Beanie world in shock as babies are killed off

THE SHORT announcement could hardly have been more shattering if it had predicted that the millennium would bring the end of the world. "On 31 December, 1999 11:59p.m," it said, with awesome precision, "All Beanies will be retired."

For the devotees of the plush covered toys stuffed with plastic pellets, it was the equivalent of the end of heroin for junkies.

Ty, the Illinois company which sells them, has apparently turned off the tap. There would be an end to Iggy the Iguana, Maple the Bear, Pugsly the Pig and all their winsome little stuffed friends.

But even as Beanie Baby collectors recoiled in horror, Ty was keeping quiet about what, exactly, it has in mind. The company has periodically retired different Beanies, and it was unclear whether this was the end of the toy itself, a Beanie Year Zero, or just a breathing space before the company got back to the business of making vast sums of money. Ty Warner, the reclusive owner of the company, is worth several billion dollars.

Beanies have spawned an awesome collectors' market which rivals the New York Stock Exchange for its size and complexity: a first-generation Brownie the Bear is worth $2,700, according to one of a devoted number of websites.

Ty has announced a new list of Beanies to be released this month. There is the Britannia bear for the British market, the Ty 2K bear and a black bear called, suggestively, The End.