Tags, along with other small variations, can also set apart one generation of each Beanie from another. In an October 21 post on www.beaniephiles.com, someone using the handle "Geoffrey" announced that "I believe I might have found the 7th generation swing tag.... On the back, the bar code is smaller. Also, the writing where it says 'Please remove all tags before giving this to a child' and 'Surface washable' was much bolder. I think the 7th Gen. tag was on Pounce [the Brown Cat] and Prance [the Grey Cat]. I didn't get a chance to buy them."
To keep the precious creatures in top shape, collectors are advised to store them in glass cabinets. The living room in Fenick's east-suburban house is lined with glass-fronted floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, three of them filled with Beanie Babies. She has organized them by what might be called Beanie phyla: Amphibians, lizards, and frogs occupy one shelf, fantasy creatures--unicorns, pumpkins, dinosaurs--the next. Then it's on to bugs, farm animals, and jungle and range animals. One entire cabinet is dedicated to her absolute favorites, Beanie bears, which she dresses up in custom-made outfits. "I hate naked bears," she says with a shudder.
Fenick admits she's fortunate to have a friend who makes Beanie costumes, including those for the wedding party on one of her shelves. The groom wears a miniature tuxedo, the bride a crocheted and beaded white dress; one bear is clad as a rabbi, another is decked out in a pink bridesmaid's gown, and the guests packing two wooden pews are dressed to the nines. "These two are mothers of the bride and groom," Fenick says, pointing to the two bears in elegant long gowns.
Fenick also protects her collection with a sophisticated alarm system, installed when she she was breeding pricey Siberian cats. "I gave up that obsession for Beanie Babies," she confesses.
Extraordinary security measures are not unusual among collectors. A mint-condition Brownie the Brown Bear--predecessor to the less valuable Cubbie the Brown Bear--sells for around $3,600. The limited-edition Billionaire the Employee Bear, handed out September 26 to select Ty staffers to celebrate $1 billion worth of Beanies shipped so far this year, has already hit the auction boards with a starting bid of $1,000.
With those kinds of sums at stake, it's no wonder Beanie owners get a bit paranoid. At the Bloomington show, several vendors were skittish about giving out their last names or cities of residence, saying the information would just be too tempting to criminally minded Beanie addicts. Mary Beth's Beanie World carries a roundup of Beanie burglaries and scams around the nation; it includes the story of a woman in Salinas, Calif., who earlier this year pleaded guilty to four counts of commercial burglary after using stolen credit cards to rack up some $8,000 worth of Beanie purchases. At her November 20 sentencing, she told the judge her habit had started at the McDonald's where she worked, when she had to stuff Beanies into Happy Meals.
Like most collectors, Fenick, an independent insurance agent by trade, won't disclose how much she has spent on her Beanies, but over time her shelves have become home to a fair number of rare creatures. "Aren't these cute?" she asks, pointing to three rainbow-colored rabbits and a brown flop-eared bunny, all dressed in yellow rain slickers and hats.
None of the bunnies have been available in stores since May of '98, she explains. "After [Warner] retired the rabbit trio and the brown one, everyone expected that he would come out with a token Easter Beanie. But he didn't do anything for Easter."
Fenick says the Beanie rumor mill currently centers on Pumkin, the Halloween jack-o'-lantern, and other recent holiday issues, including a Beanie Santa. "Historically, those have been retired in January," she says. "But then there's Loosy, who's just a goose, but with a cranberry ribbon. Everyone is wondering, 'Is this a Christmas goose? Will it be retired after the holidays?' And there was Gobbles, the turkey released for Thanksgiving last year, which is still current. You never can tell."
If retirement can turn an ordinary Beanie into a hot item, manufacturing glitches will send prices into the ether. Currently, the Internet wires are running hot over a batch of Batty the Bats made with the fabric normally used for Claude the Tie-Dyed Crab. Fenick, who considers herself lucky to have gotten her hands on one of the misfits, speculates that the "error" could have been brought about deliberately to kickstart slow Batty sales. If collectors suspect that Batty is about to be redesigned or retired, she explains, they'll run out and snatch up both the old mauve and the new tie-dyed versions.
Ty Inc., by the way, will never comment on any of this. But in a recent "Open Letter" posted on the Mary Beth's Beanie World site, www.beanieworld.net, the company issued a sort of manifesto: "Many of you have wondered why we at Ty don't want rumored pictures of our new introductions on the Internet until we officially introduce them on our own Web site. We'd like to explain. If any Beanies appear on the Internet before our official Web site announcement, they are either stolen or counterfeit.