FARGO - At one point in your life you've probably collected something. Maybe it was stamps, state quarters or a pile of pretty rocks.
Erin Hagen collected Beanie Babies.
The plush toys that came in various animal incarnations became popular in the 1990s, but for Hagen, the craze continued for many years.
In her pre-teens, Hagen started collecting Beanie Babies with her mom. Family, friends and neighbors knew Hagen collected them, so she received many as gifts. One year the company came out with an "Erin" Beanie Baby and, she knew she had to have the bear.
"I think it was kind of that collector mentality in me, so when they would come out with one, I would be like, 'Well, I need to find that one'," Hagen says. "It kind of put me on a mission to find certain ones, especially with the Erin Beanie Baby."
Hagen, who lives in Pelican Rapids, Minn., felt desperate to collect them all - including the Erin Beanie Baby that came in three sizes. She received a large Erin as a gift from her neighbor and then bought the Erin bear in its medium size when it was released. The smallest Erin bear was only available at McDonalds. So Hagen and her mom hunted each week to find her perfect happy meal toy.
"I would try and request it from them (McDonalds), but they wouldn't give you what you wanted, so I think they did it as torture," Hagen says. "They kept giving me the ones that were not that one, so I would have to keep going back to make sure I got that right one."
Hagen says she probably went a dozen times before finally getting the prize. "I just really wanted that one that Erin one because I thought it would be cool to have all the varieties of that certain one," she says.
Most Beanie Babies collectors saved their prize possessions in the hope of cashing in big. Unfortunately those cute, fuzzy animals are not worth nearly as much as collectors once hoped. Matt Nelson, a Used-A-Bit Pawn salesman in Fargo, has seen many Beanie Babies, but he says the animals are declining in value.
"Honestly, we don't even take them in anymore. They just don't sell at all," Nelson says. "When we've had them, they sit for five to six months before they even sell." He says if the store does buy them, sellers only receive $1 for each.
Hagen says she owns roughly 300 animals in her collection. The price when she purchased each was $5, making the total investment $1,500.
"It just was kind of for the fun of it. If something ends up being worth something, I probably will never know," Hagen says.
For those looking to recoup some of their original investment, sellers could look to Used-A-Bit Pawn, Facebook Buy and Sell Groups or Craigslist.
In addition, people are selling all kinds of Beanie Babies on Ebay, from first generation animals, to rare editions with different tags and others that are made with different materials. These are selling anywhere from $5 to $30,000. Nelson says he can't imagine anyone spending a fortune on them.
Hagen knows she won't get much money out of her collection, but she has an idea for when the time comes that she's ready to part with it.
"I'm going to give them away to a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) that could use them for their little kiddos," Hagen says. "I'm going to try and separate from most of them but keep those few that have memories for me."
Memories for a lifetime
For Hagen, the journey of finding each item has the most value.
"I think it's just the nostalgia and the memories of going with my mom," Hagen says. "My mom loves to shop, so we would go out and just kind of make a hunt of it all."
Hagen's memories run deeper than just trekking to McDonalds every week. She received the Princess Diana bear after her grandma moved because her grandmother's favorite color is purple.
Another special item in the collection is an owl wearing a graduation hat. In high school, she received that owl from a good friend, so every time she sees the owl she's remembers her friend.
Hagen says she'd also have a hard time parting with her Beanie Baby basset hound named "Sniffer." It resembles her pet dog - also a basset hound - named Daisy because both have long floppy ears.
Even though Hagen's collection now sits packed away, she holds on to those special memories with friends and family.
"I can't get rid of them for some reason - they are my little babies. I think it's in my personality to be a collector. Now that I am getting older I see that," she says. "I think it was kind of a fun thing to collect for me growing up.