Toxic Ornaments from the Good Old Days

IMG_1860I was saying something to a co-worker about the lead icicles on my tree, and got a blank look. “Guess I’m going to have to look that one up,” he said. “You mean… real lead?”

I had to explain that they were cut into thin strips, and hang off of the branches, one strip on a branch.

I guess I was still a kid when they stopped selling these. But we always had lead icicles on the tree, and when they were deemed unsafe, and the icicles all changed to mylar or other kinds of plastic, very few of us were looking ahead to stockpile the old kind. After about 40 years of the nonsense of mylar icicles blowing across the tree with the slightest breeze, and finding their way all the way through the cats’ digestive systems, I did an eBay search for the good old days.
I got some for $10 about 7 years ago, but they’re still out there today:

mGEklqiJyrkRlRzlJYiWXtg mHUsEorR2xLEfQFPRH4Hr_Q mLGk5cATsZ2oswV4UxLYQ4QOf course now they’re collectible not just because they are no longer made, but because the graphics on the boxes are so nice.
I wish I could show you a some that are new in the box. This first picture shows another bunch I found at the auction, not exactly in pristine condition, but useable:
IMG_1881We used to have to separate them into strands. My dad would straddle the piano bench and lay them out individually in front of him. It’s better if you run them through your fingers to straighten them. Then we would go pick them up and put them on the tree, one by one.  Quite tedious.

IMG_1911They break very easily, too, and then we’d take the short pieces and wad them together into a little ball of lead, which is still very fun to play with!


IMG_1909Here’s a photo from Flickr (via Pinterest) that shows another example:

IMG_1907Because we didn’t want to spend the extra money every year to get a new box, we tried hard to reuse them, but eventually there would be too many small pieces, and we’d get new ones. I distinctly remember seeing discarded trees on the curb with the lead icicles still on them, though. So after all those years of discarded lead in the landfills, they finally decided that they were an unnecessary risk to young children who might ingest the lead.

From Wikipedia:
foil was a popular material for tinsel manufacture for several decades of the 20th century. Unlike silver, lead tinsel did not tarnish, so it retained its shine. However, use of lead tinsel was phased out after the 1960s due to concern that it exposed children to a risk of lead poisoning.[3] In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded in August 1971 that lead tinsel caused an unnecessary risk to children, and convinced manufacturers and importers to voluntarily stop producing or importing lead tinsel after January 1, 1972. The FDA did not actually ban the product because the agency did not have the evidence needed to declare lead tinsel a “health hazard.”[4]
Modern tinsel is typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film coated with a metallic finish and sliced into thin strips.[5] Coated mylar film also has been used.[3] These plastic forms of tinsel do not hang as well as tinsel made from heavy metals such as silver and lead.[5]

No kidding, they don’t hang as well. The lead ones make all the difference to the look of my tree, and Shiva doesn’t eat them, so there’s no risk. I think I’ll go put on a few more. You’re supposed to put one on EVERY branch, but just contemplating taking them off of every branch puts a bit of a damper on that idea. Still, I think the extra effort is worth it.

Oh yes,  I was going to mention bubble lights….they weren’t really toxic unless you ingested the contents, but they did explode once in a while, which was exciting.
bubblelites_smallThese are still being made in a less toxic way, but I’ve never been able to afford them. However, my son found some tiny ones recently at a warehouse store and they are pretty cute, so I might get those some time. They look so magical.

(still recreating childhood Christmases)


12 responses to “Toxic Ornaments from the Good Old Days

  1. Lead icicles. I had no idea head lead content. I recall I hated putting them on the tree and yes, many a tree waited for the city refuse truck still draped in tinsel.
    Do you remember angel hair? I swear it must have been on the same level as house insulation. Ugh. 😛

  2. Figures I had zero clue that tinsel was made of lead. Intriguing! And yes, that stuff not only hung properly but was more perfectly shimmering and twinkly than ten times the mylar. I had no inkling of that whole story. Thanks for telling it! 😀

  3. You’re quite welcome, Kathryn! I get very nostalgic at Christmas, so thanks for indulging me~

  4. Glass icicles on their way to you. I think I have some bubble lights too. You got a fuller-looking tree this year. More room for this new stuff.

  5. All that lead around when we were young! I don’t FEEL that my brain has suffered! I still have my dolls’ house which contains quite a few lead items. I hope to goodness that parents don’t prevent my granddaughter playing with them when she’s a wee bit older! We’re tripping over health and safety issues these days!
    By the way, your tree looks magical!

  6. Pingback: Dreadful weather and a toxic past | Garybuie's Blog

  7. Yes, we had to separate them and hang a strand at a time too. We did not toss them out with the tree. Other people threw theirs on in big clumps, I always felt our single strands were prettier.

  8. We had them when I was young also and like your father mine also had us hang one strand at a time. It was Mom though who had us remove them to save until the next year. I remember feeling rather sad when they would start to break into smaller lengths and they couldn’t be saved like all the rest of our ornaments. I have never taken to the new variety and the mess they leave after. Thanks for the memories

    • Thanks for the comment. When they broke up, we would roll them into little balls and squish them…. still do, actually. But I wash my hands more carefully than I probably did as a kid!

  9. A friend who visited Germany in the ’90s brought 3 boxes back for me. I’m still using at least one box of them – I do recycle. I bought some on eBay a couple years ago. Now Germany has stopped producing them. They make my tree!

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