Shopping: Americans turn to Britain in craze for toy that bears a resem blance to Diana

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A Chicago toy company has found the perfect formula for sending all of America round the bend in time for Christmas. It is to take its most popular range - Beanie Babies - and bring out a special edition model in honour of Diana, Princess of Wales. The inevitable result? Shopping mayhem.

To ensure maximum impact - and maximum nervous-breakdown risk - the company, Ty Inc, is making the special edition a very limited one.

In fact, when the Di Bears hit the streets this morning, millions will be disappointed. That is because only 12 will be supplied to each store that orders them.

Branches of John Lewis in Britain have already received telephone calls from desperate mothers in the US. One manager emptied all his Beanie Baby boxes to set aside every model of the specific Baby the American woman was after. The transatlantic calls that will be precipitated by the Di Bears do not bear thinking about.

Beanie Babies, for the few who may still not know, are small, squishy fabric toys, about 7in high and stuffed with small pellets. They have emerged in the United States at least as one of two or three must-have items on every parent's Christmas list. Beanie Baby mania is striking Britain too.

The only serious competition for Beanie Babies in the US is so far coming from Real Talkin' Bubba. This is a bear that talks and passes comment in a southern drawl. Best of all, if you hang him upside down by his feet, he will say it all backwards.

The hysteria prize last year went to the Tickle Me Elmo toy. It was about this time in December, that supplies of Elmo dried up altogether, sending black-market prices though the roof. Beanie Baby panics occur regularly, because Ty Inc deliberately issues models and, just when their popularity is peaking, retire them again.

Such was the fate of Peanut the Elephant recently. Old Peanuts have been trading over the Internet for more than $2,200 (pounds 1,350). (Recommended price: $4.99).

The Princess Di Baby will be a small bear fitted with a white embroidered rose and a purple satin ribbon. The problem for shops today will be handling demand and preventing violence. "I bet some stores are preparing for a riot," remarked Lola Cardenas, owner of a Chicago card shop.

Scores of shop owners have logged on to web sites dedicated to the toys with suggestions on coping with the stampede. Many are getting ready for Diana lotteries, or silent auctions and plan to give the proceeds to local charities.

For some it seems to be getting to be too much. "Actually I prayed about this," one retailer, who is planning a silent auction, confessed. "I truly love people and making their dreams come true. In giving we receive and through sales of beanies I have met some great people."

Ty, by the way, will be giving its proceeds from the bears to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.