Opinion By: Paul Schifferli
Editors Note: This article is by Paul Schifferli. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
If there was ever a line of toys that could have been considered a “toy gold standard”, it would be Beanie Babies. Or to be more accurate, it WAS Beanie Babies. It’s common knowledge now that Beanie Babies are basically valueless. Even the rarest of Beanie Babies doesn’t even command HALF of its listing price that it had during the heyday of Beanie Babies.
In today’s market, the closest thing we have to Beanie Babies is Funko Pops. Granted, they have not commanded anywhere near the craze that Beanie Babies had, but they are the closest thing. Toys and Collectibles have always been a valuable market for opportunist, or as we collectors like to call them, “scalpers”, but few toy lines have outright created scalpers quite like Beanie Babies. Interestingly, Beanie Babies are among the first, if not THE first scalped toys, as during the very early years of eBay, Beanie Babies were among the most popular items on the auction website, and it can be argued that eBay would not be the massive corporation it is today without the success of Beanie Babies. Unlike most toy lines, which get some dedicated scalpers that are in many instances, collectors themselves; Beanie Babies became such a craze that regular working parents that had no interest in toys beyond what toys their children liked, began to seek these tiny $5 plush toys out, in the hopes that they would be striking gold.
But what created such a craze for such plain, if admittedly cute little plush toys.
Well, interestingly, at first, Beanie Babies weren’t successful at all. They were lost in a veritable sea of a plush market, that was already not exactly doing the best business, when you consider the big toy lines it had to compete with at the time such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Barbie, and many others. What eventually made Beanie Babies stand out from the pack was the simple act of “retiring” some of the product, which caused a sudden interest in the product. The most popular example of this was a royal blue elephant called Peanut. According to Beaniepedia, Peanut was not meant to be royal blue and only a small number of these were made, and was retired after only three months of production, and was quickly replaced with a light blue version, which was the color Peanut was supposed to be.
Because of this very sudden rarity, Peanut became an icon for the Beanie Baby secondary market, and had been known to go for as high as $7,000. Despite being retired early due to a production error, the success of the royal blue Peanut translated to the entire franchise as a whole. People would buy up every single new Beanie Baby in the hopes that one or more of these little plushies would be another goldmine. And some of those Beanie Babies DID become popular and gain ridiculous resale value, simply due to their scarcity over people snatching them up the moment they found them. And some of them actually became more valuable than Peanut, such as Claude the Crab, Valentino the Bear, Iggy the Iguana, etc. Most of these gained their extra value from production errors, such as misspelled words on the tags. Of course, there was one Beanie Baby that stood out among the pack, even against the likes of Peanut. And this was Princess the Bear. Princess was released to commemorate the death of Princess Diana, and collectors and scalpers alike jumped on the toy, expecting it would be highly valuable (and it was). There have been reported auctions of Princess being listed for $500,0000 (although there are no instances of it selling for that much.) To this day, some people are trying to sell Princess for thousands of dollars on eBay. However, they have no bids, and no prospects of moving, because as is common knowledge, the economic bubble of Beanie Babies burst. Now, most Beanie Babies have next to no value, and not even the rarest ones command anywhere near the prices they sold for during those few years in the early 90’s.
So, why is this called A Comparison of Beanie Babies and Funko? Well, quite simply, because both toy lines primarily exist (or existed) for their resale purpose, but it was never their intended purpose. Ty Warner, the creator of Beanie Babies, was notably passionate about plush toys, and before forming his own company, he worked for a now defunct plush company called Dakin. He had a reputation at Dakin as an incredible salesman, and was quite eccentric. According to an article in Chicago Magazine, Ty Warner would, by his own admission, turn up to sales calls in a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, wearing a fur coat, top hat, and carrying a cane. His belief was that by appearing eccentric (and apparently eccentric means looking like a Plush Toy Pimp), the retailers would be naturally more interested in the product he had to sell. And evidently, he was right, as he was one of Dakin’s best salesmen.
Eventually, Ty was fired from Dakin for selling his own plush in competition with Dakin, while still working for the company. After leaving the company, he formed his own plush company, which made a few standard plush toys that quickly faded into obscurity before he hit upon the craze that was Beanie Babies. But the point is, Ty Warner did not create Beanie Babies with the intention of them becoming highly- sought after collector’s items. He wanted them to be successful, but with children. He wanted them to be toys that children would cherish and love. In fact, Ty reportedly was unhappy with what Beanie Babies had become, of course it was mainly due to the fact that the craze to collect these little plushies resulted in hundreds of counterfeits, which Ty. Inc pursued aggressively with legal threats, and even encouraged children to report fakes online at the Ty. Inc website.
The thing is, Funko Pops have an eerie similarity to Beanie Babies. They are highly sought after due to their resale value, and like Beanie Babies, they were not intended to be some form of toy “gold standard." Funko Pops were meant to be easy to collect inoffensive novelty toys, the kind that no one would bat an eye at if you saw them on a desk in a cubicle. Their simple appearance and low price point made them highly appealing to people that would not consider themselves as collectors. In essence, Funko Pops were simply meant to be a little piece of decoration.
Interestingly, the first bobblehead made by Funko was the mascot from the Big Boy restaurants. The thing is, Funko founder Mike Becker was looking for a Big Boy coin bank, and found he was unable to locate one for a reasonable price. So, he did what any collector would do in that predicament- he founded his own toy company and acquired the license for Big Boy restaurants, and made a line of Big Boy coin banks. As one might expect, the coin banks sold poorly, and Funko nearly went bankrupt. However, they managed to stave off the tide of debt and bounced back by creating little bobbleheads that now litter your Gamestops and Hot Topics. The first successful product by Funko was a pop of Austin Powers, which according to Wikipedia, sold 80,000 units. From there, Funko has never looked back, sweeping up as many licenses as they can get their hands on.
What set Funko Pops down the road of “toy prospecting”, or scalping, if you prefer, was when they began to release store exclusives and convention exclusives. These began to go for phenomenal amounts of money on auction websites like eBay, and many Funko collectors began to literally hoard these little statues for their potential resale value. Most Funko Pops that have any real value are the exclusives. But there are some older Pops, that have not been reissued that have some decent value. There are two big differences between Funko and Beanie Babies though. The first and biggest difference is that Funko has fully embraced their reputation of Pops being a product to be bought primarily for the resale value. There are countless Funko exclusives, not to mention certain Funko which are only sold in other countries, such as popular French comic book characters Asterix and Obelix have Funko Pops that were only sold on the European market, and several of Osamu Tezuka’s characters (such as Astro Boy, Black Jack, Princess Sapphire, etc.) have been made into Funko Pops exclusively for the Asian markets.
The other major difference between Funko and Beanie Babies is that Funko has never achieved anywhere near the craze that Beanie Babies had. Funko Pops have caused some minor upsets, such as a man in Florida following a customer and his mother into a Target parking lot and assaulted them to steal the Target Exclusive Twinkie the Kid Funko Pop. But that is basically the worst that has come from the Funko craze. Whereas Beanie Babies have been involved in divorce court assets, hoarders going bankrupt, people breaking into homes just to steal Beanie Babies, Beanie Babies being found on the scene of organized crime arrests, and even outright murder.
That’s right, in 1999, in West Virginia, Jeffrey White shot and killed security guard Harry Simmons outside of a Hallmark store. Apparently the two had a dispute over hundreds of dollars of Beanie Babies that Simmons had loaned to White to start a Beanie Baby trading business.
So, what does this tell us? Well, it tells us that the collectible market is extremely fickle, and perhaps scalpers should truly take that into account before they rush to buy out the stock of whatever the most popular toy is. If Beanie Babies has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that toys on a secondary marketplace is not a safe business investment. It is never going to make you rich, and when you factor in sales tax and gas costs to hunt for said toys, the profit you make off a scalped toy is negligible. Toys should be left to the people that love them: Children and collectors.