What Not to Collect — 5 Unexpected Collectibles That are Harmful

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The experts at Kovels.com report on 5 unexpected antique and vintage collectibles that are harmful. Some innocent-looking antiques can be dangerous.

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Medicine bottle, Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, sold for $403 at Glass Works Auctions.

The experts at Kovels.com urge caution when shopping at antiques stores, flea markets and garage sales. Collectors should be aware of the dangers that older items can pose. Old firearms, war souvenirs like hand grenades, cannon balls or boxes of bullets, and old tools are obvious dangers. Kovels’ lists 5 innocent-looking antiques can be dangerous.

1. Old medicine bottles with contents containing drugs. Even fumes in closed spaces can pose a risk. The active ingredients of some old medicines may be changed over time. Antique “Oil of Vitriol” can have sulfuric acid and “Aqua Fortis,” nitric acid. Even lots of bitters have heroin or morphine or other pain killers. Look for a product name or a list of ingredients on a bottle with medicine—or household cleaning products or poisons—before opening. Ask a pharmacist if there are questions. Empty the bottles if there is any chance a child could find it.

2. Jarts. A lawn game popular in the 1980s, Jarts had four large darts with weighted metal tips, and two targets placed on the ground. The darts are thrown at the target. The game was banned in the U.S. because thousands of children were injured. There were even four deaths. Consumer warnings were printed on the packaging, but the sale of Jarts was finally banned in 1988.

3. Toys with pieces children can swallow. In the late 1970s, Mattel launched a line of toys based on the sci-fi TV series Battlestar Galactica. Kids loved the Viper, the Cyclon Raider, the Scarab and the Stellar Probe. But a child died after choking on a tiny spring-loaded missile, and Mattel recalled the toys and suspended production. Another dangerous toy is Buckyballs, a set of small, powerful magnetic balls that could be molded into different shapes, sold as an adult “stress reliever” desk toy in 2009. Some small, shiny pieces were swallowed by kids. The balls attract each other inside the body and they can cause serious intestinal injury. Warnings on the packaging were deemed ineffective and the toy was finally discontinued in 2012.

4. Things with mercury and lead. Antique clocks, thermometers, barometers, lamps and even mirrors may contain mercury. Dangerous exposure may result from breakage. In some states, antiques with mercury are prohibited from sale. Lab tests of children’s metal bracelets made in China and sold since the 1980s have shown the presence of lead and cadmium. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued warnings that children who suck on or swallow a bracelet charm or necklace are endangering their health. Lead and cadmium can hinder brain development or cause cancer in young children. Lead has also been found in some old cartoon character drinking glasses, ice cream scoops, salt shaker lids and toy teapots.

5. Old cribs, playpens and high chairs. An old crib may be adorable but too dangerous to use. Cribs and playpens were made with slats spaced too far apart, allowing a baby’s body, but not head, to get through. Plus, modern mattresses or padding may not be an exact fit, leaving dangerous gaps. In 1974, the CPSC established standards for slat spacing and crib dimensions to ensure safety, and stopped sales of old cribs. The wooden high chair with a smaller footprint may be folksy but tip easily. Decorative cutouts may also pose a risk. Old wooden furniture from 1900 to the 1970s may be decorated with lead paint, poisonous if swallowed.

About Kovels.com
Kovels.com, created by Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel, provides collectors and researchers with up-to-date and accurate information on antiques and collectibles. The company was founded in 1953 by Terry Kovel and her late husband, Ralph. Since then, Kovels’ has written some of America’s most popular books and articles about antiques, including the best-selling Kovels’ Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide, now available in its 48th edition. The website, Kovels.com, online since 1998, offers more than a million free prices, and includes a free weekly email, Kovels Komments. It gives readers a bird’s-eye view of the market through the latest news, auction reports, a Marks Dictionary, readers’ questions and answers and much more.

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Liz Lillis

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