In the annals of consumer crazes, nothing compares to Beanie Babies. In just three years, collectors who saw the toys as a means of speculation made creator Ty Warner, an eccentric college dropout, a billionaire–without advertising or big-box distribution. Beanie Babies were ten percent of eBay’s sales in its early days, with an average selling price of $30–six times the retail price. At the peak of the bubble in 1999, Warner reported a personal income of $662 million–more than Hasbro and Mattel combined.The end of the craze was swift and devastating, with “rare” Beanie Babies deemed worthless as quickly as they’d once been deemed priceless.Bissonnette draws on hundreds of interviews (including a visit to a man who lives with his 40,000 Ty products and an in-prison interview with a guy who killed a coworker over a Beanie Baby debt) for the first book on the strangest speculative mania of all time. (Summary via Amazon.com)
As a 90s kid, I remember fairly clearly the time when Beanie Babies seemed to take over the world. I still have several well-loved Beanies in my stuffed animal collection, including a few of the Teenie Beanies given in McDonald’s Happy Meals for a time. I owned a Beanie Baby cookbook, filled with cute pictures of Beanies, poems like the ones inside Beanie tags, and a wildly outdated price guide. I even remember my grandmother giving me and my sister a couple of Beanies complete with tag protectors, telling us to take good care of them and hold on to them because they would be worth a lot in the future. So when I read the subtitle of this book–“Mass delusion and the dark side of cute”–I knew I had to read it.
The author, Zac Bissonnette, was himself a 90s kid, and he dives into the strange world of Ty with gusto. Although unable to get an interview with Ty Warner himself (apparently, Warner has only given out one interview despite the wild success of his Beanie Babies, and that interview was later shown to be full of half-truths and flat-out lies), Bissonnette interviews many of the people associated with the company during the height of Beanie mania, from Warner’s sister to his girlfriends to his managers.
If you remember Beanie mania with fondness, you may not want to read this book. It delves deeply into the psychological hang-ups of Ty Warner, the founder, as well as the cold calculation that led to the “retirement” of Beanie Babies, the original “investors” who made millions flipping Beanie Babies on eBay–as well as the many would-be investors who came too late.
There was something very unsettling about reading this book. It makes the reader face the dark side of any fad–in this case, the greed and naivete that made this children’s toy the domain of crazed adults. I found it fascinating, and I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. I definitely recommend this book to any 90s kid who wants to learn more about how Beanie Babies took over the world, making millions of dollars for those in charge, and how they crashed spectacularly afterward.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good