n July of 1999, I traveled with my family to Tenby, Wales. The town is said to be picturesque, but I have no memory of its scenery—except for a small toy store we passed on our drive in. As soon as we settled into our hotel, my sister and I begged our father to trek to the shop and search for the Britannia Beanie Baby, sold exclusively in the United Kingdom. The Britannia bear wasn’t just a toy, we explained; it was an investment, projected to be worth thousands of dollars within a decade. Our father capitulated and bought us each a Britannia bear, which we dutifully kept in mint condition with the tag intact, reveling in its rarity while dreaming of the day it would be a hugely valuable collector’s item.


I wanted this to be a better article.

    Bubbles are quite common, but bubbles over toys are not. Why did America lose its mind over stuffed animals?

In my own lifetime:

- The Cabbage Patch Riots

- Rubik's Cube craziness

- Pound puppy preposterousness

- Elmo Mania

So yes. Definitely a bubble. Debatable: something special.

    But Bissonnette’s book is disappointingly short on psychological explanations for why Americans were eager to shell out at least hundreds of millions of dollars for rather conventional toys.

That's because the reasons were largely economic.

Plenty of people have bought toys for financial reasons. A family friend of my wife's basically used toys and baseball cards for his retirement fund; every time he bought his son a toy, he bought two copies, one for the kid, one for the garage. No idea how much he spent on toys, but his widow sold the lot for over $90k in 2010. Cabbage Patch Dolls were the subject of ridiculous amounts of archiving for financial gain; in 3rd grade we were making fun of people with garages full of Cabbage Patch Dolls because we knew lots of people with garages full of Cabbage Patch Dolls. I, myself, stole 40lbs of baseball cards from a deadbeat heroin addict that stole half my CDs and all my guitar pedals to pawn for smack. Unfortunately, heroin addicts are lousy assessors of collector value and I myself am not much better; after hanging on to the albatross for eight years I reconciled myself to the fact that all the cards were from the period when everyone was collecting baseball cards and therefore, the collection was worth roughly its weight in shredded newspaper.


There was something special about Beanie Babies, and that special thing was eBay.

Pierre Omidyar was a Beanie Baby collector. There weren't any places on the Internet to trade Beanie Babies. There were lots of auction sites, but most of them were for specialty products - OnSale auctioned computer shit, Sam Ash had a site for musical instruments, etc. All of them were run like normal, non-stupid auctions but all of them required a bit more attention paid to their products because who would bother auctioning off one fucking $10 item? So eBay was created as a place to auction off cheap, worthless shit like Beanie Babies, which gave Beanie Baby collectors a chance to gouge each other on Beanie Babies, which increased the perceived value of Beanie Babies, which made Pierre Omidyar rich because 3% of $5k is a shit-ton of money to make just for having a server with a picture of a Beanie Baby and a clock.

Which invited all these crazy stuffed toy collectors to fuck each other over in the name of "commerce" which made eBay mushroom in size despite the fact that it was far and away the worst auction site on the Internet (early eBay was a catastrophe - whereas on Sam Ash's site I could search for "Roland TB-303" eBay had a category for "musical instruments" and the only way to browse it was by auction number). Which brought in the hungry dot.com idiots to throw money at eBay to guarantee that it would be the only auction site anyone ever bothered with ever again because it gave sharks a way to profit off of hucksters who thought a beanbag with a face would be worth five grand forever.

    (The total spent on Beanie Babies is unclear because ever-secretive Warner refused to release his company’s earnings.)

Which doesn't even matter because obviously secondary markets matter a lot more. If you refuse to sell a Beanie Baby for more than $5 but some schlep on the Internet can sell the same toy for $5k, Ty's stake in the game is pretty much irrelevant. at one point, more than 6 percent of all sales were for Beanie Babies.

    All this theorizing may sound like so much argle-bargle. But the meat of Tuckett and Taffler’s thesis builds on a famous theory of bubbles by renowned economist Charles Kindleberger.

Yes, economic theory is "argle bargle."

    According to Kindleberger, every bubble has four basic stages: a grand new development that shocks the market; “euphoria” over that development; a sudden “boom” in sales and speculation; and, eventually, panic when the bubble bursts.


- 1) Displacement. Something new under the sun. Early adopters buy in.

- 2) Boom. Everyone watches the early adopters and want some too, even though they don't know why.

- 3) Euphoria. People who have no idea what investment means figure anybody can do it and make money, so they should, too.

- 4) Crisis. Suddenly the world figures out that Beanie Babies are worth $5.

- 5) Revulsion. Everyone gets pissed off at how much money they lost on Beanie Babies and Beanies (and all things like Beanies) become effectively radioactive.

Here's the thing - People who bought into Beanie Babies aren't "Special Little Flowers." They're economic idiots who bought something they didn't want because they figured everyone else was stupider than they were and there would always be some moron willing to pay more for what they bought than what they paid for it. That doesn't make them subjects of documentary, that makes them typical market participants.

There's plenty to be said about Beanie Babies - eBay became the auction site because of Beanie Babies the way Mt. Gox became the Bitcoin place because of Magic:The Gathering. But this article doesn't say any of that.

posted by thenewgreen: 1622 days ago