Beanie Baby

Beanie BabyOh, how sad!” I inwardly gasped, brought up short on my daily walk.

There at my feet was a bit of dirty orange plush. It looked like it had been run over by a truck. One leg was missing entirely; white fluff spilled out from what was left of an arm: A beanie baby bear, lying face down on the asphalt.

Briefly, my empathy flitted to the forlorn child, the parents desperate to soothe, placate, substitute, bribe—anything to stop the wailing. I remembered the sleepless nights of misplaced lovies, the routes retraced until we found Sock Monkey or Pink Doggy, or whoever else had escaped unnoticed from my daughters’ clutches.

Mostly, though, I was horrified by how far this particular orange bear had fallen from its original pristine condition. Back in the late 1990s, Beanie Babies were not supposed to be the victims of botched surgeries performed by aspiring veterinarians, or sacrificed in the service of sibling torment. They were not supposed to lie on the ground getting dirty. In many families, they were not even supposed to be played with at all!

It didn’t start out this way. When Beanie Babies first appeared, they were just cute plush toys that cost five bucks. I didn’t care what my daughters did with theirs, as long as I didn’t break my neck tripping over them on the stairs.

Then things went a little crazy.

Thanks to a clever marketing strategy of “retiring” beloved characters, scarcity drove up demand. People willing to pay anything spent hours tracking down the elusive creatures, convinced their value would skyrocket. One man made national news when he bought $100,000 worth of Beanie Babies, gambling that their ever-increasing value would put his kids through college.

Suddenly, Beanie Babies became not a child’s favorite cuddle buddy, but investments. To protect their assets, people bought heart-shaped plastic covers to place over the manufacturer’s label (the very same label that in saner times would have been removed as a choking hazard). Truly zealous collectors entombed each Beanie Baby in a special acrylic box. Kids could forget about playing with their Beanies, since they couldn’t be trusted to keep them in mint condition.

Skepticism and a reputation as a tightwad inoculated me (and thus my kids) from all but the mildest case of Beanie Baby fever. Still, we occasionally were part of the grapevine of kids and mothers alerting one another to a rare Beanie sighting at some far-flung store. I confess to rushing out and paying $13.00 for a floppy-eared bunny rumored to be worth more because its tag had a misprint. During the Princess Di craze, when all the shelves were stripped bare of royal purple bears, my girls and I were overjoyed when the clerk dug out an overlooked one from the storeroom. (I was even more overjoyed when she didn’t jack up the price beyond the $20 retail “value.”)

Eventually, the bubble burst and my daughters grew up. Now there is a giant box of gently used Beanie Babies stowed high on a closet shelf. They’re awaiting future grandchildren, not a market rebound. Sadly, the Beanies were useless for college tuition, possibly because the unprotected but still-affixed labels showed a little too much wear and tear.

Not as much wear and tear, however, as the bedraggled orange bear I’d stumbled across on my recent walk. As I looked down at the heap of soiled plush at my feet, I thought of The Velveteen Rabbit, whose shabbiness was an emblem of how well-loved he was.

I imagined again the bereft child whose beloved orange friend had gone missing.

Then I pondered further on the time when kids were deprived of the chance to love someone to decrepitude because we encased their Beanies in plastic and put them out of reach.


Were you or your kids afflicted with Beanie Baby Fever?.Memories from that time?