Border Opens Up For Beanie Babies

They often arrive in this country surreptitiously, suffering the indignity of being smuggled across the border in car trunks, wheel wells even glove boxes.

And if they're caught, they're either deported or held against their will in a U.S. Customs warehouse, where they languish despite their undeniable cuteness.

But immigrating to the U.S. just got a lot easier for Beanie Babies.

Ty Inc., the maker of the popular stuffed toy, has allowed the limit to be changed on how many Beanie Babies can be brought into the U.S. from Canada. As of this week, up to 30 Beanie Babies per person can be brought over the border.

As long as the Beanie Babies are for personal use and people buy no more than three of the same kind, crossing over the Canadian border with more than one Beanie Baby won't be a problem anymore, said Kathy Lisius, supervisory import specialist for the U.S. Customs Service in Blaine, Whatcom County. People also must limit their Beanie Baby purchases to once every 30 days.

The old limit was one Beanie Baby per person, and resulted in the confiscation of thousands destined for Washington state over the past six months. Predictably, this didn't set well with collectors of the fuzzy creatures.

Ty, which introduced Beanie Babies in 1993, was finding that some Canadian shop owners would only sell popular Beanies, such as Erin the Bear or the exclusive Canadian polar bear, if a collector bought 10 other less-popular animals, Lisius said. American collectors would buy the fuzzy creatures only to find out at the border they could cross over with only one toy, she said.

The restrictions come at a time when Beanie Baby smuggling has dramatically increased. More than 8,100 have been confiscated since February at the Blaine crossing.

"Last year, we didn't detain any Beanie Babies," Lisius said. "Now, people are smuggling Beanie Babies in similar places where they hide drugs, such as hidden compartments and the spare tire holders."

Most of the public wasn't aware of the one-Beanie-Baby-per-person law, said Customs officials. Even U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky apparently didn't know about it when she reportedly brought 40 Beanie Babies home from her recent trip to China with President Clinton. She turned them over to Customs officials, keeping one.

Canada is such an appealing marketplace for collectors because Beanie Baby mania hasn't hit full force there, leaving plenty of Beanie Babies available at an attractive rate, Lisius said.

Typical Beanies, those not "retired," cost about $5 apiece. But rare Beanie Babies can be worth thousands, such as the scarce Royal Blue Peanut, which can fetch $5,200.

Oh, Baby.