6 Expert Tips for Making Money Off Your Beanie Baby Collection

Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Beanie Babies were a hot commodity in the 1990s. People spent millions on the pellet-filled toys at their peak, and some even went as far as to forge checks and burgle toy distributors to fill out their collections. So-called “Beanie Mania” was driven by the idea that the stuffed animals would grow in value over time—a gamble that led to disappointment for many owners. But while the majority of Beanie Babies sold decades ago aren’t worth much money today, a select few are worth a small fortune.

According to Dr. Lori Verderame, an antiques appraiser with an expertise in Beanie Babies who spoke with us for this article, some Beanie Babies sell for thousands of dollars. Before you list your childhood toys on eBay, it helps to know if you’re sitting on a gold mine or thrift store material. We spoke with Dr. Lori about what to look for after taking your Beanie Baby collection out of storage and how to potentially make some money from it.

1. Learn Beanie Baby terminology.

Beanie Baby collectors and appraisers have their own language. When researching what makes certain toys valuable, it helps to be familiar with these terms so you can apply them to objects in your own collection. For instance, certain errors or variations of the heart-shaped tag on a Beanie Baby’s ear could dictate its worth. Experts refer to this as the hang tag, the swing tag, or just the ear tag. The looped fabric tag stitched to the Beanie Baby’s bottom end is known as the tush tag, and it can also contain errors that may increase your doll’s value. The “beans” inside a Beanie Baby are called pellets. They come in two types: polyethylene (PE) pellets and polyvinylchloride (PVC) pellets, with PVC being the rarer of the variations.

2. Beanie Baby Errors don’t always make it valuable.

Many of the most valuable Beanie Babies today have some sort of error, either on the tags or on the doll itself. The rarity of these errors can make an otherwise worthless toy extremely valuable to collectors, but this isn’t always the case. “People are surprised to learn that errors are in fact very common,” Dr. Lori says. “They will say, ‘well, mine has an error, so that must be rare.’ They don’t look at enough Beanie Babies to realize that many of them have errors.” If you find a misprint on a Beanie Baby tag or some other manufacturing mistake, do some research before getting your hopes up. Some Valentino bears had up to four manufacturing errors, including brown noses instead of black ones and tag typos, and that place them among the most sought-after Beanie Babies today.

3. Beanie Baby smell is just as important as appearance.

5-Year-Old Adam Kalina's arms are full of Beanie Babies on a 1999 shopping trip with his mother.Bill Greenblatt/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You may have a rare type of Beanie Baby from the early 1990s with a mint-condition ear tag, but if it smells like your basement, you’ll have a hard time selling it. Mold, mildew, and cigarette smoke can all taint your Beanie Babies with hard-to-remove scents. To prevent this, Dr. Lori recommends moving them out of their cardboard boxes and storing them in plastic containers. “Make sure you’re keeping them in plastic tubs, or even plastic Ziploc bags in order to keep any kind of dirt or damage away from them.” And if you’re a buyer, the importance of odor is a good reason to avoid purchasing vintage Beanie Babies online that you can’t see or touch first.

4. Look for the original nine Beanie Babies.

When appraising Beanie Baby collections, Dr. Lori looks for nine toys in particular. These are the “original nine,” or the first-ever Beanie Babies produced in small batches in late 1993. They include Patti the platypus, Spot the dog, Squealer the pig, Brownie the bear, Chocolate the moose, Pinchers the lobster, Splash the killer whale, Legs the frog, and Flash the dolphin. Even without errors, one of these Beanie Babies will almost always get the attention of toy collectors if it’s in good condition.

5. Be skeptical of Beanie Baby price guides.

Though you can look up how much certain Beanie Babies have sold for in the past, that doesn’t mean every toy like it is worth the same amount. Price guides may claim to know how much every type of Beanie Baby is worth, but these estimations are far from precise. If you want to know how much an individual item could be worth, you need to have it examined by an expert. A Beanie Baby appraiser can not only tell you if your toy is worth selling, but they can help you identify the type of buyer who will be willing to pay the most for it. “Some Beanie Babies need to be properly marketed in certain ways,” Dr. Lori says. “Do you want to market to toy collectors, market to the folks who are only collecting rare Beanie Babies, or do you want to market to someone who says ‘I’ve lost this childhood toy’? There are so many collectors who are still actively collecting them even 30 years past the 1990s, when they were at their height.”

6. Never ship a Beanie Baby that hasn’t been sold.

The wives of PGA Tour golfers sell stuffed Beanie Babies to raise money for charity at the 2004 PGA Tour John Deere Classic.A. Messerschmidt/WireImage via Getty Images

A legitimate appraiser can help you sell your Beanie Baby, but not everyone claiming to be an expert online should be trusted. A major red flag is when someone asks you to ship your Beanie Baby to them in order to get it evaluated. “You should never send your object away to anybody for any reason,” Dr. Lori says. “People send them away and never see the object again. [Scammers] say, ‘Oh, I lost it. It never got here.' No expert who is worth their weight will ever want your object.” The same goes for potential buyers who haven't put any money down on your item yet.

A much safer way to get a toy evaluated is to do it through a video call. Many professional appraisers are willing to do this, and it's still an accurate way to gauge your Beanie Baby’s worth compared to showing it to someone in person.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.