Beanie Babies are stuffed animals made by Ty Inc. Ty was founded by Ty Warner who promoted the line in specialty stores and gift shops. The Ty company's famous special "posable lining" is under stuffed with plastic pellets (or "beans") rather than stuffing (see PVC and PE), giving Beanie Babies a flexible and cuddly feel. A Beanie Baby is essentially a fancy bean bag in the form of a stuffed animal.
The original nine Beanie Babies launched in 1993 were Legs the Frog, Squealer the Pig, Spot the Dog, Flash the Dolphin, Splash the Whale, Chocolate the Moose, Patti the Platypus, Brownie the Bear (later renamed "Cubbie") and Punchers the Lobster (later renamed "Pinchers").
The line became a phenomenon in the late 90s when Beanie Babies became both a fad and a collectible. Ty decided to stop making Beanies in 1999, however, consumer demand made Ty Warner change his mind. He continues to run Ty Inc. and design new Beanie Babies to this day.
Teenie Beanie Babies, an offshoot of the Beanie Babies line, were made by additional manufacturers for a few McDonalds Happy Meal promotions.
Beanie Babies began to emerge as popular collectibles in late 1995, and became a hot toy. Ty systematically retired various designs, and many people assumed that all "retired" designs would rise in value the way that early retirees had. The craze lasted through 1999 and slowly declined after the Ty company's announcement that they would no longer be making Beanie Babies. The line was brought back with completely new styles in early 2000 as a result of an online vote over whether more Beanies should be released. Many believe that the mass retirement and subsequent revival were a publicity stunt, but Beanie Babies had fallen out of favor with many children by the time the line was relaunched. In recent years, the popularity of Beanie Babies has continued to fade. Some of the more common styles can be found fairly cheaply. New Beanie Baby designs continue to be released, and increasingly include bears and limited edition items. On December 27, 2007, Ty made a massive retirement of its Beanie Baby line, retiring over 240 styles of Beanie Babies, leaving only licensed characters, key-clip versions of popular Beanie Baby styles, popular store exclusives and country exclusives as current. On January 2, 2008, Ty introduced a "replacement" line called Beanie Babies 2.0, the next generation of the beanbag toys. While the aforementioned current styles will continue to be produced and special Beanie Babies will be released, the remainder of future retail styles will be produced under the new line, in which collectors can purchase their Beanies and use a scratch-off code to go online and play with their new pet in a virtual world, much akin to other collectibles like Neopets and Webkinz.
What's it worth? Take a look at this Beanie Babies price guide: sold listings for a value indication.