Beanie Baby: Everyone remembers the frenzy that grabbed everyone from small children to grown men.
The craze swept right around the globe during the 1990s. All because of small, stuffed animals with cutsie names. With poems attached to some tags and even birthdays ascribed to each one. One even came in the form of a “princess bear,” released not long after Princess Diana’s death in 1997.
They were called Beanie Babies, and if you didn’t have one, you wanted one. And if you got one for a birthday or Christmas you wanted more.
The child’s teddy became the ultimate in silly fads, but their value rocketed skyward because the little creatures were considered so sweet. Adults collected them as feverishly as children did, and their monetary value began to climb – and climb, and climb.
By the time the Beanie Baby craze faded, people across the world had spent hundreds. In some cases thousands. Just to get their hands on little stuffed animals with vacant expressions.
It is a short leap from all consuming passion to criminal enterprise, and the latter gripped Beanie Baby owners like Capone did drinkers during Prohibition.
Some forgers got into the business of making fake babies. One man ended up killing someone who was his rival for a prized Beanie. One couple (in California, naturally) fought for custody of their collection of Beanie Babies.
They laid their collection on the floor in front of a judge. The judge couldn’t quite believe grown adults were warring over these things. That may have been the nadir of the American craze.
The divorcing couple couldn’t agree on how to split up their Beanie Baby collection. The judge decided that they way forward was to divide up the babies one by one in a courtroom.
“So I told them to bring the Beanie Babies in, spread them out on the floor, and I’ll have them pick one each until they’re all gone.”
The first witness called was Maple the Bear..
“This isn’t about toys. It’s about control,” Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle told the couple. “Because you folks can’t solve it, it takes the services of a District Court judge, a bailiff and a court reporter.”
There was snickering among the five or six people in the gallery.
“I don’t agree with the judge’s decision to do this. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing,” Frances Mountain said moments before squatting on the courtroom floor alongside her ex-husband to choose first from a pile of stuffed toys.
Does the Beanie Baby mania have anything instructive to teach those pining to own NFTs – non-fungible tokens?
This latest, dubious invention of digital realm entrepreneurs offers a one-of-a-kind image – an “asset,” in business parlance, to folks with lots of money and not enough weird ways of spending it. For example: former First Lady Melania Trump is now selling a digital image of her eyes, done by a French artist, for thousands.
It’s not a photo. Not a tangible reproduction of any kind, not something a keen fan can hold or touch or admire in the real world. It’s just an image of Ms. Trump’s eyes that, presumably, the owner can gaze at online.
At least with rare books and fine art value is established by experts and by that one, immutable factor – the passage of time.
A first folio by Shakespeare, or a painting by Van Gogh, is in part valuable because it is a one of a kind object that has endured.
It was brilliant when it was created, and it remains brilliant to this day. Whether NFTs last in such a way, or prove to be just another craze like Beanie Babies, has yet to be borne out.
However, it’s impossible to argue with the reality that value is determined to some extent by what a buyer is willing to spend. That’s why Beanie Babies still hold so much worth to so many collectors.
Some NFT collectors dismiss the idea that their bubble will burst, just like the Babies bubble burst in the late 1990s. They see no similarities between a voracious appetite for small, stuffed animals and their own craving to own something which isn’t valued by traditional measures, like age and origin.
While the Beanie Baby craze has long past, there are still devoted collectors out there. Facebook has a group of devotees who trade messages and info online.
A guide exists that is solely devoted to gauging the price of particular Beanies. And there are a few rare souls who’ve devoted their professional lives to estimating the worth of Beanies, and who offer certificates of authenticity to hopeful owners.
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Will those careers exist one day for the NFT world? It’s hard to say, but Beanie collectors and NFT fans share one key trait: a willingness to part with substantial amounts of cash, all in the service of an odd passion.