Whether they ripped them off or preserved them under plastic, everyone who was a fan of Beanie Babies in the 1990s recognizes the toys’ tags. As the pellet-filled plushies turned into collectors items, these heart-shaped badges of authenticity became an important part of their look. The “ty” tag is iconic, but many fans of the brand don’t know what it means. If you’re reassessing the worth of your old Beanie Babies collection after watching Beanie Mania (2022) on HBO, here’s the context of those tags you held on to.
Who invented Beanie Babies?
Beanie Babies weren’t invented by a giant toy manufacturer like Hasbro or Mattel. A small, Illinois-based company call Ty debuted the line of toys in 1993, and in just a few years the stuffed animals had set the toy market on fire. Even buyers who know that Beanie Babies are a product of Ty may assume the letters are an abbreviation. They actually spell the name of the company’s founder, H. Ty Warner.
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Warner has accrued a colorful track record since the early 1990s. Rarely giving interviews or making public appearances, the elusive toy manufacturer has been compared to Willy Wonka.
Any goodwill he accumulated at the height of the Beanie craze soured in the 2000s, when he was charged with tax evasion. A Swiss bank account he opened in 1996 earned $25 million dollars in 12 years, allowing him to avoid $5.5 million in tax payments. In 2014, a federal judge sentenced him to two years of probation and 500 hours of community service. Despite the magnitude of his fraud, Warner served no jail time.
Ty Warner’s reputation may not be as warm and fuzzy as the toys he makes, but his name still appears on the tag of every Beanie Baby sold today. And even if the tags didn’t turn out to be as valuable as some collectors had hoped, they’re still an iconic piece of branding. For a reminder of just how big the Beanie Babies bubble got in the 1990s, check out these media accounts of Beanie hysteria.
A version of this story originally ran in 2022; it has been updated for 2023.