A few weeks ago, my mother and I were going through some old boxes from the attic.
That’s when I found it. Tucked inside a small white envelope with two tiny watch batteries, a small plastic piece of my childhood.
Tamagotchis are small virtual pet simulation games that were all the rage in the late ’90s and early 2000s. I purchased mine from the local mall with my allowance shortly after their worldwide debut in May 1997.
(Fun fact: The inventors, Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi, won the 1997 Ig Nobel Prize for economics. The annual award, a spoof on the Nobel Prize, honors “achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think.”)
Surprisingly, when I tired of being a digital caretaker, I had enough forethought to remove the batteries before sealing it up for safekeeping.
Fast-forward 22 years and you might think I’m sitting on a goldmine. But my toy is well-loved and a bit scratched and part of the screen has burnt out. Besides, as popular as they were two decades ago, Tamagotchis — even original models like I have — aren’t worth much more than the MSRP.
Today — for some fun — let’s look at a few other ’90s toy fads that have crashed and burned spectacularly.
Unless you were living under a rock at the end of the last century, you know the plush, pellet-filled animals I’m talking about… The creation of American businessman H. Ty Warner, who founded Ty Inc. in 1986, Beanie Babies were all the rage among young and old folks alike.
My brother and I collected (and fought over) our fair share — at one point we owned 50 or so between us. But we mostly just played with them.
Other people took their collections very seriously… In a notorious 1999 divorce case, Nevada couple Frances and Harold Mountain counted their Beanie Baby collection among their assets — and proceeded to divvy it up on the courtroom floor.
In the early days of the craze, a few collectors got lucky, turning these playthings into four- and five-figure paydays.
Others weren’t so fortunate. Some people went all in, drained their life savings and were left with little to show for it.
Sure, you can hop on eBay right now and see a purple Princess Diana bear listed for $600,000. But is anyone really going to pay that much? It’s been on the site for over two years and no one’s bitten yet…
Who’s to say why the Beanie Baby bubble ultimately burst? Market saturation… company missteps… unchecked fraud… likely the potent combination of all these caused the fever to fizzle out.
As for me and my brother, eventually we gave all of our Beanie Babies away. The only one I still own is a red orangutan named Schweetheart, a spontaneous gift from my sibling — invaluable.
Now, pogs were a fad my parents were not on board with. I can distinctly remember my father at the dinner table railing against the idea of a person spending their hard-earned money on cardboard circles. He would not allow it.
So I had to earn my pogs one by one the good old-fashioned way — in battle. The same way kids used to play marbles for keeps.
Now for a bit of fascinating history…
POG is actually an acronym that stands for passion fruit, orange, guava — a popular juice blend sold by Haleakala Dairy on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
As early as 1927, there are accounts of a game invented by an islander using the POG bottle caps. The game was so well-known that even after the company stopped making glass bottles, it continued to produce the caps so people could play.
In 1991, Haleakala expanded their distribution to the more populous island of Oahu. From there the game made its way to the mainland and a fad was born.
By the mid-’90s, pogs were everywhere. Cereal box prizes… new account perks… corporate branding… box office tie-ins… anything and everything was printed on those little discs.
Then — poof. Pogs made their exit as swiftly as they came on the scene, helped in part, I’m sure, by sweeping bans.
Between distracted students, schoolyard scuffles and what was essentially gambling, pogs became School Enemy No. 1. And once they were no longer allowed on school grounds, their main audience moved on — as kids are wont to do.
Pokémon Trading Cards
To be fair, this example is a bit of an outlier. You could argue that Pokémon are still just as popular nowadays as they were when they debuted in 1996.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu brought in over $430 million in box office sales this year. And when the mobile app Pokémon GO launched in the U.S. on July 6, 2016, demand was so high it strained the servers and delayed the game launch in other countries.
Unfortunately, though, the recent spike in interest doesn’t mean my shoebox full of Pokémon trading cards is worth anything.
First off, we were kids, so my brother and I didn’t take excellent care of our cards. Sure, we kept them in plastic sleeves in a big binder, but we played rough and the cards show it.
Second, there are only a handful of cards that are actually considered valuable. Some are precious because they’re so rare — first editions and the like… A few have a stamp error that boosts the value… Still others were released in conjunction with other media and are unique by association.
If you (or someone you know) has a stash of Pokémon cards lying around that no one plays with anymore, it might be fun to price check them. But don’t worry about adding any to your portfolio if they’re not already there.
That’s the lesson here. Not all collectibles are created equal.
From six-figure sale prices to good-for-nothing garbage… At the end of the day, these toys were just child’s play.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. If you want to showcase your personal treasures… talk with other like-minded collectors… and buy or sell items that bring you joy — there’s no better place than the forums of JustCollecting. Hop on and take a stroll down memory lane or go on the hunt for a new asset — the choice is yours.
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...