It was a late-millennium version of Tulip Mania: the sudden belief that Beanie Babies, mass-produced stuffed animals filled with plastic pellets, would rise enough in value to make them lucrative investments.
Lots of people were caught up in the craze, which lasted from late 1995 to 1999, but it's hard to imagine a family going further than the Robinsons of Los Angeles, who sunk $100,000 into the toys in hopes of funding three college educations. Chris Robinson has made a short documentary about his father's obsessive pursuit of Beanie-fueled profit, and its disastrous financial consequences, called "Bankrupt by Beanies."
"This is like admitting to a drug addiction," his father says at the start of the film, over footage of boxes and boxes stacked high and labeled with their stuffed animal contents. "You want to forget it."
In an interview with Dazed Digital, Robinson recalled how his family's descent into compulsive Beanie-collecting began: with his then-6-year-old brother's desire to buy one, and "some idiot's" advice to their father that the toys "were 'valuable' and 'collector's items.'"
Robinson explains the fad as the product of collusion by merchants and savvier collectors:
I think the biggest factor for us was the network of shop owners and collectors and how they seemed to work together to create this mythology behind the company and their release schedule. My father bought into everything these people were telling him about how valuable they were going to be and how exclusive some of them were, and he passed that along to us and created this excitement in our family about what we were doing.
Weirdly, the Robinsons never actually tried to sell their Beanie Babies. They seem instead to have attempted a buy-and-hold strategy, before realizing (too late) that the price had collapsed.
They then packed the toys away, maintaining some vague hope that the value of their investment might rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of Ty Inc.'s decision to stop making its signature product in August 1999 (a failed attempt to drive declining prices back up).
"I'm mostly just apathetic to them at this point," Chris Robinson says. "I see the whole time period as one of bonding with my family, despite it being an extraordinary waste of money that would have been better spent on pretty much anything else."
As Shakespeare asked in "Troilus and Cressida," perhaps ironically, "What is aught, but as 'tis valued?"
[H/T: Mail Online]