Beanie Babies are a range of stuffed toy animals produced by the American manufacturer Ty Inc. Within the range are a variety of animals, stuffed with plastic pellets rather than the traditional materials used for other stuffed toys such as teddy bears. The toys were launched in 1993 with a range of nine characters, and quickly became highly popular with children and collectors due to their variety and limited numbers.
Each character was available in a small range of colours, and the toys were only sold through smaller independent stores rather than large chain stores to limit their supply to the public. Other marketing strategies included only using a small amount of advertising to prevent consumers becoming bored too quickly, and producing characters for a certain period of time before ‘retiring’ them to ensure some were rare and hard to find.
The rarity of some Beanie Babies, combined with a large number of variations and their low price, led to a collecting boom during the mid 1990s and inspired numerous websites and publications (such as ‘Mary Beth's Bean Bag World’) dedicated to the hobby of collecting them.
The value of some ‘retired’ toys on the secondary collectors market led a large number of collectors to buy them as short-term investments, whilst others sought to collect the entire set (of which there were thousands of variations).
Today the rarity and value of each model is listed in the Beanie World Ultimate Buyer's Guide, printed in 1999.
Beanie Babies were created by toy designer Ty Warner and launched in 1993. Initially there were nine characters: Legs the Frog, Squealer the Pig, Spot the Dog, Flash the Dolphin, Splash the Whale, Chocolate the Moose, Patti the Platypus, Brownie the Bear (later renamed "Cubbie"), and Punchers the Lobster (later renamed "Pinchers"). Initially they were sold only through small specialty stores in Chicago, and in 1994 36 new characters were added to the range. The company also introduced a new hang tag on the toys, instantly making those with a first-generation tag more collectible.
In 1995 the toys were made available to stores nationwide, although the practice of only selling them through small novelty and gift shops remained. During this time the toys were not advertised in any way other than in stores, and a third-generation tag was also introduced for new characters.
In 1996 Warner set up a company website, which was immediately used by collectors to trade models, and began to officially announce the retirement of certain characters. The sales of Beanie Babies increased tenfold and Warner made over $250m in profit during 1996 alone.
Over the next three years a number of limited edition characters were produced, including several made specifically for foreign markets, and a deal with McDonalds produced two different sets of Teenie Beanies available as a promotional gift with Happy Meals.
In 1999 the company announced that they would be retiring the entire line, but an online vote by collectors led to them being re-released in 2000 with a new set of characters. The collecting boom had peaked in the late 1990s with some models selling for thousands of dollars, and although they were no longer considered a craze they remained relatively popular both as toys and with collectors despite falling prices on the secondary market. For several years new characters continued to be released and retired, including many limited-edition models.
On December 27, 2007, Ty made a massive retirement of its Beanie Baby line, retiring over 240 styles, leaving only licensed characters, key-clip versions of popular Beanie Baby styles, popular store exclusives and country exclusives as current. On January 2, 2008 they introduced a replacement line called Beanie Babies 2.0, which continues to this day.
The world’s most expensive Beanie baby
The world’s most expensive Beanie Baby is the Peanuts the Royal Blue Elephant model. A production error caused the first 2000 to be produced using a dark blue material instead of the intended light blue/grey colour, and these dark blue variations became instantly valuable on the secondary market. According to the Beanie World Ultimate Buyer's Guide, the toy is the most valuable of all the Beanie Baby characters and is worth approximately $4,500.