Rare Book Monthly
Articles - February - 2009 Issue
Yes, It Is Still Legal to Sell Old Children's Books
By Michael Stillman
A collective sigh of relief was heard recently from sellers of old children's books. It is, after all, legal to continue selling these books without undertaking expensive testing for lead content.
Last summer, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued new rules, limiting the lead content of children's products to 600 parts per million as of February 10, 2009 (with further decreases later on). There is also an independent testing requirement to establish that products meet this limitation. However, this rule does not apply only to goods produced after February 10. It also applies to all goods produced for children in the past. In other words, that 1798 primer you wish to sell to the 70-year-old book collector might have required costly independent testing to establish lead content below the maximum allowable standard before you could make the sale.
Fortunately, it now appears that common sense has prevailed. On January 8, the CPSC issued a clarification of the new rule. It is still a violation to sell children's products with too high a lead content even if manufactured prior to the enforcement date. Merchants are also warned not to sell items likely to have a high lead content without testing or some other evidence that the content is not too high. However, the clarification specifies, "The new safety law does not require resellers to test children's products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold." In other words, to sort this one out, it is not necessary to do independent testing and certification of older items if there is no reason to believe it would have an unlawfully high lead content. That would seem to apply to books and printed matter, which are not known to have been made with lead parts or paint.
The announcement goes on to state that while all resellers are required to abide by provisions of the new law, there are certain categories to which special attention should be given. Among these are cribs, children's jewelry, and painted toys. Books are not on the list. So, unless your old children's books have pictures hand-colored with lead paint, or something else similarly unusual, it would appear that you are free to go on selling them without fear.
Technically, this may only relieve the burden on old books sellers currently have in stock, not ones purchased for inventory after February 10. However, a separate sentence looks like it should apply to later purchased old books: "Sellers of used children's products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits..." Certainly thrift shops and other resellers of old children's products could not stay in business for long without restocking inventory. This sentence would appear to imply that it is acceptable to continue buying old children's books for stock without having to test and certify them.
The CPSC's clarification can be found on the following page: click here.