What is a beanie baby?
A beanie baby is one of a collection of small animal toys, stuffed with polyurethane beads, that were created by Ty Warner and his company, Ty Inc. Although his company was founded in 1986, it was not until 1993 that the first set of nine beanie babies was created. These beanies were called Brownie (a brown bear), Chocolate (a moose), Flash (a dolphin), Legs (a frog), Patti (a Platypus), Pinchers (a lobster), Splash (a black Orca whale), Spot (a dog) and Squealer (a pink pig).
These original beanies are now highly collectable and sort after, and sell for much more than their original $5 (approx £3) purchase price.
The beanie phenomenon continued apace - beanies were collected by adults and children alike. Although beanies were mass produced, they were only available in limited supplies initially - indeed some designs remained very limited - creating panic buying by ardent collectors who couldn't bare to have any gaps in their collections.
Ultimately, the beanie baby bears became the most collectable and sort after beanies and were more likely to appear as limited editions and country exclusives.
Is it still hard to get beanie babies?
There are still some very rare limited edition beanies and country exclusives which are difficult and / or expensive to obtain. However, the beanie baby craze has all but disappeared and many beautiful beanies can be purchased at less than the retail price - in the UK the retail price of a beanie baby is around £5.99, with a beanie buddy being slightly more expensive at £11.99. It is not unusual now to see beanies and buddies highly reduced in pound shops and the like, which can be quite distressing for collectors who have spent a lot of money on their collections.
However, the up side is that they are still lovely quality toys and they can now be enjoyed by more people than before, and enjoyed by children as toys instead of being protected as a museum piece.
What is the significance of the swing tag and the tush tag?
Each beanie baby has a swing tag attached to it via a piece of red plastic, and a tush tag sewn to its, er, tush. The design of the swing tag indicates what generation the beanie baby is from. The condition of the swing tag is crucial to an avid collector, and so many collectors buy special "tag protectors" - clear plastic protectors that snap into position around the tag and so preventing it being creased or damaged in any way. The tush tag contains the name opf the beanie, and safety and washing instructions. It also needs to be in good condition - some people even buy tush tag protectors although this is less common. The more recent beanie babies have holograms on their tush tags in an effort to stop beanies being faked by unscrupulous dealers.
Faked? Are some beanies not original?
Some of the rarer beanies can sell for anything from £50 to £5000 - they are cheap to make and unscrupulous manufacturers, many based in the far east, have indeed faked them, in the same way as they fake designer handbags etc. To an experienced collector there are ways in which fakes can be distinguished from originals, not limited to but including: swing tag or tush tag of incorrect generation, printing faults, errors in the text, incorrect colours; or on the toy itself - incorrect spacing of the eyes, an overstuffed head, colours on beanie not right and incorrect stitching.
I want to start collecting. Where can I buy them and find more information?
All releases past and present, plus further information and news on what's happening in the future, can be found on the TY website.