In 1993, the world went crazy for Beanie Babies, small, plush animals by toy company Ty.
Heralded as valuable collectibles, people would rush out to buy the $5.95 toys for their children or themselves, eagerly waiting for them to appreciate in value.
But then the Beanie Baby bubble burst.
As far as bubbles go, it wasn’t bad — at worst, most collectors were stuck with a few worthless stuffed animals they’d overpaid for.
But one family found themselves sunk by the toys.
The Robinsons of Los Angeles currently have tens of thousands of Beanie Babies, all stacked neatly away and labelled in boxes. The family estimates they spent roughly $100,000 on the collection, thinking it would eventually appreciate in value and pay for their kids to attend college.
But the spending was only the tip of the iceberg. For a time, the family let the dolls rule their lives, hopping from one “Beanie joint” to another, trying to side step the “one-per-family rule” by recruiting neighbours make purchased for them and going to extreme lengths to catalogue and preserve their Beanie Baby hoard.
In 2009, their oldest son, Chris Robinson, decided to direct a short documentary (resurrected by Dazed Digital, which recently interviewed Chris) called “Bankrupt by Beanies” about his family’s experience.
He interviewed his brothers Christian and Taylor, his mother Lesleigh, and his father Chris Robinson Senior to find out more about how the obsession started and the impact it had on his family.
When Taylor was three or four, he wanted a Beanie Baby. After his father Chris Sr. learned that they were valuable, he began to take the kids to different 'Beanie joints' to get as many of the toys as possible.
'This is like admitting to a drug addiction,' Chris Sr. now says of the Beanie Babies. He knew the schedules of when new toys were being released, and had an inside source about how much they would be worth.
Chris Sr. admits that when certain specialty items would come out, he'd buy more than one for each of his 5 children. He bought a total of 50 'Soar' Bald Eagle Buddies because they would only be sold for a day.
The kids would inventory all the stuffed animals in cubicles according to species, and place plastic protectors around the name tags. 'That's how we spent our weekends,' mum Lesleigh remembers.
Christian talks about how covert they had to be when they went into stores. The kids were taken to school late, friends were recruited, and everyone was told to pretend they didn't know each other. 'Don't make eye contact, don't say hello to each other.'
Eventually, Chris Senior thought that selling the stuffed toys would help pay for his children to go to college. 'That was the plan. It never happened because we never sold them, we just bought them,' Lesleigh says. 'We missed that boat.'
The family still has between 15,000 and 20,000 beanie babies. But they admit despite how dire the circumstances are now, the beanie babies could come around again. 'I guess we'll see who's crazy in 20 years,' the film ends.
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