In November 1993, toy tycoon Ty Warner introduced Beanie Babies at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
“Always prepared to build hype, Warner had only two of the Beanies available for sale at that event,” writes Zac Bissonnette. “Seven more were on display but not then available for order.” Implying or creating a shortage by “retiring” certain Beanie Babies was a tactic Warner employed repeatedly to ratchet up demand. Eventually his scheme worked. By the mid-1990s, “the children’s toy transitioned to an adult obsession.” Warner had orchestrated a craze that swept the country with the help of some Beanie Baby-obsessed Illinois housewives. (At the height of the craze in 1998, a single Beanie Baby sold for $10,000.) Warner made a fortune and thrived until the Internal Revenue Service caught up with him.
In 2013 he pleaded guilty in a huge offshore tax-evasion case. Bissonnette has penned a mesmerizing tale about speculative collectibles, personal demons, love affairs, greed and gullibility. Full disclosure: In The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, the author confesses that Whisper the Deer, a Beanie Baby released in 1998, sits on his desk.
by Zac Bissonnette
February; Portfolio; $26.95