IT was love at first sight the minute she set eyes on the little purple teddy bear called Princess.
This exclusive Ty Beanie Baby was specially created to honour the late Princess Diana, Princess of Wales.
And on its label, there was a short poem which read:
Like an angel, she came from heaven above She shared her compassion, her pain, her love She only stayed with us long enough to teach The world to share, to give, to reach.
“My husband and I had encountered this charming bear at a swap meet (flea market equivalent) in Hawaii where we were residing in 1997. But I knew I couldn’t afford its steep US$250 (RM930) price tag. So, I left with a heavy heart,” said Nancy Aguirre, 57.
However, her account has a happy ending.
“On our 13th wedding anniversary, Ray (her husband) presented a gift box to me.
”When I opened it, I saw that dear little bear sitting there.
“I exclaimed to Ray, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe you spent so much on me’,” Aguirre reminisced with a smile.
And that triggered her passion for Ty Beanie Babies that can cost between a few dollars and several thousand.
“I’d spend every week going beanie-hunting at craft fairs. My collection soon grew to 3,000 and I had to rent a space in a warehouse to store them in crates. I visit them at least once a month to see if they’re OK.
“At home, I have arranged some on my eight-foot (2.4m) wide and four-foot (1.2m) high shelves. During bedtime, I would shine my flashlight on them and bid them goodnight by calling out to them by their names.
“My cheeky husband once played a prank on me and moved the beanies around. But I noticed this at once and moved them back into position!” she laughed.
Talking to the beanies is normal for the American grandmother of three who finds much joy in these cute, fuzzy pint-sized toys.
“I often greet them by saying: How are you? Are you okay? They make me so happy,’’ she said with a smile.
As some of her collection included duplicates, she decided to open a gift shop last year when she moved to La Habra, a thriving Californian residential town about half-an-hour’s drive away from Los Angeles.
That was how I stumbled onto her shop while visiting a friend who was staying nearby. What caught my eye was the big heart-shaped Ty sign hanging in the shop called Cardsmart.
My colleague, who is an avid Ty Beanie collector, had given me a “shopping list” before I left Penang. So I decided to pop in.
Princess, Aguirre’s prized possession, sits high on a shelf overlooking the shop’s interior with the other toys as her “loyal subjects”.
Aguirre said apart from buying Beanies online via Ty’s official website (www.ty.com), she also acquired her stock from other collectors, craft fairs and swap meets.
She said her most expensive purchase so far was Inky, the grey octopus Beanie which cost her US$500 (RM1,850).
She added that occasionally, partial proceeds for certain Beanies go to charitable causes.
Among the items on my friend’s wish list was Tour Teddy sold in aid of the Professional Golfers’ Association. As Aguirre handed me the bear that I bought, she gave it a little squeeze, wished it well and bade a sad goodbye.
“I do that to all the Beanies which leave my shop. But I know they will be happy in their new home,” she said, with a twinkle in her eyes.
Beanie backgroundWhether it is common themes such as cuddly bears and cute dogs, or squirmier ones like jellyfish and ghosts, Ty Warner’s toy makers have produced them all.
Since their launch in 1993, the Beanie-craze has taken many countries, including Malaysia, by storm, escalating their popularity and value. Thanks to their pint-size appeal, they have enjoyed a place in the hearts of many.
Beanie Babies are hand-sewn with washable fabric that is non-allergenic, colourfast and non-flammable. They are toys stuffed with plastic bean-shaped pellets
The unique quality of Beanies is that each has its individual character, with its name and date of birth printed alongside a short poem on a heart-shaped Ty tag.
One of the marketing strategies that explains the sales success of Beanie toys is that only a limited number of toys are produced.
Once production on a toy stops (in short, when a product “retires”), its value goes up.
For example, Peanut the elephant became such a rarity that its asking price shot up to a whopping US$5,000 (RM18,500)! Small wonder.
Apart from Beanie Babies, Warner is also the creator of other toys including Beanie Buddies, Classics, Teenie Beanie Boppers, Jingle Beanies, Basket Beanies and Pinkys.
His original idea was to target children to allow them to purchase his product with allowance money.
According to the latest list of billionaires just released, Ty Warner is still ranked among the world’s wealthiest with a net worth of US$4.4 bil (RM16.28bil). – By Ng SU-ANN