Beanie Babies: Extinct or Just Endangered?

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Is it true? Could this be the end of the line for Paul the Walrus, Valentino the Bear and the rest of the Beanie Babies? After three weeks of anticipating what had been promised to be an important announcement, fans of the limited-release stuffed toys, which for six years have captivated children and adults alike — and in some cases reached astronomical prices among collectors — were shocked Tuesday evening by a statement on the web site of Ty Inc., the Beanie Baby manufacturer. "VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE: On December 31, 1999-11:59 p.m. (CST) All Beanies will be retired." Suddenly the turning of the millennium looked like a grim moment indeed, and a world increasingly fascinated by the new It toy, Pokemon, turned its eyes back to the plush playthings. "It's done two things," says TIME senior economics reporter Bernard Baumohl. "Certainly it's had the effect of significantly raising the price of Beanie Babies in the auction market. Second, it's suddenly created a new buzz. It's brought attention back to the company away from Pokemon."

But is this truly the end, or just a clever marketing ploy? The current betting in fans' postings on the Ty site's message boards is that the company will merely launch a new, genetically similar product line on January 1. Could this produce a Beanie Backlash? Certainly the secretive company, which has taken down the announcement and so far isn't making any move to clarify it, isn't winning any points, at least with the media. And while the new buzz could be a nice boost for a somewhat fading product, it could end up alienating devotees. "This has created a lot of confusion, and it could backfire on Ty," notes Baumohl. After all, as one fan notes on the Ty web site, the announcement was only about Beanies,not other Ty toys like the Pillow Pals collection. Some things would be too much to bear.