CLOSE
Original image
Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

12 Media Accounts of Beanie Babies Hysteria, Circa the 1990s

Original image
Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Ty Warner had struck gold. In 1996, his Beanie Babies had surpassed $250 million in sales, creating a phenomenon that was unlike anything the toy industry had ever seen. Millions of stuffed animals were methodically captured and stored in plastic, expected to mature in value like a war bond. For a time, it seemed U.S. currency would soon convert from paper to plush.

This never happened. Instead, some people went bankrupt investing in Beanies, ignoring the paradox of what it means to own a manufactured collectible. But prior to the Great Beanie Fallout, it was difficult to open a magazine or newspaper and not read about how you, too, could fund a child’s college education by stocking up on Kiwi the Toucan. If you weren’t around—or simply chose to forget—here are a few media snapshots of the Beanie fever that gripped a nation.

1. Leading to a Life of Crime

“I had one customer who told me her car was broken into because she had a retired Beanie Baby sitting on the dashboard …The thieves didn't touch the radio.''

The New York Times, March 14, 1997

2. As Courtroom Spectacle

“A divorced couple who couldn't agree on how to split up their Beanie Baby collection were ordered by a judge Friday to divide up the babies one by one in a courtroom. Maple the Bear was the first to go ... '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.”

The Associated Press, November 6, 1999

3. The Beanie as Car Dealership Trade-In

“Kelly Flagg, 14 … began collecting Beanie Babies as toys when they were introduced in 1993. She buys duplicates to trade, some of which are now valuable enough to barter for big-ticket items … she intends to sell the collection to buy a Corvette.”

The New York Times, October 30, 1997

4. Creating Financial Advisors

"Basically, if you can afford to do this, simply putting away five or ten of each and every new Beanie Baby in super mint condition isn't a bad idea."

The Beanie Baby Handbook, 1998

5. No Child is Safe

"In a way, it was a good thing the weather was so-so for the first-ever Beanie Baby swap and sale held Thursday at Jacobs Beach by the town's parks and recreation department … [Pam] Ertelt's 6-year-old daughter, Meryl, was injured in the mad rush for the popular toys. Someone in a big hurry to get to the Beanie Baby sale crashed into the little girl as she and her mother were walking to the tent, leaving the youngster with a bloody leg.”

The Hartford Courant, June 27, 1997

6. Bearing Witness to the Horror

“During several Beanie Baby quests, my son was trampled by a herd of women racing to the shelves to capture an endangered animal—the last Ziggy the Zebra, perhaps. And I have witnessed younger children, near tears, leaving shops empty-handed while someone else's grandma carried home a bag bulging with her latest Beanie bounty.”

The Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 1998

7. Crowd Control

"In pastoral Lancaster, Pa., where the Amish still ride buggies, a McDonald's manager summoned police when Teenie buyers got out of control. ‘I responded and observed approximately 50 people standing inside,’ Officer Delene Brown wrote in her report. ‘They said they were waiting for Zip cats to go on sale. The employees said the cat will not be sold until all the Dobie dogs are gone, and there were still over 100 dogs to be sold.’”

The Washington Post, June 8, 1998

8. As a Sophisticated Smuggling Operation

“As long as the Beanie Babies are for personal use and people buy no more than three of the same kind, crossing over the Canadian border with more than one Beanie Baby won't be a problem anymore, said Kathy Lisius, supervisory import specialist for the U.S. Customs Service … The restrictions come at a time when Beanie Baby smuggling has dramatically increased. More than 8100 have been confiscated since February at the Blaine crossing. ‘Last year, we didn't detain any Beanie Babies,’ Lisius said. ‘Now, people are smuggling Beanie Babies in similar places where they hide drugs, such as hidden compartments and the spare tire holders.’”

The Seattle Times, July 18, 1998

9. Dubious Financial Advice, Part Two

“Richard Gernady, a purveyor of collectibles, received a phone call in December that he will not soon forget. The caller, a middle-aged insurance agent from New York who was fed up with some underperforming stocks in her portfolio, told him she intended to sell them and reinvest the capital in a different class of assets: Beanie Babies. Ultimately she spent $12,000 on ‘all my best Beanies,’ recalled Gernady, owner of the Cat's Meow shop in Glenview. ‘I told her she was doing the right thing.’”

Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1998

10. Death by Beanie

“In October 1999, Jeffrey White, then 29, shot security guard Harry Simmons, 63, at a lumberyard in Elkins, W.Va, a small town where people used to line up at 4 a.m. outside the Hallmark store when a Beanie Babies shipment was due. Police said that White, who later confessed to the crime, blamed Simmons for getting him fired from his job at the lumberyard. But the two also had a dispute over $150 and several hundred dollars' worth of Beanie Babies that Simmons lent White, purportedly to start a trading business.”

The Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2004

11. The Beanie Forger

“A woman named Lu Venia recently had a 'Peanut' sent to her Beanie repair shop in Warrenton, Va. A self-described ‘Beanie Doctor,’ she examined its suspiciously crusty coat of polyester plush and realized something was seriously wrong. ‘The blue dye came right off,’ recalls Venia, who discovered that the toy was a much-less-valuable Light Blue Peanut dipped in dark blue dye. 'I felt terrible telling that collector that she got a rotten Peanut,' Venia says.”

The New York Times, July 5, 1998

12. At Least It's Not Crack

“The Wards, of Northeast Philadelphia, have more than 500 Beanies. They said they spent Memorial Day weekend last year in McDonald's eating Happy Meals, three meals a day, to get every limited edition Teenie Beanie, and plan to do the same thing this year … Their daughter, Kris White, said she was a little worried about them. 'She buys them clothes,’ she said of her mother. ‘They have them all over the house. She just bought the one in the kitchen a special chef's outfit.’

Dave Ward shrugged. ‘It's better than gambling or drugs, right?’' he said. ‘And we have it under control now. We only spend about $500 a month on Beanies.’”

The Hartford Courant, May 17, 1999

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
Original image
iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

Original image
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
arrow
Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
Original image
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios