I have quite a few friends in Wisconsin and have been invited several times to present to groups there (including presentations in Milwaukee, Madison and Racine). In October of 2013, to celebrate Lead Poisoning Prevention Month with my Wisconsin friends, we collaborated on quite a tour-de-force of lead poisoning prevention events — which included being called upon to pull up my puppetry training, as I collaborated with Peppi the Lead-Free Clown on lead poisoning prevention puppet shows for literally hundreds of Racine area head start kiddos! (I believe it was about 200+ kids, it was two full audiences of tiny kids in the facility’s gymnasium!) We also had free preview screenings of my film across the State that week, we gave away thousands of free LeadCheck swabs, and of course we did several free XRF testing events, including one at a local library in Racine (where the public was invited to bring their toys, dishes or other things in to be instantly tested for lead and other elements).
At the toy testing event at the library, with an XRF instrument, I tested a vintage bowl that had a rose decal in it (pictured here.) The woman who brought the bowl in for testing told me the story of the bowl before I tested it. Here’s the story as I remember it…
A little boy in Wisconsin had a mother who had to wake up and leave for work very early each day. The boy’s grandmother lived nearby. Every day mom would wake up her kiddo and take him to grandma’s home and leave for work. Grandma would then finish the morning routine with the kiddo. She would give him breakfast and care for him until the mother was done at work.
Grandma was really focused on making sure the little boy would have a good experience and feel special. Every morning he had his cereal mixed in a rose decorated bone-china bowl, pictured here. Then grandma would put the bowl in the microwave to heat up the cereal.
When the boy tested positive for lead in his blood an investigation was done — and this bowl was, tragically, determined to be the source of his poisoning!
- This glaze on the surface of this little bowl tested positive for lead at 52,000 parts per million when tested with an XRF instrument.
- The amount of lead that is considered toxic in a newly manufactured item intended for children is anything 90 ppm or higher in the coating.
- The lead in the glaze of this bowl leached into this little boy’s cereal each morning and was determined to likely be the sole source of his lead poisoning.
- A leach test on the bowl resulted in 92 parts per million lead leaching into the bowl’s contents.
- 92 parts per million (ppm) is 92,000 parts per billion (ppb).
- For context, the current Federal standard for lead in water sets the “unsafe” level at 15 parts per billion and higher! [Scientists working on setting standards designed to be protective of children’s health have suggested this standard be lowered to 5 ppb.]
Nearly five years after I tested this little bowl, almost every day people ask me whether or not I think their dishes will poison them (if their dishes are positive for high levels of lead.)
In giving advice, I always try to err on the side of caution, depending on several factors (lead level as tested with an XRF, age of piece/ year of manufacture, state of wear, history of items from that brand, etc.) However, whenever I see china or dishes of any kind that test positive in the tens of thousands range (10,000 ppm, 20,000 ppm, … or more), I think of this story, and of this little boy from Wisconsin, and I wholeheartedly encourage them to just throw these dishes out.
This story, this EXACT story is the origin of my “Grandma Consideration” that I share with nearly every single family I talk to in person.
Here’s my “Grandma Consideration”…
YOU are Grandma (eventually, or possibly even already!) You don’t use these dishes every day. These dishes sit on your china shelf for “decorative purposes” and you aren’t personally concerned about the lead in them because you don’t use them every day. You have held on to them for sentimental value. (They were your mother’s? You got them for your wedding? You inherited them from a special friend?)
But what happens years from now when you die? When you hand these down to your children and then your grandchildren. By then your grandchildren will be in college, or maybe have a family of their own. They miss you. They want you to be be part of their every day life… so they choose to use YOUR fine china as THEIR every-day china as a way to remember you. Every day at home…every day in college…every day.
Do you want to be responsible for the potential poisoning of your grandchildren?
I say, please consider getting rid of any vintage dishes like this; the sentimental value is not worth the potential health impact on your babies, and their babies and their babies.
Mother of Lead Poisoned Children
Unfortunately, since testing and reporting on the lead level of dishes (and other consumer goods) was not a focus of my advocacy when I took this picture of the bowl from this story (back in 2013), I did not think to take a photo of the back of the bowl (which might have had a maker’s mark with the brand, design name or place of manufacture), so I don’t have any more information about this specific bowl. If this particular blow looks familiar to you and you can tell me more about it to add to this post, please send me a note. Based on what I do know about this bowl (compared to other dishes I have tested), it is likely from c. 1930 to 1940 (although could be a new as 1950s.) Most dishes of this era have unsafe levels of lead. you can see more leaded china that I have tested by clicking here.
UPDATE” Since posting this, a friend of mine messaged me that she grew up with these same dishes and she sent me pictures with the maker’s mark. They are below. As some dishes are manufactured in different locations and different years I am going to leave this request for information up, in case others have additional information they want to share. Based on Serina’s info I now know that these dishes were likely made in “Universal” [Potteries] [c. 1934 to 1954] in “Cambridge, O.” and marked “Oven Proof” by the “National Brotherhood of Operative Potters” & “Made In USA” . I believe the “O.” on the logo stands for “Ohio”, but I will continue to do more research.
I just confirmed that the pottery was likely made before 1951 when the name of the “National Brotherhood of Operative Potters” would have been changed to the “International Brotherhood of Potters.”
Update (4/26): Story updated with minor corrections.
Update (4/26 to be posted shortly): Besty Ross is also a pattern name for this same pottery design, additional photos and details for this second pottery line (with the same design/ from the same era) will be posted shortly.
The photo directly below is the actual bowl that poisoned the boy in Wisconsin:
Photos below are of pottery from what looks like the same line from my friend Serina.
These belonged to her great grandmother. This particular piece was rarely used.
Serina reported that her bowls were used frequently and were very worn.