Now is not the time for amateurs to enter the Beanie Baby market. Bull and platypus futures are too complicated for the casual investor, and my advice is to sell yours if you can get more than the $5 you paid. Try something less risky, such as derivatives or gas and oil limited partnerships.
Beanie Babies - for those of you who have been spending all your energy tickling Elmo - are plush toys about 10 inches long. Brightly colored and floppy, they come with little heart-shaped tags attached to their paws and ears and wings. If they do not have these tags, warns the Beanie Baby Web page, they may not be the genuine article.
''Our efforts are continually devoted to eliminating any confusion,'' promises the manufacturer, Ty Inc. ''If you have any information on products substantially similar to any of our designs, please bring it to our attention.'' After that I think, you can be assured that Ty will devote itself to suing the pretender's antlers off.
Besides, if the tag is missing, Beanies are less valuable. Would someone have paid $700 for a Quackers the Duck without wings if he had also been missing his official tag? I think not.
A mutant Spot the Dog, one without spots, sold for $1,000. Internet correspondent and Beanie peddler Andreah reports trouble during heavy trading. ''Unfortunately,'' she laments, ''a small fight broke out over the last Sparky. An elderly lady was pushed into a two-wheeler we were using to bring out stock.''
Other wrenching stories are told on the Beanie Bungle network. Josh writes from California that he accidentally dropped Trap the Mouse off a water ride at Disneyland and ''soon after I saw his lifeless body, all of his beans floating in the water. Anyways,'' he continues sentimentally, ''I realized that $200 had just been flushed down the toilet.''
I don't know how his $5 Beanie became a $200 one. Maybe Trap's tail was missing. Or they don't make him anymore.
Discontinued Beanies are regularly sold for more than book value. ''We're not sure what to make of it,'' says Ty Inc. spokeswoman Anne Nickels, ''because we don't advertise.''
They don't really need to. ''Karmen Kohlwes of the Ty company was on the Today Show to unveil one of the next Beanies to be released,'' a Beanie site on the Internet reports breathlessly. ''Check back for further updates.''
There is a Beanie poetry Web site, which is really too painful to share with you. Well, OK, just one:
''Weenie is a Beanie but he is not a meanie.
His legs are short, but he's not a good sport.''
This goes on for several stanzas, which seems quite unnecessary to me because every Beanie comes equipped with its own professional-quality poetry, printed on the official tag:
''Sly is a fox and tricky is he. Please don't chase him, let him be.''
Believe me, I am not being snide. Because I, myself, own 12. What happens is that you get turned on to Beanies by somebody who is already hooked. My Aunt Peggy, visiting from out of town, got me to check on Beanie availability here.
Once you've been told a couple dozen times that ''we're out of Beanies but are expecting a shipment next week,'' you begin to believe that you are in pursuit of a rare and valuable item. So, when the clerk at the Hallmark store in Hyde Park Plaza whispered that they had a stash at the Martin's around the corner, there was only one reasonable response: a Beanie buying frenzy.
Outrunning the two kids, I grabbed one of every little critter I saw. Standing in the checkout line with $65 worth of Beanies, I looked down at the little girl I outran and had the grace to feel ashamed.
''Do I have any Beanies you want, Honey?'' A nouveau Beanie collector, I cheerfully handed over a Tobasco the Bull, which I found out later is retired. So I'll bet she turned a profit on his little polyvinyl chloride-filled rump.
When people like me start dabbling in the market, a crash is probably imminent. I'm selling short. Better still, maybe I'll just tear off the tags and give them to some kids.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.