The collecting world has been abuzz with concerns of lead in our favorite kitchen mushrooms and other collectible vintage kitchenware. Certainly, we have known since ancient times that there is no safe level of lead to ingest or absorb through our skin, but until the 1970s, lead's usefulness outweighed the dangers.
The short answer is it is best to assume that all Sears Merry Mushrooms contain lead, especially the ceramics. If lead is a concern, the simplest solution is to not use any vintage kitchenware for food or drink. If you decide to use them, consider storing packaged snacks like granola bars and fruit snacks in them. Or, use a zip bag or other container inside the canisters. This will also keep the food items fresher, and keep in/out moisture and any bugs.
Now that the short answer is out of the way, let's take a closer look at what lead is and why it was used in so many products. Knowing this will help explain why Sears Merry Mushrooms and other vintage goods manufactured and imported in the 1970s and 1980s likely contain lead and may help you determine how to avoid it, if you choose to.
Here in the United States, Wisconsin's state mineral is galena (lead) due to its importance to Wisconsin's economy during its territorial days (1836-1848). The discovery spurred settlement of Mineral Point and New Diggins by Yankees, people from New England, and European immigrants. Galena, Illinois is part of the same lead field and settled at the same time. To find our more about the importance of lead mining to Wisconsin, check out the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Fast forward to the late 20th Century. Due to growing concerns about how lead does affect us, especially young children, the United States federal government began to phase out lead in gasoline in 1973 and finally eliminated it in 1996. The manufacture of lead-based house paint was banned in the United States in 1978. In 1986, the government restricted the lead content of solders, faucets, pipes, and similar materials. In ceramic glazes, lead was slowly phased out of ceramic glazes, though it appeared in some markets until the 1990s.
For an interesting and informative science project, you can purchase a lead testing kit in a hardware store or online and test your vintage pieces.
Read more about lead here:
Questions and Answers on Lead-Glazed Traditional Pottery (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Questions and Answers about Lead in Ceramic Tableware (Contra Costa County, California Health Services)
Lead Poisoning: A Historical Perspective (EPA Journal, May 1985)
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