A Beanie Baby Birthday

by Arch Anderson | 12 Jun 2024

Industry Commentary, Op-Ed

The little stuffed animals that saw us through Y2K are back! Get in the Ford Taurus and join Arch on a nostalgic safari through his local gift shops.


In the late 1990s, Beanie Babies entered the public consciousness with an intensity untouched by today’s drinking vessel trends. Linda Triveldi may not have realized it at the time, but she perfected a formula by bringing these plush creatures to life with little poems and giving them an official home on the internet. Ty Warner, the toy line’s creator, pulled the strings of scarcity to make these plush toys ascend from a simple novelty to one of the most celebrated toys of all time. 


And he’s at it again.


Admittedly, I’m pretty late to the party. The anniversary event featured a contest tie-in that encouraged fans to “stay in the hunt” and post about it on TikTok. One lucky cash winner was chosen each week until the end of 2023. I missed my chance to win $1000 by doing what I do best: Nosing around different stores to check in on the toy section to see what’s new. Which is exactly what I was doing the other day at my local Hallmark Store when I saw the rotating tower of stuffed toys from Ty. The familiar red heart sign at the top of the display boasted with a bright yellow starburst, “Beanie Babies are BACK!” 


To their credit, the company and the Beanie Baby line never really went away - the iconic plush toys have been consistently re-imagined over the years for new generations of kids who covet unicorns of all kinds, big bobble heads, glittery eyes, and neon colors. Complicated sewing patterns and sitting poses make them resemble small soft sculptures. 


Keeping up with the times has involved compromise. The heart tag that was once an emblem promising a cute critter and blank canvas for imaginative play is now host to an extensive lineup burdened by the baggage of IP, copyrights, and characters. This isn’t Flip the cat whose manufacturer-issue personality begins and ends at doing flips and being a cat, leaving the door wide open to a world of potential. This is Mickey Mouse, son of Walter Elias Disney and heir to a global media empire. He comes with a Chosen One narrative that you cannot change for his exploits have been documented in texts and on screens big and small. His story is not yours to tell, Jimmy.


Today, however, there were some old friends peering from the topmost basket. Peanut the Elephant and Squealer the Pig were there. They’re faithfully patterned after the original Beanie Baby characters who shared the same names, but this time they’d been rendered in hyper-soft short-pile minky faux fur. Original Beanie Babies were made of a velvety fabric that would pill up in the loving hands of a child and quickly become what the kids today, I believe, would call “scrunkly.” 


The product revival is exciting on its own, but the distribution method is equally important to capturing the whimsy of that bygone era. Unlike contemporary offerings from Ty, you can’t find these special edition re-releases at Walmart or direct from Amazon. Even Ty’s own website encourages its visitors to “go on a treasure hunt.” The hunt for these particular throwback Beanie Babies will send you to independent toy stores, local bookstores, Hallmark franchises, and shopping center gift shops - old haunts that will remind you of the thrill of that late-90s chase and send you home smelling like potpourri. 


Beanie Babies may be “back,” but this comes with the implication that they will eventually be taken away, or “retired.” In the 1990s, Ty Warner leveraged this reality of manufacturing and scheduling into a significant and effective motivator for collectors. Simply stating publicly on Ty’s website that some characters would no longer be available ignited the fanbase to snatch up every little critter they could find. Everybody wanted a piece of it. At the trend’s peak, home shopping channels were offering retired Beanie Babies at astronomical markups. That excitement famously cooled down rapidly at the turn of the century. 


Curious about this anniversary promotion, I checked online to see which other characters had been re-released. Then I saw Amber II: an orange and white tiger-striped cat. This particular version strays from the original Amber’s pattern: Instead of using the “standing up” pattern with stiff legs that liked to awkwardly sprawl to the sides, the new Amber has the endearing flat and floppy form factor sported by the earliest Beanie Babies. 


I struck out in all of my local shops but eventually was forced to resort to eBay just like the Beanie Baby prospectors of old. Amber II soon arrived at my doorstep. I admired its beady little black eyes which were trimmed all around in green to form a classic color combo with its sunny orange and yellow fabric. I folded it up onto itself and gave it a playful toss into the air and listened to the gentle rustle of its namesake plastic pellets.


It’s a pleasant little object. In the constant din of today’s algorithm-driven world we forget that sometimes that’s all it takes to become a beloved and legendary toy. 


Arch Anderson is the Art and Graphic Design Manager at Cephalofair Games and a huge fan of what happens at the intersection of creativity and constraints. His favorite Beanie Baby growing up was Chocolate the Moose. Or maybe it was Nanook the Husky? Oh, then there’s Velvet the Panther, what a classic. Oh! And Chip the Cat. Anyway, you can see what Arch is up to at archxilla.com!


beanie babies plush nostalgia 1990s 2000s anniversary ty ty inc

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