Collectibles that can Kill

January 10, 2016 by  
Filed under New, Spotlight

Collectibles that can Kill
I’ll admit collectibles that can kill sounds like a fairly extreme title. Just the very fact that something is collectible probably means it’s also rare. If that rarity is age-related then this article could very well apply. While products today are generally safety tested and certified that wasn’t always the case.

There are many combinations of collectible items that can cause bodily harm.

Obviously collectible items such as weapons, for example firearms and knives, can be lethal. This article is referring more  to the type of item you wouldn’t normally associate with an obvious risk or danger.

This article is leaning more  towards the type of item you wouldn’t normally associate with an obvious risk or danger. I’m referring to your normal consumer type goods. Things you would find in the average home. This article will explore some of those items,.

This is especially true for products created throughout the 50s and 60s. During this period there were many advances in industrial manufacturing as well as in the use of new polymers.

Polymers were the building block compounds in plastics and rubbers.

Manufacturers everywhere were anxious to begin producing an assortment of consumer goods. Plastic and rubber toys were simple and engineered to a lesser standard than something like a machinery part.

Military collectibles that can kill are not the only dangers.

While the benefits of new plastic combinations were welcomed the negative impact was not mentioned. With less restrictions and less product knowledge in general, combinations of plastics could easily have been off-gassing.

To determine how dangerous something may be or might have been we look at the most vulnerable areas in our lives. For example, any product that would come into contact with food or water. This may very well be a toxic metal component such as lead, mercury or cadmium.

Or it could be an item that would normally be enjoyed by children.

Toys would be the most obvious items.  The bright colors may indicate lead or cadmium traces in paint finishes.

The first toys to require warning labels only began to appear in the 70s. They were legislated in direct response to the  choking death of a small child. The child had apparently swallowed a tiny piece of plastic. One that was part of a space ship model.

The model was made popular by a science fiction television series. This would probably be a collectible model today. Maybe even more-so considering the ‘ushering in’ of the safety labeling era can be attributed to this specific toy.

Were toys accident-free prior to that?

It probably wasn’t the first fatal accident from a consumer product. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of consumer complaints. Or maybe they weren’t identified as anything but accidents at the time.

My  theory is they just didn’t give toys a second thought.

This generation had experienced true hardship and had serious things to fear. Toys just didn’t even  show up on their radar. Remember that the consumer of the 40s – 70s had all been somewhat de-sensitized because of the wartime years.

Before a lot of the strict new product regulations we see today, many products made it into the marketplace. Some of these would leave you shaking your head in disbelief. Of course things are much different today.

I remember several examples of toys from the 60s that caused me injury.

I got off pretty easy actually since they had the potential to do much worse.  My first wood chisel set, complete with razor sharp carving bits and a wood mallet, lacerated my index finger.

This was a product marketed to children and sold in the toy aisle at a large department store. I remember begging for this set only to take it home and split open my finger within minutes of using it. The thick scar is still obvious almost 50 years later.

Another example would be the Creepy Crawler Maker. This contraption was basically a piping hot griddle where liquid rubber was poured into removable steel molds. I received several seriously burned fingers after making adjustments while this was still hot.

I can remember letting this contraption heat up in my room beside my bed without a second thought. I had no perception of the danger of fire. Not only that but I inhaled all the noxious fumes from the bubbling rubber goop.

There were some others as well. They may have been less obvious but they were still just as dangerous. Take the dime store figurine that I named the site after…the Smoking Monkey.

Keep in mind this was a ten cent ceramic figurine.

Inside the package was included several stick-like cigarettes. Kind of looked like incense sticks. You would fit one into the monkey’s mouth and light it up. Once lit the monkey puffed and blew smoke rings.

It was the coolest toy for a kid but you needed matches to light it. I remember lighting this thing up all the time. All very comical until you think about a kid of 7 or 8 playing with matches in the bedroom. Again I think since smoking in the 60s was totally acceptable it somehow translated as normal for a kid to be lighting play cigarettes.

Not really something to panic over I guess since cigarettes and matches were on par with the times, so commonplace. Back then smoking was mainstream. Even my family doctor had an ashtray on his desk. Pretty sure I remember him smoking while he sat and chatted with my parents.

At the time warning labels were pretty well non-existent.

This may have been due to many toys coming from overseas. Regulations and guidelines were probably very different. Or maybe none of the manufacturers actually cared. Not that toys were outright killing people but the likelihood of injury was certainly high.

Once the first offender’s products were identified the floodgates opened.  It wasn’t that there were so many more unsafe products being manufactured.  It was more a case of products finally being identified. My guess is that if you had a product that was deemed unsafe you had eyes out for your competition’s product.

Suddenly dangerous products appeared everywhere.

“Collectibles that can kill… sounds like it’s own category”.

Sometimes re-branding and label modifications weren’t enough. Some products were not salvageable.

These had to be discontinued or outright banned once they were found to be a danger to the public. The most serious offenders usually affected the most vulnerable…children.

This usually meant in the form of choking or strangulation. But that was no means the only dangers out there. Risk of severe burns also ranked high as did blunt force trauma. Items that presented danger from long-term chemical exposure were also identified.

Once the list of dangers grew to cover a wider swath the warnings began to extend beyond toys. Now it was moving into consumer and household goods.

This usually came about with the item being used for something not originally intended. For example, using a decorative item for drinking out of or to hold a food product.

Take the case of radium poisoning.

Radium is a highly toxic component used to create the glow-in-the-dark items you may have seen. Manufacturers used to paint the hands of clocks and watch faces with radium laced paints. This was very common for decades and unfortunately many people that were involved in their manufacturing and  assembly have paid with their lives.

Toys too could also contain traces of radium. The manufacturer had introduced a radium component into the plastic and rubber components. Remember those advances with polymers. This was usually done for effect. In the 60s I can recall many toys with glow in the dark features.

I personally had a series of rubber finger puppets depicting ghost cartoon characters. They were based on a television program at the time. Thinking back they were certainly treated with something to give them a glowing effect.

Some of these old toys were so bizarre they don’t really fall into any collectible category. If you don’t agree with collectibles that can kill as a category you could stick with bizarre toxic toys from the 50s and 60s. Though I’m not sure if that sounds any better.

Best of luck and collect well.


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