When it comes to old toys, a lot of people forget about lead paint. It’s not a bad idea to be concerned about Tootsietoys and lead paint. That said, we also have to be realistic and reasonable. There’s no reason to be Scaredy Squirrel.
There are two extreme schools of thought on lead paint. One extreme points out that generations of kids played with toys with lead paint on them, and lived in houses with lead paint in them, and they survived. I’m not sure these people would eat lead paint on their pancakes, but they draw the line pretty close to there.
On the other extreme are people who believe the mere words “lead paint” mean instant death. They argue that no amount of lead is safe.
I fall in between the two extremes. I’m here and writing this in 2017, so I didn’t die of exposure to lead paint. Someone I went to school with may have. He died in 1983 or 1984. I knew his older brother and older sister fairly well. My teacher told us one morning he had died, and didn’t say much else. The only other thing anyone ever told me was that he didn’t wash his hands before he ate. Given that lead mining was this town’s big industry, lead poisoning was a big taboo. I had to come to that possible conclusion myself.
Back to the question at hand: What about Tootsietoys and lead paint?
Using lead paint was completely legal until 1978. Even after 1978, some people groused about it, saying the evil government banned “the only kind of paint that worked.”
So, we have to assume that any Tootsietoy, or any other toy, made before 1978 has lead paint on it. The classic open-bottom diecast cars most people associate with Tootsietoy were made for a few years after 1978, but not a lot. If you assume all Tootsietoy diecast cars have lead paint, you’re pretty safe.
Unless you repainted them after 1978, and you stripped the old paint off before you repainted them, kids shouldn’t be playing with them.
That said, let’s go back to that story about the kid I went to school with. Wash your hands before you eat. If you wash your hands after handling old toys, you’re safe. And lead isn’t the only potentially dangerous thing you protect yourself against by washing your hands before eating.
I played with plenty of pre-1978 toys as a kid. I was born before 1978. My grandmother had my uncle’s old toys out for my generation to play with. I played with them. I had a few toys that belonged to my dad that dated to the 1950s. Some of my friends had toys from that era too. Ironically, my dad let me play with his Lionel trains at home while getting in trouble for “running his mouth” about the dangers of lead in a town where lead mining was the main industry. Dad just didn’t think about the paint on those locomotives. But he also taught me how to wash my hands like a doctor.
I have numerous pre-1978 trains and toys on my train layout. My kids know to stay away from them unless they’re with me. And they wash their hands before they eat.
I’m not a doctor like my dad, but part of what I do every day is to help companies determine an acceptable level of risk. When it comes to Tootsietoys and lead paint, I wouldn’t let kids play with them. I also wouldn’t display them in a child’s room. But I’m fine with displaying them out of the reach of young children. They are neat to look at.
I also know from my own experience that if you provide Hot Wheels for kids to play with, they won’t want to touch the Tootsietoys anyway. Make sure they’re Hot Wheels from 1979 or later. Those old Hot Wheels probably have some lead paint too.