Many people remember the tiny bean filled stuffed animal collectors’ toys of the 1990’s known as Beanie Babies. Most have fond memories from Christmas mornings to Birthdays when you could FINALLY check off the Beanie Baby you’d been yearning for off your list. It’s a happy memory for most people, but if you’ve ever gone head-to-head with an ex-partner over your collection, chances are your memories aren’t as great. Beanie Babies exploded in popularity in the 1990’s with their initial release. With so many different characters, it led to a very lucrative hobby for some by collecting the rarest ones, which were worth thousands. Before we get into the crazy cases of divorce battles involving these cuddly toys, let’s begin with the back story.
Origin of the Beans
Beanie Babies were originally created in 1993 by toy manufacturer TY. Ty Warner is the sole creator of Beanie Babies and many collectors refer to him as the “Wizard of Oz” due to him being an extremely private introvert. He started his career with Dakin Toys and became their top sales member before he branched off on his own, capitalizing on the trend of “collector toys” that erupted in the 1990’s. They launched with just 9 different characters, ultimately ending with a total of 822 various characters (144 have multiple versions).
The little bean filled stuffed animals then exploded into unprecedented popularity around 1995 when the internet became accessible to the masses. They are seen as one of the first ever internet crazes as their website was the most visited website at the time of it’s launch. The internet exploded with forums and other websites specifically dealing in the resale and barter of unique, rare, or retired Beanies. In 1997, toy maker TY put a countdown clock on the website, insinuating the end of the Beanie Babies. Consumers went into a frenzy because at the time many collections and individual Beanie Babies were seen as investments worth thousands and thousands of dollars. “Princess the Bear”, a Princess Dianna edition bear character, sold for $100,000 at auction, making it the most expensive Beanie Baby ever made.
Divorce and Separation of Beanie Babies
With the incredible value of Beanie Babies, it’s no surprise that these cute little creatures were the topic of division of assets during many divorces. There are several divorce cases where the couple were unable to come to an agreement between themselves or through their divorce attornies regarding their collections. One of the most famous divorce cases involving Beanie Babies took place in November of 1999, with Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle of Las Vegas, Nevada overseeing the proceedings.
The couple, Frances and Harold Mountain, failed on multiple occasions to come to an agreement regarding their collection of Beanie Babies (valued between $2,500 and $5,000). The judge was so appalled by the absurdity of the divorce case, the couple was ordered to perform physical division on the court room floor. One by one, the couple each picked a Beanie until all were gone. It’s funny to mention the couple had no shame in how ridiculous this divorce battle was, until the judge allowed the press in the court room.
The 1999 Las Vegas Beanie Baby divorce case was by far the most famous instance of past lovers fighting over their prized Beanie Baby collection but was not the only documented case. The popular television show Divorce Court aired the same year, and quickly showcased a couple during the first season fighting over their Beanie Baby collection. The judge then demanded a division of the Beanie Babies, but the divorced couple argued that the collection as “a whole” had more value than each individually and was ultimately awarded to one divorcee, offset by the award of other assets to the other.
Toying around with Divorce
There is one thing that is synonymous with divorce, and that’s division of property. I don’t think any judge or divorce attorney would have ever anticipated a bean filled stuffed animal, initially marketed to kids, ending up as a topic during divorce proceedings. Things often get heated during a divorce trial, but at least with two adults going against each other for the ownership of toys brings a bit of comic relief to a tense situation for those spectating. By 2000, the Beanie Babies craze had peaked and quickly leveled off. By 2023, the Princess Diana Bear who once cleared $100,000 at auction now has several listings on eBay selling for between $15-$30. It’s ultimately rare for any fad to last, especially something as novel as Beanie Babies. However, this 1990’s toy crazy will forever live in infamy not only in the hearts of those who went to battle in divorce court for their prized Beanie Babies, but for pop culture in general.