If you've never come across Beanie Babies before, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they were just another squidgy range of toys favoured by kiddies in nappies. But that is not the case. Today, many a grown man will boast of his collection of Beanie Babies - not because he treasures the hours of playtime he spends with them, but because of the wads of cash they will one day earn him! Yes, these squidgy, bean-filled, brightly-coloured toys are worth big bucks in the collector's market. And it was like that right from the beginning...
When Ty Warner designed the first Beanie Baby in the early 90s, he decided to fill them with tiny pellets - a decision that made his creation stand out among the shelves of other cuddlies. The pellets gave the Beanies a pliable, robust feel (remember that same feeling of sitting in your first beanbag?), allowing children to throw them all over the place, achieving rather satisfying thuds when they'd hit the ground (or your little brother!). They were, in fact, unbreakable, and therefore bound to be a hit with parents everywhere.
Although the most popular Beanie Babies were bears, they came in all sorts of different animal varieties. The original nine Beanie Babies were released in 1993 and comprised of 'Legs' the Frog, 'Squealer' the Pig, 'Spot' the Dog, 'Flash' the Dolphin, 'Splash' the Whale, 'Chocolate' the Moose, 'Patti' the Platypus, 'Brownie' the Bear and 'Punchers' the Lobster.
Ty Warner then took the rather astute step (and one that would eventually turn him into a billionaire) of announcing on their release that they would soon be withdrawn from shelves. So, straightaway, these first nine Beanies were collector's items fuelled by the hysteria that goes hand in hand with a limited-edition label. Ty also wisely decided to keep advertisement for Beanie Babies to the bare minimum in the hope of creating a sense of anticipation among collectors who never knew what they were in store for next.
Stocked in only smaller toy stores and gift shops, each Beanie Baby came with a TY label attached, which collectors were encouraged to keep fastened. It's thought that the loss of this tag causes the value of the item to half! You could even purchase plastic protectors for the label. They are now so collectable that the first Beanie produced has fetched $8000 on the collector's circuit, despite only costing a few dollars to buy originally. Even McDonalds has cashed in on the Beanie Baby craze (like it did with the Muppet Babies) by releasing smaller versions called Teenie Babies with its Happy Meals. In 2008, Ty Warner introduced Beanie Babies 2.0, a new generation of the toy, which no doubt means the previous incarnations have risen in value once more.
It's thought that the rarest Beanie Baby to date is the dark-blue version of Peanut the elephant, made accidentally in 1995 (it was usually a light-blue colour). Nana the monkey is the second rareist, as its name was changed to Bongo, so anyone with the tag name Nana is onto a winner.
Some of the Beanie Babies have a rich history behind them, making them all the more desirable to collector's, and just that little bit interesting to anyone else. Take Princess the bear, for example. Released in 1997, all proceeds from her sales went to the Princess Diana of Wales Memorial Fund. Decade the bear, meanwhile, was produced in honour of the tenth anniversary of Beanie Babies.
Beanies are still popular - among children and their collector parents - and, despite a break in production in 1999 when fans petitioned for their return, are still being made. There are, after all, much worse things you could collect - and at least they don't take up much space. But if you are a fan yourself, just make sure your next Beanie is the real thing, as many rogue wannabes have sprung up since the 90s. Just contact a Beanie Authentication Service if you're not sure.