Bean(ie) Counters

Stock markets have been more down than up. Bond markets: up and down. Commodity markets: lower than a pork belly. Derivatives: ask your next door Nobelist.

So where, then, does one invest in these dodgy times? Beanie Baby collectors have rushed in with an unsurprising answer: Beanie Babies. Like any broker who ever touted a stock, traders of the collectible stuffed toys burble lots of tales of quick capital gains to convince buyers. A Reuters dispatch quotes a collector from Michigan as having turned purchases of $10,000 worth of the Beanies starting in late 1996 into $125,000 worth today. The story further describes an active Internet market now handling about 100 trades a day as buyers seek hard-to-find Beanie species. Rare breeds like Humphrey the Camel are said to sell for as much as $10,000.

The whole thing sounds more cuddly than stamp or coin collecting. But it lacks the long historic record that helps to certify the value of rare misprinted stamps. And Beanie prices may already be starting to drop.

Since there's no SEC to regulate the Internet Beanie exchange, perhaps it would be well to post on the Web site the cautionary tale of the notorious Dutch tulip mania. Bulbs were bid up to unsustainable prices because each new buyer thought a further buyer would pay more.

As this year's stock and bond markets remind us, that isn't always so. Better to buy collectibles because you like them rather than because they're sure to make you rich. Few are.

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