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Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK

Business: The Company File

This is the end, my Beanie friend

They come in all colours and all shapes - but only one size

It's "The End" for Beanie Babies, quite literally. A small pint-sized black bear, called 'The End', looks set to be the last Beanie ever made, after the announcement by toymaker Ty that Beanie production will end on 31 December 1999.

But is the decision, announced on Wednesday on the Ty website, really the end of the Beanie Baby craze?

Since 1994, the company has produced more than 200 different beanie characters, from teddy bears to otters, and fish to dinosaurs.

The plush toys stuffed with plastic pellets have been a huge success, boosting Ty's revenue from just $1.7m in 1995 to $674m last year, according to market research firm NPD.

Going to Beanie heaven

Part of the reason for the success has been a clever marketing ploy used to keep the interest of kids and collectors alive. In 1996 the company began to "retire" characters of the collections.

Loosy the goose is the latest to bid farewell, she went to Beanie heaven on 1 September.

[ image: A sad day for Loosy - she bids farewell to the Beanie world]
A sad day for Loosy - she bids farewell to the Beanie world
This policy has made some Beanies extremely rare. There is a lively market in second-hand beanies, and some babies now carry price tags of several hundred dollars.

In May, one Beanie Baby - Peanut, the Royal Blue Elephant - sold at auction for $4,200.

But Ty, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, made sure there was a steady supply of new characters, which in turn fed the buying fever. True fans snapped up not one, but two, three or more of the little puppets, keeping at least one in pristine condition in the hope that one day it might become a rare and highly-prized collector's item.

Beanie craze

Hot toys come and go. Cabbage patch kids were the craze of the 1980s, Teletubbies and Buzz Lightyear were the success of the late 1990s.

But the Beanies are in a league of their own. In Wisconsin, a former bank president and his wife embezzled millions of dollars to buy Beanie Babies.

In California a woman used stolen credit card numbers to feed her habit of buying Beanies.

In Kankakee, Illinois, the police department ran a highly successful 'Guns for Beanies' programme to get firearms of the streets.

Distraught fans

[ image: And this little Beanie could soon be worth hundreds of dollars]
And this little Beanie could soon be worth hundreds of dollars
All this is set to end. On Wednesday, a "very important notice" flashed up on Ty's website, announcing that "on December 31, 1999 - 11:59p.m. all Beanies will be retired".

The company promised that until then it would issue a few more Beanies, among them the ominously named "The End".

But the shock of the news was soon followed by confusion. The announcement has since disappeared from Ty's website, and fans are now discussing whether the company is serious about killing off all Beanie Babies.

Internet chatrooms and Web bulletin boards are full of messages from Beanie fans mourning the imminent demise of their darlings.

They are consoling each other, and swap information on where best to get the remaining Beanie Babies.

Bigger and better beanies?

Other collectors are more up-beat, predicting that Ty's announcement is nothing but a marketing ploy.

A fan who claims to have 500 Beanie Babies urged fellow sufferers: "relax...calm down...breathe...its ooookay..."

He believes that Ty will introduce a new range of Beanies, perhaps with "new tags, surely we will see new styles".

Another self-confessed "beanie lover" wrote: "We must have faith and believe that the year 2000 will bring us bigger and better beanies".

Experts agree. Mary Sobolewski, editor of Bean Bag World, which tracks the Beanie market, predicts that Ty will soon announce a brand new set of babies, maybe with better security features like holograms to thwart counterfeiters.

Losing interest

But there may be another reason for Ty's Beanie Baby massacre.

Some fans, and especially children, have begun to lose interest. One message on a Beanie bulletin board reads: "...however I feel I lost interest a while ago. Too many beanies made me realize they will never be worth much ... beyond the fun of finding them."

And new toys are hard at work to push the Beanies from the shelves.

But the man behind the Beanie Babies, Ty Warner, has a reputation of knowing how to create demand.

Maybe he has still got one big Beanie up his sleeve. He could call it "Surprise".

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