Exploring the World of Dangerous Collectibles and Antiques
Sure, collecting old things is fun, but depending upon what you do with them, they can also be harmful to your health.
Exploring the World of Dangerous Collectibles and Antiques
When it comes to vintage collectibles and antiques, there exists a fascinating but often overlooked aspect — the hidden and not-so-hidden dangers that some of these items pose.
While they are cherished for their historic significance, craftsmanship or aesthetics, not all things from the past are harmless treasures. From toxic materials and faulty construction to outdated safety standards, certain collectibles harbor inherent risks.
While that doesn't mean you shouldn't collect them, you should at least know what you're up against.
Older Cribs Are Not for Modern Use
If you have a new baby, you know that furnishing a nursery can get costly. You may want to find an older crib for that reason, or perhaps you want something older that goes with your vintage aesthetic. Unfortunately, a vintage or used crib is not a good choice. Cribs over 10 years old are dangerous for babies for many reasons.
Drop-side cribs have been proven to entrap and suffocate children. Furthermore, slats in older cribs weren't regulated in terms of how far apart their slats were — today, they are no more than 2 3/8 inches (about the width of a soda can), which means a toddler cannot fit through them.
A vintage crib may have decorative flourishes like cutout designs in headboards or footboards, which could also lead to injury or death. Lead paint and splinters are also an issue in these pieces. Antique or vintage high chairs and playpens also pose a danger for the same reasons.
Thermometers and Other Items With Mercury Can Be Deadly
Of course, you know that vintage thermometers have mercury, but did you know clock pendulums, mirrors, organs and even vases may also contain it?
Old items like these can leak this toxic substance when they are moved or when their seals age. Exposure to even the smallest amount can cause damage to your vital organs, including your brain, heart lungs and immune system. (If you have mercury fillings, and your dentist is begging you to get them removed, make sure you do!)
Old Blow Dryers Can Have Asbestos
Asbestos has been found in everything from old auto parts to flooring to vintage Christmas decorations (that stuff you see that used to pass as "snow" on your artificial tree). It's also found in large and small appliances, and that includes hair dryers.
Up until the late 1970s, hair dryers contained asbestos. Some individuals who used them daily found themselves with mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. While hair dryers with asbestos were recalled decades ago, there still might be cause for concern, as they are available via eBay or other similar websites.
Antique Firearms Lack Many Modern Safety Features
Antique firearms show up at many a gun show and flea market, and they can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Old firearms will show wear and tear over time, which may compromise their structural integrity. Additionally, they lack modern safety features that have become commonplace and often have outdated designs, like single-action trigger mechanisms that make them more prone to firing accidentally.
Over the years, an antique firearm may not have been maintained well. This may result in rust, corrosion or other weakened parts, significantly increasing the risk of malfunction.
Antique Hardware Can Become Faulty Over Time
Antique hardware in homes is beautiful, and many homes still feature it, but there is a danger to it that homeowners may not think about.
Hardware that is decades old may be covered in lead-based paint. Lead, as we now know, is toxic when ingested or when it deteriorates into dust. If the paint on old hardware contains lead and begins to peel or chip, it can create a health hazard, particularly for children who may touch the hardware and put their hands in their mouths.
The structural integrity of hardware may also become compromised over time. Cracks, loose parts or weakened mechanisms can develop, increasing the risk of it breaking or failing. This can potentially lead to injuries or leave homeowners locked inside or outside of a room or building.
Small Pieces and Lead Paint Make Old Toys a Danger
Vintage toys are highly collectible, but that nostalgia trip can hurt you in ways you haven't considered. Many older toys were made with lead-based paint or other toxic substances that, when they chip, can cause harm. Children are particularly susceptible, as they frequently put toys in their mouths.
This brings us to the choking danger — outdated design, construction and a lack of safety standards can make old toys very dangerous to a child. These items often have too-small parts, sharp edges or points that can cause injuries or are made from materials that easily break or shatter.
Old Medical Equipment Can Be Toxic
We admit that collecting old medical equipment is indeed a conversation starter, but it, too, has its drawbacks in terms of safety.
The risk of contamination and exposure to biological hazards is pretty high if medical equipment has been used, and there's really no way of knowing if it has. It may have come into contact with bodily fluids, infectious agents or other contaminants. If it wasn't properly sterilized or stored in a controlled environment, it can still harbor bacteria, viruses or other pathogens. Certain medical devices may have used materials like lead, mercury or asbestos, and outdated or malfunctioning equipment can present safety hazards that result in accidents or injuries.
Old drug bottles, while they are trendy to collect, may contain expired or degraded medications. Over time, these may lose their potency or even become toxic.
While Not Inherently Dangerous, There Are Some Things to Consider About Old Textiles
Antique textiles on their own are not too concerning, but they can have issues. Those that have not been stored properly may harbor insects, mites or larvae. Furthermore, if they have not been properly cleaned or maintained over the decades, they may accumulate dust, dirt or allergens, which can harm people who have respiratory conditions.
Textiles created before the implementation of certain regulations may also have been treated with dyes or finishes that are now known to be toxic or harmful. Exposure to these substances, especially through direct contact or inhalation, can lead to serious health problems.
Even Glassware Used to Contain Lead and Other Toxic Substances
One of the most popular collectibles is old glassware, but did you know most pieces manufactured before the late 1970s contain lead? If you've eaten off it occasionally, there's no real reason to worry, but it's best not to make it a habit. Also, this glassware should not be used in a microwave or dishwasher, as lead may leech out of it under high temperatures.
You can somewhat determine if your glassware does have lead. Leaded crystal glassware often has a higher weight compared to regular glass, produces a distinct ringing sound when tapped and may have a higher level of brilliance or sparkle. Colored glassware, particularly if it has a deep, vibrant hue, like the Fiestaware pictured, will also be more likely to contain lead.
Some old glassware is also coated with radionuclides — uranium, thorium, and potassium — used for coloring glazes, which emit alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation.
Beware of Clocks or Watches and Other Items with Radium
Old clocks and watches that have parts that glow-in-the-dark likely contain radium, a radioactive material that was once used in paint. The radioactive properties of radium allowed these timepieces to emit a glow without needing an external light source.
By 1925, it was discovered via the "Radium Girls" that prolonged exposure to radium, particularly through ingestion or inhalation of dust or vapors, could cause sickness and death. The Radium Girls were factory workers who painted radium-based paint on clocks and watches and used their lips and tongues to shape their paintbrushes into fine points. Unfortunately, they were not aware of the health risks they faced and experienced a range of serious illnesses, including radiation sickness, anemia, bone fractures and necrosis. Many of the girls also developed cancer, and most were dead within just a few years of being exposed to radium.
Companies were not banned from using radium in products until 1968, so there are plenty of these timepieces still out there. For the most part, they are harmless as long they are intact and in good condition. But you should never attempt to take them apart.