How Stuffed Animals Got Cheaper, Softer, and Safer

Here's a true tale of why things are better than they used to be.


I realize that I blew the news hook for this great story by Virginia Postrel of ongoing innovation in the plush-toy market, but better late than never.

Postrel, the former editor of Reason, writes at Bloomberg View:

The plush toys that line store shelves this time of year are cheaper, often safer, and much, much softer than in bygone days. They represent a small, squishy example of a pervasive phenomenon: goods whose quality has improved gradually but significantly over time, without corresponding price increases and with little recognition in the public imagination.

Let's start with price: If you shop around, you can find a stuffed Easter bunny for three dollars. You could in the 1970s, and you can today.

My neighborhood Target is selling two models at that priceone a gangly-legged anthropomorphic fellow with a ribbon bowtie and the other shaped like a classic teddy bear with long rabbit ears. At $2.99, they're the cheapest in a lineup of plush Easter toys that includes offerings for $4.99, $9.99 and $19.99 (a child-sized giant rabbit). Back in 1970, when I myself was young enough for Easter baskets, Walgreens advertised "plush bunnies in 'hot' colors" for $2.97, along with other plush rabbits for $2.19 and $3.77 (and a velvet bunny for $1.39).

The $2.97 bunny from 1970 was probably bigger (the ad doesn't say) than today's $2.99 model, but keep in mind that these prices are not corrected for inflation. The 1970 bunny would cost $17.97 in today's dollars. Or to use another benchmark, the federal minimum wage in 1970 was $1.45—about half the price of one of those Walgreens bunnies—compared with today's minimum of $7.25, more than double the price of the Target ones. Earning enough to buy the 1970 bunny required 123 minutes of minimum-wage labor versus about 25 minutes today. 

The changes range far beyond price, of course, and Postrel explains how the materials used to make stuffed animals are much softer than they used to be as well.

It's a great article that tells a big story by focusing on a small item.