beanies at a rate much greater than my own. Some people’s collections included 50 or more!
Never did it occur to me in my youth that Warren Buffett failed to invest in Beanie Babies (probably because I didn’t know who he was). Who needs gold, real estate, bonds, or what have you when there are Beanie Babies? A stock worth $5.99 per share with a ?-year target of $300 per share is surely a must buy.
But here’s the catch, gains are realized only if you had that one lucky Beanie and you found a willing buyer. And here is where the difference between stocks and Beanie Babies lie. To be more accurate in my case, Beanie Babies represented the intersection of the stock market and the lottery.
I was never a leading authority in Beanie Baby collectibles, nor am I one today. When I made my purchase as a child, I did so haphazardly. In that sense, it was a lottery for me. I never paid attention to the pellet type, the tush tag, fabric coloring, the lettering on the tags, etc. whereas other collectors may have performed extensive research prior to scouting for rare collectibles.
Peering down at the 6 Beanies that I managed to track down, I acknowledged the greater part of my collection (portfolio) remains hidden in the musty bowels of the cellar. Should I continue searching? I wondered.
So I did what any reasonable person in my position would do. I consulted Google for a plan of action and the almighty search engine brought me to conflicting information.
Some sites report there are decent online markets for Beanie Babies, but this sounded more like a myth, as many sellers trying to get rid of their mass produced Beanies struggle to find buyers.
A slew of frustrated Beanie owners were driven to donate their prized collection to charity because no buyers were willing to pay. It didn’t make sense to sell them online for a few cents because the shipping fees would not have made the trouble worth it. At least with donations, they were able to get a tax write-off.
On eBay, I even found someone trying to sell a collection of 300 Beanie Babies for $1, along with many others who put individual Beanies up for bid at a few cents, despite 0 bidders (the last time I checked).
I also found a site that buys your old Beanies and sells them for you. Judging from the retail prices, it looked like you would only be getting a fraction of the price you originally paid, for turning in your collection. When I checked the site again, it looked like the retailer is no longer buying back your old Beanies.
The internet had confirmed my worst fears: the Beanie Baby market had collapsed.
My preteen self may not have been intuitive enough to put the greater part of my money in a savings account, but I did gain some wisdom from the experience.
I still don’t know too much about investing, but here’s what I learned so far:
1. Diversify your portfolio. Don’t just buy Beanies, enough said. (I’ve explained enough already. Now it’s your turn to extrapolate some practical applications and universal truths from the famous saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”)
2. Children need to be given the freedom to make small mistakes and learn for themselves, to avert bigger mistakes in the future. I’m very grateful that Mom and Dad didn’t stop me from squandering on Beanies, although Dad did offer a few words of caution throughout those years, all of which I ignored.
As for the 6 Beanies I have located, the online price guides tell me they’re not worth as much as I had hoped. I don’t think I will commence a search for Mystic the Unicorn, but if I do find the rest of my collection, I should probably sell everything for $1 and let the story to end with capital loss.
CORRECTION: With regards to the eBay link, a clarification needs to be made. The seller on eBay has put 300 Beanie Babies up for sale. The price of each individual Beanie Baby is being sold at $1. Sorry, you can’t get 300 Beanie Babies for $1.