For many, the Beanie Babies craze of the ‘90s was a harsh lesson in bubble economics. Meaning, they bought the popular stuffed animals and looked to cash in as their value increased, only to see the market tank by the early 2000s.
But here’s the twist: There’s actually still a market for those cutely-designed plush creatures with names like Batty, Scoop and Bubbles — and by some accounts, it’s been heating up in recent years.
Buyers and sellers are seeing prices in the three and four digits for rare and in-demand Beanies. And some say examples going for $10,000-plus occasionally abound, as well.
“I’m bullish on the top-tier Beanie Babies. I feel like attention is back on them,” says Rob Petrozzo, founder of Rally Road, a collectibles investment platform.
Indeed, part of what’s prompting the new Beanie wave is the fact Hollywood has taken an interest in the toys. Just as there’s a hit Barbie movie (and a hot Barbie collectibles market), there’s now a Beanie Babies movie: Apple TV+ AAPL, +1.35% has just come out with “The Beanie Bubble,” a partly fictionalized account of just what its title says. The film stars Zach Galifianakis as Ty Warner, the toy-industry visionary whose privately-held company, Ty, was and is behind the Beanie brand.
The film comes following a documentary about the bubble — 2021’s “Beanie Mania” from HBO Max WBD, +4.07%. Plus, there’s Zac Bissonnette’s 2015 book, “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute,” which served as the basis for the Apple TV+ movie, with Bissonnette receiving a writing credit for the film.
Experts say it’s the same factor that’s likely driving both the media interest in Beanie Babies and the reawakened collectibles market. Namely, nostalgia.
Many who came of age during the ‘90s Beanie boom and were drawn to the toys are now rediscovering that passion, experts note. It also didn’t hurt that the pandemic gave people time to go through their attics and closets — and many Beanie collections that were put in boxes and tubs long ago were suddenly unearthed.
“Now you have tons of people asking what their Beanies are worth,” says Myca Jester, an Arkansas resident who collected Beanies as a child and is now active as an seller on eBay.
Dr. Lori Verderame, a well-known collectibles appraiser, says the Beanie market actually started to see values increase around 2017. If anything, she says prices have dropped since the onset of the pandemic because so many vintage Beanies came back on the market due to those attic finds. But Verderame says the Apple TV+ movie could create another spike.
“‘I’m bullish on the top-tier Beanie Babies. I feel like attention is back on them.” ”
What Beanies are in particular demand? While there’s no “holy grail” Beanie the way there is in other collectible categories — think the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card that can sell for millions of dollars — but there are several that stand out for one reason or another.
Obviously, the reason Beanies increased in value back in the ‘90s was because of the lack of availability — the toys were often “retired.” Ty Warner and his company “used the illusion of scarcity to drive the urgency around Beanie Babies,” as one Vox reporter described the situation.
A Ty representative told MarketWatch that any information about the company’s production numbers is “proprietary.” As for the new Apple TV+ movie, Ty Warner issued a statement that said, “I applaud the filmmakers for capturing the unprecedented energy and excitement — though not the facts — surrounding the original release of Beanie Babies 30 years ago. The movie is, by its own admission, partly fiction. But, like the filmmakers, I am in the business of dreams, and I admire their creative spirit.”
The most valuable Beanies today range from ones given to Ty employees to mark the company’s success — by nature, these were very limited in terms of release numbers — to others with production errors. And Beanies from the earliest days of the toy’s history — “first generation” Beanies, as they’re called by collectors — can have a premium.
Some newer Beanies can even draw attention from collectors — for example, the limited-edition 30th anniversary series that Ty has issued — with the hope they will appreciate in value over time.
There’s also the Princess bear Beanie that Ty released after the 1997 death of Princess Diana, with sales going to support a memorial fund tied to her. The bear was — and is — hugely popular as a collectible. But while some examples can be valuable, experts warn that the Beanie’s sheer ubiquity keeps it from becoming too pricey. Some sell for a couple of hundred dollars, others for well under a hundred.
Lest anyone get too caught up in Beanie mania again, those active in the market caution that most Beanies are worth very little — and if they’ve been played with or have suffered any damage while sitting in storage, their value is going to be even lower. It’s not unusual to find Beanies for as little as a buck, especially if they’re sold in large lots.
Those bargain Beanies may apparently be inspiring new people to come into the collectibles market. Dallas resident Rich Delorey, 25, has turned into an active Beanies seller — he, too, has a presence on eBay — after he purchased a lot of 200 for $200 a few years ago, and turned around and sold them for $600.
Delorey says he now sells individual Beanies anywhere from $3 to $3,500. His most memorable sale? He found a rare Peanut the Elephant Beanie at a flea market for $5 and later sold it for $2,000.
Jennifer Baum, a New York hospitality marketer, may have the best Beanie collectible story of all. Baum is hardly a fanatic for the toys. But in 2006, when she was working on the opening of a New York restaurant run by famed French chef Joël Robuchon in a hotel owned by Ty Warner, she got one of the teddy-bear Beanies produced for the occasion. And she’s held onto it through the years, storing it in a Mason jar.
This Beanie is now considered among the rarest of the rare, because so few were produced. Experts say it could easily sell for thousands of dollars.
But don’t count on Baum to be putting it up for bid anytime soon. After all, it’s a Beanie Baby, which means, well, it sparks a certain reaction.
“It’s really cute and I love it,” Baum says.