CPSIA and vintage books

As readers are aware, the Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday advised thrift stores and other resellers and distributors of used goods to discard (unless they wished to test for lead or take other typically unpractical steps such as contacting manufacturers) children’s books printed before 1985 and a very wide range of other children’s products, including apparel and playthings.
According to a commenter at a very busy Etsy thread on the subject, stores are already beginning to act on this advice:

I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed! I managed to grab a 1967 edition of “The Outsiders” from the top of the box, but so many!

People who deal more systematically in children’s books for a livelihood now face unpleasant choices. From our comments section, Valerie Jacobsen:

We own a small, local used bookstore and have been selling used books on the Internet since 1995.

Last year we shipped over 4500 used books to nearly 50 countries. (Note that CPSIA not only regulates distribution and sale but export as well.)

Our bookstore is the sole means of income for our family, and we currently have over 7000 books catalogued. In our children’s department, 35% of our picture books and 65% of our chapter books were printed before 1985.

Many of our older children’s books have painted decorative titles and other cover embellishment, which decoration is an extremely small quantity and which may or may not contain over 600 ppm lead. (The limits for each accessible part or paint layer are going to 300 ppm in August and 100 ppm in 2011.)

We have read the legislation, called our representative, called our senator, contacted the CPSC (no answer), read all of the CPSC press releases, and contacted a lawyer. We still honestly have no idea what is legal to sell, but we cannot simply discard a wealth of our culture’s nineteenth and twentieth children’s literature over this.

And from the same commenter today, following up after the CPSC’s issuance of guidance to small businesses last night:

I wasn’t thrilled with the exception stating that we can sell pre-1985 children’s books as long as they are pricey vintage collectibles for adult collectors. Um, great, but most of our children’s books, even our older children’s books, are sold for children to read. And read them, they do.

We ran an audit in our bookstore today. We have about 7000 books catalogued. Of our children’s chapter books, about 65% are pre-1985. Of our children’s picture books, about 35% are pre-1985. Most of these sell for under $10 and are stocked as children’s reading.

As an ethical matter, I really can’t discard our cultural heritage just because the CPSC has decreed that books published through *1984* may or may not still form a legal part of the canon of children’s literature for our culture.

I was willing to resist the censorship of 1984 and the Fire Department of Fahrenheit 451 long before I became a bookseller, so I’d love to run a black market in quality children’s books–but at the same time it’s not like the CPSC has never destroyed a small, harmless company before. It’s a scary thing to know that what you are doing is a positive good for the community–and yet possibly, strangely illegal.

Also, I am comforted by no promises from Nord and Moore that are not clear consequences of CPSIA itself. The membership of the commission will probably be changed this year, and if Waxman gets much input into the new membership, we could end up with five first rate cuckoos.

To which commenter Carol Baicker-McKee responds:

Valerie, please, for the sake of children and history hang onto your books! I kept thinking this law would go away, but now I’m worried that an important part of our heritage is genuinely threatened. Many, many children’s books printed before 1985 are now out of print and do not exist still in a form that would make them easy to republish (printing plates are usually destroyed when a book goes out of print and older books did not have electronic versions). Many books, though of enduring value to children and social scientists, may not exist in conditions or simply don’t fall into categories that make them appealing to collectors, the one group besides packrats that I guess is still allowed to own them. Although organizations like the Gutenberg Project have been working to scan and preserve many older children’s books in electronic form, they can only target books that are no longer copyright protected, a very small portion of the children’s books printed since 1985.

If nothing happens to change this law soon, I promise I will spend whatever money and devote whatever space I can to buying up these older books. I’ll be happy to label myself a collector (and I’m subversive enough to leave the books lying around where kids might “accidentally” read them).

A “relabel everything as collectible” strategy is, however, of limited legal help to retailers, because the law provides that they are liable if they sell a product which will commonly be understood as destined for use by children, whether or not they label it as such.

Deputy Headmistress at Common Room, who has been a key CPSIA blogger, deals in second-hand books and has now pulled many of her listings off Amazon; she has a big roundup as well as this. She also points out, citing testing done by Jennifer Taggart, that color illustrations in some old children’s books do flunk the new and stringent rules set by CPSIA for lead content; this does not necessarily mean they pose any hazard to actual children, provided the children use the books for reading and visual enjoyment rather than as something to chew, lick, or devour holes through, Very-Hungry-Caterpillar style. There continues to be an extreme shortage (as in: zero) of cited instances of children in this country being in fact poisoned by the lead in old book illustrations.

Design Loft carefully examines some of the implications for libraries, fiscal and otherwise, of trying to CPSIA-proof pre-1985 holdings. For weeks now librarian and bookseller groups have been sounding the alarm about the law’s coverage of books: Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and earlier, and ZRecommends, the American Library Association and more (PDF), Rick Woldenberg. Perhaps this activism helped stimulate the CPSC’s “post-1985 = relatively safe” guidance, but that guidance has only served to underscore the corresponding message of “pre-1985 = not legally safe”.

More: Mark Riffey, Iain Murray, CEI “Open Market”. And the American Library Association, contrary to what was heard earlier, is now taking the position that the law does not apply to libraries unless it hears otherwise. I think at this point if I were them I would take that position too, wouldn’t you?

More: Reactions from Houston criminal defense blogger Mark Bennett at Defending People and again at Blawg Review #199, Carter Wood at NAM ShopFloor and again, David Foster at Chicago Boyz, Der Schweizer Narr (from Switzerland, in German), The Anchoress, Todd Seavey, Open Your Ears and Eyes, Blackadder’s Lair, John Holbo/Crooked Timber, 5 Kids and a Dog, International House of Bacon (CPSIA “the single worst piece of regulation in my lifetime”), Vivian Zabel/Brain Cells and Bubble Wrap, She’s Right, Joey and Aleethea, Dewey’s Treehouse, Sherry/Semicolon Blog, and Classic Housewife.


  • […] the high cost of our legal system.” Here Walter Olson sounded the alarm on the CPSIA. The latest: “The Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday advised thrift stores and other resellers […]

  • […] Overlawyered has a post about the book consequences of the new CPSIA. If you can drive by your thirft store today, you might be able to save some treasures from becoming “hazerdous waste” in our landfills. […]

  • I am furious. I am a book Lover and a book seller. The thought of all of these books in dumpsters and going to be gone forever has me sick to my stomach, when we have so much bigger issues. These are books and toys we grew up with and we are fine. The most massive recalls I saw were in recent years, recent toys from China…

    Why are me and my siblings, friends, and everyone I can think of who grew up with reading these books just fine but we have to lose them now due to a law that nobody can even really make heads or tails of exactly what it is or when it really takes effect.

    There is something seriously wrong in our country when the big new law is dump the old books and toys that people collect, scare everyone with this so difficult to understand law so we lose a part of our history. BUT I see homeless people on every corner and we have not been able to find work in almost 2 years. The 2 jobs he was able to find the companies went under and more layoffs. But the big concern is lets make a big new law to throw away parts of our childhoods. Lets get rid of books that can NEVER be replaced, just gone forever.

    America disappoints me more and more each day.

  • I agree with the ALA’s position Walter, but if a private library or a vintage comic book shop called me to ask for advice, I’d advise book burning because I know the client can’t afford uninsured defense bills, and I know there are lawyers out there who, sooner or later, will sue them. Remember that the law has whistleblower provisions, which can in turn lead to employment suits.

    Will the ALA indemnify the libraries to which it’s giving this advice? I think not.

  • Regarding “America disappoints me more and more each day”. I feel more like it’s the people we elected are the disappointments! People pay attention to who voted and didn’t vote for this law and what these law makers have done to make a difference in the outcome of this law since it became obvious that there are serious problems with it. Very few have gotten involved to try and stop this train wreck…keep this in mind when next election comes around!

  • At 68 how many years have I and all seniors been “exposed” Wow how did I get to this age I agree we need to keeps ours kids safe but think this is way to broad. With the economy as it is, how many more small resellers can go under, and whats the cost

  • “provided the children use the books for reading and visual enjoyment rather than as something to chew, lick, or devour holes through, Very-Hungry-Caterpillar style. “

    And smoking, don’t forget the important warning that children should not, under any circumstances, roll their book illustrations and smoke them.

  • I am now wondering when it comes to libraries–school and public–whether CPSIA may apply to pre-1985 yearbooks as well.

    The public library here has a number of yearbooks that are pre-1985 from most of the senior high schools in Colorado Springs, where I live. Some of the school libraries have copies of their own yearbooks available in the school library, and copies available to the yearbook staff (I was on my high school’s yearbook staff in 1980). Many older middle-school/junior-high-school yearbooks are in the middle school’s library; I can’t answer about elementary schools, though.

    Are we going to see the public and school libraries forced to toss out their pre-1985 school yearbooks too??

    How stupid would that be.

    Isn’t there a way to get this law into court and see if ex post facto would apply under the Constitution to get this tossed?

  • I just want to say that I tested many books that did not have any lead or lead was detected at below 40 ppm. The tweets that were selected were some book testing that had higher lead results using the XRF analyzer. But, as is pointed out, that does not mean that any exposure would occur.

  • Melvin: CPSIA applies to products primarily intended for use by those 12 and under. That would not include high school materials such as yearbooks.

  • When I hear that books earlier than 1985 are to be trashed, why do I think about that line in the book “1984” about erasing history – a history that might be inconvenient to the people currently in power. This is a great way to accomplish that goal without being labeled as “book burners” – after, it is being done “for the children”…..

  • […] for the moment proceeding with business as usual, leaving kids jeans’, plastic playthings, pre-1985 books and other suspect items on the shelves, whether because they are breezier about taking on risks of […]

  • How about school libraries. In an elementary school, isn’t every book intended for the 12 and under crowd?

  • “Melvin: CPSIA applies to products primarily intended for use by those 12 and under. That would not include high school materials such as yearbooks.”

    That would however, include Junior High yearbooks, would it not? We had yearbooks when I was in Junior High in 1985. I’m sure they had them the year before, too.

    I suggest donating pre-1985 children’s books to a University library if you would otherwise be discarding them. Arguably, any book kept there is for adult research use, even if it’s original intent was for children (there are many people who study children’s literature as history and so the book doesn’t need to be considered a “collectable” to but used in this manner). It seems a good place to preserve these books. (And, if an adult chooses to check out a book there and show it to a child…well, that’s not the library’s fault is it?)

  • Thank you *so* much for putting the spotlight on children’s books.

    Thomas Hill Moore, one of just *two* CPSC commissioners, is now on the record in no uncertain terms. Children’s books published before 1985 should be “sequestered” and kept from children.

    The Honorable Thomas Hill Moore Goes Off the Deep End
    “Libraries are extremely concerned about the impact of the lead provision on the children’s books on their shelves. I believe that our staff has come up with a supportable “bright line” to guide libraries as to what books we will deem not to pose a problem and which ones should be sequestered until we get more information from the publishing and ink manufacturing industries.The book publishers have asserted that children’s books pose no problems, but we know that the ink used in children’s books prior to the 1980’s did contain lead.”

    There is not a single report of ANY child EVER being lead poisoned by a book, but it’s now illegal to sell children’s books published before 1985. Books are our livelihood; sequestering over half of our children’s inventory would hurt both our family business and our customers!

    And the public insinuation that books are somehow harmful could cause irreparable harm to the used book industry, including stores like ours.

    Older children’s books are a major part of my children’s curriculum, their #1 source of entertainment, and a major part of the income that provides for their food, clothing, and housing needs. IOW, CPSIA HURTS KIDS!

    The 1985 Bright Line Applied to Retailers

    I’m opening my eyes to a shocking world: the government is determined to ruin all enterprise.

  • Dear Mr. Orwell,

    Children’s books were invented after *1984*.

    Before 1985, there was no Dick. There was no Jane. There was no McGuffy. No boy named Tom painted a fence, ‘Anne’ didn’t end with an ‘e’, and no one had yet thought of putting ”pictures or conversation” on paper for children.

    In fact, children didn’t learn to read in the old, old days before our Leaders saved us from our long, dark night. Before 1985, there was only a dry wasteland of technical books, encyclopedias, service manuals, and other books for adults.

    How thankful we are that times have changed so that children can learn to read and have their own books! We owe a great debt to the Great Change–and to Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush who accomplished through CPSIA!

    Valerie Jacobsen

  • To Jennifer: I can offer anecdotal data on how the actual consumption of one of the positive-for-lead books might affect a child. When I was a child we had a FULL SET of original OZ books (one of which was the one you tested), purchased by my grandmother, in the 1930’s, for her little brother, with summer-job money. My little sister, at the age of one, ate – literally ate- everything but the covers of all but one, over a period of weeks and months. On top of this, we grew up in a series of victorian houses that our parents were restoring (a much bigger lead risk!).

    She never had elevated lead levels. Neither did the rest of us.

    I have no idea how this will help, but one never knows.

  • This outrages me. I hate to think that every book that was published before 1985 will be trashed, burned (oh, wait, can’t do that because the toxic fumes from burning of the lead would kill the lawmakers) and otherwise destroyed. Senator DeMint (R-SC) tried to get this stopped. He was one of the three that voted against this law. We can’t the rest of the lawmakers listen to common sense and saneness and not a bunch of crazy of idiots. But, we did elect those crazy jerkwads to represent us and this is how they pay us back. First our books and children’s clothing and toys and bicycles and helmets and jewelry and cribs and pacifiers and the list keeps growing and growing, and then the stimulus bill that President Obama introduced. Again, DeMint has been fighting this saying that borrowing and government spending will do nothing to stimulate the economy. There is no sense in how or why our lawmakers do what they do. If the CPSIA is not reformed (should have never been passed as no one in the country knew anything about it until it was way too late (signed by Bush himself in August of 2008 and the six months prior to that when it was introduced and passed and amended and repassed) not once was this discussed with any voting member of the community) and the stimulus bill as introduced by President Obama (Lord only knows why we need a 600+ page bill to help stimulate the economy when DeMint’s 11 page says more and does more than the whole of the 600+ pages), then the economy is going to crash and burn and we will be back to the stone ages. We will be all walking around in loin cloths and lose a language that is so rich and vibrant and our heritage. We came to this country to get out from a dictatorship’s rule and yet here we going back further in time than even the Great Depression of 1929.

    Everyone please call your Senators and Representatives and tell them to reform CPSIA, don’t be a book burner, don’t protect their own asses but save the children, save the economy and definitely vote against Obama’s stimulus package and opt for something that will definitely work. The first deadline may have passed but it isn’t too late to get the people you put into office to do soemthing about it. Make them earn their right to stay in office. Remember they do work for us. Every registered voter should be calling every day and making their voices heard until something is actually done.

    Repeal or reform CPSIA, save the books, save the culture, save the language, save the children

    Reject the stimulus package as offered by President Obama – save the economy, save the businesses, save the life we know –

    Call, call, call – every day if you have to. Let them know you are very unhappy abuot the chain of events that are occurring. We cannot lose our books from before 1985 (there are way too many classics to destroy).

    Elysabeth Eldering

    STATE OF WILDERNESS, Book 1 of the Junior Geography Detective Squad 50-state mystery trivia series, now available.
    STATE OF QUARRIES, book 2 of the JGDS, 50-state, mystery, trivia series coming 2009
    STATE OF RESERVATIONS, book 3 of the JGDS, 50-state, mystery, trivia series coming 2009

    Where will the adventure take you next?

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jgdsseries/ (series newsletter forum)

  • […] Read more here. And somebody tell me that this horrible thing isn’t happening in the U.S.A. « The Sunday Salon: Gleaned from the Saturday Review […]

  • WHAT in the name of Dear Heaven is in the water in Washington DC?

    Perfectly reasonable and rational people get elected, go to Congress, lose every shred of common sense they ever had, and start writing laws “for the children” that make absolutely no sense.

    How do we get our country back from the clutches of our elected tyrants?

  • Once again, to the people in Washington: You can’t protect people from every little, itty bitty thing out there in the big, bad world. Especially by making a law against it. This is way too intrusive in our lives.

    Put a warning sign up if it makes you feel self-righteous or something, but a LAW? It’s harming business, it’s harming history and shows you all are a bunch of weiners with no common sense.

  • […] Via Overlawyered, CPSIA and vintage children’s books. Again – the single worst piece of regulation in my lifetime, and it’ll be interesting to see […]

  • I am so very heartbroken by this. It is absolutely awful. My favorite books, for me and my two boys that I homeschool, were published before 1985. Oh I could just cry!

  • This is insane. I collect and sell vintage children’s books, and am furious at this law! Don’t we have better things to worry about?

  • […] in children’s products who didn’t have a lobbyist present.) And in the comments section on our vintage-books post, Valorie Jacobsen points to a Moore letter of Feb. 3 (PDF) in which he proposes that some […]

  • Time to hold a good old fashioned burning, with lots of publicity, and the names and pictures of the sponsors on display in big, big letters.

    “These are the men who make us burn children’s books”. I somehow think that a few front page images of those smiling politicians overlaid book-burnings might get things changed.

    (bales of dry straw under a light cover of damaged books, with a splash or two of gasoline, will make a nice fire)

  • It is better to burn a book than curse the darkness!
    This is too silly for words.
    Manly beach, Sydney

  • I was wondering if there might be some other motive for banning those books. Many of the childerns books printed today have in them an attempt to change ideas. The true motive may be a dark one, indeed.

  • All this over-reaction! “Our literary heritage’ won’t be endangered, no matter how many pre-1985 books are burned. Copies will be retained, you see, by the new administration’s Ministry of Truth.

  • […] According to a commenter at a very busy Etsy thread on the subject, stores are already beginning to act on this advice: I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed! I managed to grab a 1967 edition of “The Outsiders” from the top of the box, but so many! ~ Read the rest of it here. […]

  • […] literature. Some of the ground it covers will be familiar to those who read Tuesday’s post at this site, as well as yesterday’s mention of CPSC commissioner Thomas Moore’s call last week […]

  • I read somewhere that there has been a one year stay (sounds like an execution) placed on this law. If all who comment here would call and email their congressmen and tell them how stupid this is it would certainly help. As some one said before, I am a baby boomer, sell and collect old kids books and I have not died from exposure to these books.

    My God, with all that is going on in this country do our so called leaders have nothing better to do.

    What next, no toilet paper so we can save the trees

  • Children are the future — is this an attempt to limit their access to older ideas? To sterilize their literature by erasing a whole class of literature in one big step? To reduce their tendency to question the status quo, by robbing them of older ideas?

    Of course older books can be reprinted, but how long will it take to replace all of the pre-1985 books with newer editions? In this economy, bookstores and libraries don’t have the money to go out and buy new editions of all of those books. During that time, children will not be allowed to read them.

    And some of them are out of print!!!

    Shades of McCarthyism, only this time with a practical excuse.

    The law applies to used products as well as new, which is a clever way of saying the law is retroactive (ex post facto), something which shouldn’t happen. CPSIA should be changed to exempt all products manufactured before the law is passed, and thus exempt all dealers of used products.

  • […] reactions to my coverage of the threat to pre-1985 kids’ books, both at this site and in my new opinion piece at City Journal: famed sci-fi writer Jerry Pournelle […]

  • Mr. Olson, in response to your response (#8 above): It might apply to yearbooks pre-1985 if
    (A) You are in a rural school, small private school/charter school, etc. where you have K-8/K-12 in the same building–or, like here in Colorado Springs School District 11, a possibility that some elementary or middle schools may go K-8 (meaning 5-and 6-year olds are now in the same buiding as 12- and 13-year-olds); the school, if it was a junior high school, has old yearbooks that are pre-1985; or
    (B) A yearbook class for junior-high/middle-school has 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds on the yearbook staff (meaning they have access to the older yearbooks, as well as all of the stuff needed for developing photographs [maybe not with photos, what with digital cameras and online editing].).

  • A reader from Washington, D.C. writes: “It’s ‘District Work Period’ for Congress next week, that is, February vacation and Representatives and Senators back home with constituents. It would be effective PR to deliver a box of discarded books at a town hall meeting and thank the member for having them destroyed. Is Waxman having a Town Hall meeting? (I don’t immediately see one.)”

    A reader from NYC suggests another publicity angle: “I wonder what’s the vintage of the books we see Mrs. Obama reading to kids in those daily photo ops at day care centers?”

  • My mom has a large collection of pre-1985 children’s books that she has been collecting for years. She loves to share with my children how illustrations have changed over the years and my kids are fascinated with her books. For them to see and read the books she learned reading with in the 50’s has been fascinating for them.

    Antique dealers are going to snatch up these contraband books and watch them soar in price. So long old friends…now they are only for adults and dealers.

  • […] related round-up: They’re Burning Books – including vintage books, all to to protect the children!. A very bad law. Has Obama’s “Civilian National […]

  • I sell books online. Today I took off all of my pre 1985 Book House books.(By Olive Beaupre Miller.) I have also been putting together Little House on the Prairie Sets of paperback books. I have about 2 1/2 sets now. The copyright page says they were printed befor 1985. I guess I can’t sell them either. Can anyone say Savonarola?

  • I refuse to discard my old books in any way shape or form due to the historical content that would be forever lost. It sounds as if liberalism has found another method of spreading good will.

  • […] we’re at it, I never did round up the numerous reactions to my post of a week ago on CPSIA and vintage books. A sampling includes The Anchoress, Todd Seavey (also reminded of Ray Bradbury), Open Your Ears and […]

  • Doesn’t this statement from CPSA clarify that most children’s books are NOT included in this ruling?

    “Ordinary books, including books for small children, are generally not regarded as toys.9 However, some novelty books, such as plastic books marketed as bath toys, or books that incorporate sounds, may be regarded as toys under both ASTM F963 and CPSIA section 108.” And also, isn’t it the case, that the CPSA is just now seeking public comment?

    February 12, 2009

  • You are correct as to newly and recently printed books. On older books, however, see the CPSC guidance to resellers linked in this post.

  • CPSIA Section 108 concerns phthalate content. The above clarifies that ordinary books are not subject to ASTM F963 or Sec. 108. All products intended primarily for children under 12, including ordinary books, are still 100% subject to CPSIA Sec. 101, lead content (unless exempted).

  • Tell me now, if you burn the old books, won’t the EPA come after you for spreading lead into the air?

  • i am also an online bookseller . i have homeschooled my 3 children for the better part of 20 years and our curriculum was based for the most part on old books .
    there has been for years a change in the way history was/ is portrait in textbooks and ” modern ” childrens books. some of the history has been altered . the intent is , to root out christian thought , morals , and references and examples to either of those . into the void come marilyn monroe getting more coverage in a student textbook than abraham lincoln — just as an example .
    i have been keeping up with european news and lately there have been quite a few references to roman catholic bishops denying the holocaust . i have also heard rumors that there are people here in the US doing the same thing .
    IF the powers that be do not get their way with rewriting the history to their liking , the next best step would be to totally eliminate it from the conciousness by removing all references to it .
    by eliminating books that teach character values , right from wrong , beautiful written language . accurately portrait history and replacing them with WHAT ???????

    if kids loose the good books , what do you think they’ll do in their free time ??? watch TV and play video games ….. is that an acceptable , nuturing alternative for an impressionable mind ??

    somehow i have the desire to get muchies and go read a book ….. and loose myself in a story of knights and fair maidens …. or read to the next generation the story of wynken , blyken and nod …..

  • […] Baicker McGee is a children’s book author and illustrator who commented eloquently (more) on one of our earlier posts about books. Now she has a great post explaining why, although she […]

  • […] This is exactly what was envisioned by Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451. And it’s not theoretical. It’s happening. As readers are aware, the Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday advised thrift stores and […]

  • […] Unless those books have undergone expensive tests for lead, or if you can somehow declare the children’s book a vintage collectible – you cannot give any of these books to a child, and you cannot sell them. […]

  • […] not so difficult for some who would never be able to afford it. They can either stop selling any products that would ever be considered as intended for children, or they can have every item they make or all of their materials tested for phthalates and lead. […]