This story is all kinds of fucked up in a deliciously gossipy sort of way, while also being incredibly sad because this was my life when they were popular - not like, fighting people in parking lots over Beanies, but I was pretty obsessed. And mainly, I wanted all the bears. My nickname from the time I was itty bitty was Sarah Bear and I absolutely fell in love with the Beanie bears the first time I saw them, and have more of those than any others, though I have tons of other animals too, for real. And yes, Mom and I drove to several McDonald's locations when Teeny Beanies were a thing and looking back I feel bad that I wanted something so much that my mom was willing to do that for me, and even spend money on toys I did not truly need, when she could have been using it for something far more important.
I am also really glad I am reading this two decades removed from the madness, (plus the book came out in 2015). I probably would have been far angrier about the shady tactics Ty Warner used to drive sales. You can't really fault the guy for coming up with a cute product, and then psycho suburban moms taking that idea and running with it on a mission to collect every single one. He certainly did not turn those women in psychos at the on-set, though he fueled the madness once he saw what was happening.
The author does an really great job in showing just how much research went into the book, which might seem surprising when one considers the fact that we are talking about mere children's toys. However, as others have pointed out, once the adults got involved, everything was ruined and greed took over. We are talking seriously crazed here. In addition to interviewing the usual people you would find in a micro-history like this, there are some exceptionally interesting people - such as the person behind bars for killing a co-worker over these damn things. Read that again.
Warner's story begins slowly and that part was less interesting to me, but that does not make it any less important. It matters because it made him into the person he became, and that person was someone with very good ideas who was able to exploit a very real human weakness and laugh all the way to the bank about it.
I learned so much about a toy I had loved so much and truly known so little about - but honestly how would I have ever known that stuff anyway? And would I have really cared? Actually, by the time I was in middle/high school, knowing that Warner retired certain Beanies just to drive their value and sales up, I would have been really pissed about such a shady practice. It is entirely possible that I would have given up collecting any except the bears, because as I said, those were my favorites, and not due to any perceived value. I just loved teddy bears.
Besides the fact that we see how ruthless Warner was when it came to getting what he wanted, we also see that he alone was not responsible for the explosion that resulted in the 'retiring' of Beanies. Warner is a perfectionist, to be sure. That is also plain as day. Initially the original Beanies were retired as Warner tinkered with his idea, changing colors, adding or removing spots, stripes, etc. I wonder if he had any inkling of what was to come just by evolving his product the tiniest bit. I also partly blame the authors who came out of the woodwork with all kinds of collector guides, which in hindsight is so ridiculous because they were constantly having to be updated as current and predicted values changed. But people still bought those guides en masse, further driving sales.
Warner remains the villain no matter what else is said, but damn if this was not an interesting read. He just knew what would work and what wouldn't, and as the popularity grew and customers were climbing over one another to get the 'rare' Beanies, he nipped and tucked and tweaked until he had what he wanted. He was also very business savvy early on when he elected to only sell his creations in small toy shops, gift shops, mom-and-pop type places as opposed to major chains. It made the Beanies even harder to find when you could not just go into Wal-Mart and paw through bins and bins of the things.
All in all, an interesting read about a time when you thought the world could simply not get any crazier. By comparison, those were much simpler times. Recommended!