The 90s were a strange time. Mark Wahlberg was a rapper, and society accepted this. Edward Norton dated Courtney Love (for like, years). Wearing your pants backwards was a totally reasonable, nay, trendy thing to do.
But I don’t think anything exemplifies the weirdness of the decade like the collectibles craze. These were generally kids toys, released by the millions along with an explicit promise that they’d be worth a fortune something someday. People spent thousands of dollars hoarding these things, most of which ended up being worthless within a year.
90s crazes were actually my first introduction to investing. My friend Carrie and I, aged 10, would meet up every couple of weeks to brag about our newest Beanie Babies, dial-up the internet to Ask Jeeves what they’d be worth someday, and then mark it all down in a Lisa Frank notebook.
Anyways, I’ve got a ton of junk from my childhood stored in mom’s studio, and my flight home’s in three weeks. Did any of my “investments” pan out? Should I have done something different with my allowance? An investigation:
We all know of the spectacular rise, and Icarus-like fall, of the humble Beanie Baby. At one point, sales reached $1 billion dollars. Guidebooks were even released, which predicted that “investors” could expect to make thousands on their bears, dogs, and uh, lobsters. But the Great Beanie Baby crash lined up pretty closely with the burst of the dotcom bubble, and the bottom fell out of this bizarre market.
Today, the dream isn’t quite dead. People still regularly put their toys up on Ebay for thousands of dollars. But whether anyone’s ponying up is another question.
Price I paid for Seaweed the otter in 1998: $7
What I could get for Seaweed today: Between $2-$8
What if in 1998, I’d invested that $7 in gold? If I had the foresight to put seven bucks in the Rangold Resources mining company, I’d have $169.14 today. I could finally buy a decent winter coat.
Emotions ran high during peak-pog. There was rumour at my that school that a kid at another Vancouver elementary school got stabbed for going back on a promise to play “for keeps.” This led to an incredible school assembly where my principal A) asked everyone what a pog was and B) immediately banned them.
Milhouse once traded Bart’s soul for Alf in pog form. These days, they’re barely worth the cardboard they’re printed on.
Price I paid for a slammer in 1997: $2
What I could get for this piece of magenta plastic today: God, I’d be lucky to get $2 for a 1,000 of these things.
What if I’d invested, say $12 worth of pogs in Johnson & Johnson in 1996? Hey, with $77.63 from J&J, I could afford half of my monthly hydro bill!
Furbies (Furbys? Furbii?) were electronic robot-owl hybrid creatures that would blink and coo at you in their own freaky language. Over 40 million were sold during their heyday, and many thought that storing them in mint condition would pay off down the road. Keeping these guys in their original packaging was certainly tempting, since they were terrifying.
Furbys are actually still kicking around—now with LCD eyes and an associated app. Got nieces or nephews? Why not pass along the nightmare to a new generation this holiday season?
Price I paid for this monstrosity: $35.
What I could get for it today: $10, though the absolute rarest can go for $150-$400.
If I’d invested that $35 in Apple in 1999? Goodbye freelance gigs, hello Caribbean cruise. I’d be walking with $2,874.43.
These were little egg-shaped video game things, on which you’d care for a pixelated pet. They were fun for about a minute, but they required constant attention. And unlike your Neopet, they could actually die without proper care. Kind of a heavy responsibility for a child to shoulder, but again, the 90s were weird.
What I paid to perpetually neglect my pet in its own filth: $17.99
What I could get for it today: $15-$100
If I’d invested that $17.99 in Walmart in 1997? Investing in North American retail ubiquity would have netted me $148.35. Score!
The Pokémon Go! craze has proved that as a society, we are still fully capable of going insane over miniature creatures that we force to fight each other to exhaustion, before imprisoning them in spherical storage systems. Yet somehow, Pokémon cards never delivered on their early promise. A first edition, mint condition Charizard can net you $700, but odds are, whatever you’ve got shoved in a duotang back home isn’t worth the time you’ll spend posting it on Ebay.
Price I paid for a starter pack: About $15
What I could get for it today: Between $2-20, depending on condition.
If I’d invested $15 in Exxon Mobil in 1996: Eight year-old me didn’t care about the environment. Eight year-old me was a jerk. If I knew enough to use that $15 and sink it into Exxon Mobil, I could have had an even $100 today.
So what did we learn?
Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s valuable. Rare is valuable. Instead of paying for a storage unit to house your Dr. Who action figures, you’re way better off making a regular contribution to your tax-free savings account. Trust me.