25 Years On, What Was Behind The Bizarre Success Of Ty’s Beanie Babies?

A child in the Nineties? You either had one or wanted one.

Beanie Babies

by grazia |
Updated on

When I was in primary school, implicit divisions ran riot. There were cliques of pretty girls who would spent their lunchbreaks performing Spice Girls covers for the homosexual teaching assistant. Tough boys with a love of playing British bulldog and Manchester United. The quiet, nice kids who would hang out with the dinner ladies. Children were ostracised for being camp, unintelligent or explicitly poor, but also for wearing the wrong headband or being the first to have their period. But there was something that had the power to raise you up as a person worthy of attention: something that didn’t necessarily make you cool, but certainly gave you a gimmick: a Beanie Baby collection.

It has been 25 years since Beanie Babies first became a sensation. While they were actually created in 1993, a work of marketing genius in the tail end of 1995 turned them into a must-have. When Lovie, a stuffed lamb from Ty’s non-Beanie collection, had to be discontinued, there was a small uproar. People loved their little white sheep, and were livid to discover that Lovie would no longer be available. So, rather than confess that the lamb was disappearing because of supply issues, Ty told shops that Lovie was being retired. Those who already had one were thrilled that they were lucky enough to have snapped up the sheep in time. For those sad to have missed out forever, Lovie became a unicorn, an unreachable goal, an object of true desire. Sensing this shift in the way consumers viewed the product, Ty began retiring their Beanie Babies on purpose. It created mass hysteria in the toy world.

Suddenly, obtaining the latest Beanie Baby became a matter or urgency. Collectors emerged, who dedicated their lives to finding and buying every offering. The menagerie of animals on offer increased, and demand soared. Rabbits. Horses. Turtles. Elephants. Even lobsters. And, of course, the classic bear, in a range of different colours and commemorative editions, like the Princess Diana memorial bear sold in 1997.


14 Things We Still Want From The 1999 Argos Catalogue

easy bake oven argos1 of 14

1. Easy Bake Oven

What says a young girl con­strained by the gen­der­ing of their sex more than a des­per­ate de­sire to be the sole pro­pri­etor of a kitchen tool?

discman argos2 of 14

2. Discman

SO high-tech for 1999.

the way things worked argos3 of 14

3. The Way Things Worked

You knew you were a cool kid when you had this se­ries be­fore the school li­brary did.

pocahontus costume argos4 of 14

4. Pocahontas Costume

In the woke light of today, it's a no.

frosty ice cream argos5 of 14

5. Mr Frosty Ice Cream Factory

Never trust a child that makes their own ice.

Baby born argos6 of 14

6. Baby Born

On re­flec­tion, what was pos­si­bly fun about hav­ing a doll that con­stantly needed feed­ing and then weed every­where?

CD Stereo Argos7 of 14

7. CD Stereo

On re­flec­tion, it makes sense why our par­ents would­n't buy us a portable ra­dio, be­cause re­ally what self-re­spect­ing adult can lis­ten to B*Witched blar­ing at top vol­ume all hours of the day?

themed bedsheets argos8 of 14

8. Themed Bedsheets

Mak­ing sleep­overs bet­ter since 1999.

polly pocket argos9 of 14

9. Polly Pocket Mansion

Fact: Polly Pocket had a nicer house than any­thing avail­able on Help To Buy.

gameboy argos10 of 14

10. GameBoy

More ad­vanced than an elec­tronic Dis­ney game, less hard­core than a PlaySta­tion. Oth­er­wise known as the dream.

cosmetics argos11 of 14

11. Cosmetics Collection

It's su­per creepy for a child to have a big­ger make-up col­lec­tion than me, a 28-year-old beauty ed­i­tor.

play till argos12 of 14

12. Play Till

Who else learnt ba­sic arith­metic on one of these fake tills?

spinning sindy argos13 of 14

13. Spinning Sindy

Se­ri­ously, what was more fun than a doll that could also be used as a weapon?

Educational Electronics argos14 of 14

14. Educational Electronics

When we were young enough to be fooled into think­ing that learn­ing could be fun as long as it came with an elec­tronic ac­ces­sory.

Mania was at its highest in America, but the UK was not immune. Even in the small Welsh town in which I grew up, Beanie Babies were a staple in every school. Several girls in the class brought in their modest collections, brandishing them in the playground, comparing each other’s haul. They focused on their cuteness, on how Ty’s approach to stuffing (much less than usual plush toys) made them pliant and soft. But they also seemed to treat them as more than toys: they were perceived as nest eggs. They were petted carefully, with clean hands. They were passed around with great care. The distinctive red, white and yellow tag had to remain intact. That way, they would be worth thousands one day, thanks to their limited numbers and eventual, looming retirement.

The children – mostly, but not exclusively girls – treated them like treasures to be cherished. There was something naïve about the whole operation, but also rather sweet: we - my Beanie Baby-owning peers and I – had long moved beyond the age of carrying around teddy bears and dolls. But, at the same time, we clearly weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to childhood yet. Secondary school loomed. Perhaps, on some level, these Babies were our transition toy, something we could bill as heirlooms or investments, rather than what they truly were: just sweet, cuddly toys.

It was all for nothing, of course. They did not accrue value. The average vintage Beanie Baby is worth no more than the original purchase. Very rare or famous toys – that Diana bear, for example – may get you £30, if you’re lucky, and there is one on eBay right now with a current top bid of 99p. There will be many a middle-aged man or woman who will look back at their hysteria and regret the passion and religious-like fervour with which they approached their collections. But for people my age – those who were primary school children when they became a must-have – they are still something special. Once upon a time, before we grew up and life got complicated, a simple stuffed bear made us feel invincible.

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