Remember the Beanie Babies? Peanut (a blue elephant), Lovie (a little lamb) and Cubbie (a Chicago bear) are just three of the beanbag animals highlighted in Zac Bissonnette’s strange, compelling book on the 1990s fad. Behind the Beanies was the meticulous, ambitious Ty Warner, a bizarre combination of wolf of Wall Street and master elf of Santa’s toy factory.
Warner comes vividly to life in The Great Beanie Baby Bubble through stories from his sister, two ex-girlfriends and dozens of former coworkers. Obsessed with the appearance of his plush cats, Warner plucked hairs around their eyes before trade shows so they could gaze at guests more persuasively. In fact, it was Warner’s obsession with detail that led to the strategy of “retiring” certain Beanies. As Warner tinkered with designs, changing a color from royal blue to light blue (as in Peanut’s case), Beanie collectors went into a frenzy to achieve a complete set. Readers will meet these collectors, from the first Chicago moms who made a killing, to the late arrivals, like a retired soap opera star who blew his children’s college fund on Beanie Babies.
When the market was rising, everyone—from Ty employees to shop owners to consumers—was exhilarated. The company had one of the first direct-to-consumer websites, which would announce upcoming retirees via a Beanie character who spoke in rhyme from the “Ty Nursery.” The secondary market went wild on a new website called eBay. But once the market bubble began to break, it broke hard. Bissonnette’s research into the history of speculative markets helpfully situates the Beanie phenomenon in a larger framework. The story is a Greek tragedy served with a brutal twist of American capitalism.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with author Zac Bissonnette.