Beanie Baby mania A toy, after all: Planning for retirement? Better not depend on Quackers the wingless duck.

June 10, 1998

H. L. MENCKEN would have understood the Beanie Baby craze.

"No one in this world . . . has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people," he wrote in 1926. That was seven decades before grown people went berserk over a line of cute but otherwise unexceptional beanbag animals that retail for $5 and, in terms of materials and workmanship, are worth maybe half that.

McDonald's restaurants' current "Teeny Beanie" promotion is producing enough wasted Happy Meals to feed America's hungry. Through the Internet, Americans are spending absurd amounts -- hundreds, even thousands of dollars -- for such in-demand Beanies as the "Princess Bear," named in honor of the late Princess Diana, and coveted Beanie oddities such as a duck without wings. Little did the Chinese factory workers who made the goof know what havoc they would unleash.

As social phenomena go, this one is a little sad but mostly silly and generally harmless, as long as people don't start fighting over who gets the last Dobie dog. Sad, because Beanie Babies started out as a nice idea -- a simple collectible for children, cheap enough for them to buy with their allowance.

But then Ty Inc., the manufacturer, started retiring some models and rationing others. At that point, Beanies turned into an "investment." We've seen this before -- intrinsically worthless items temporarily rocketing in value because of manufactured shortages and faddish obsessions. A few years from now, we suspect many Beanies won't be worth beans, except as something for kids to play with.

Which, of course, is all they should have been in the first place.

Pub date: 6/10/98

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