Published: Saturday – October 10, 2020
Updated: September 2022
Vintage Bunnykins dishes (manufactured in England by Royal Doulton) ARE NOT SAFE FOR FOOD USE — and especially not safe for children to use for food! For context: anything manufactured today with levels of 90 ppm Lead (or higher) in the paint, glaze, or coating of the item is considered illegal in the United States if it is an item that is intended for use by children. Continue reading for more information and background about this issue.
Section #1) Below are full XRF Test Results for the Bunnykins artist pattern bowl pictured here
Reading #1) Center of food surface of bowl:
- Lead (Pb): 80,000 +/- 4,200 ppm
- Arsenic (As): 1,847 +/- 544 ppm
- Barium (Ba): 1,598 +/- 448 ppm
- Chromium (Cr): 1,809 +/- 197 ppm
- Antimony (Sb): 295 +/- 111 ppm
- Tin (Sn): 424 +/- 87 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 1,306 +/- 115 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 1,985 +/- 242 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 666 +/- 224 ppm
- Chlorine (Cl): 9,336 +/- 3,110 ppm
Reading #2) Area of food surface without design (plain cream background of food surface):
- Lead (Pb): 57,200 +/- 2,700 ppm
- Arsenic (As): 1,916 +/- 420 ppm
- Barium (Ba): 1,549 +/- 421 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 104 +/- 45 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 726 +/- 145 ppm
Section #2) Some background on Bunnykin & Royal Doulton dishes
First it is important to note that the Bunnykins dishes are made by Royal Doulton. Consumers have a false sense of confidence that these popular children’s dishes are “safe” or “heirloom quality” because they were manufactured by a reputable company from England.
Unfortunately products “Made in England” coming from a company that is “well known” does not constitute a set of criteria that ensures dishes are safe dishes by modern standards. In fact, the opposite is often true: most of the vintage English china that we have tested has been positive for extremely high levels of Lead (and other toxic heavy metals) on the food surface. Royal Doulton is a particularly egregious offender in this area, as the following examples demonstrate (each example noted below is a link to an article with full XRF test results for that item; year of manufacture is noted when the owner has provided that information as the manufacture date is not printed on these dishes):
- 1980s Royal Doulton Romance Collection Carolyn Pattern: 66,500 ppm Lead on the food surface
- Royal Doulton Carlyle Pattern English Fine Bone China: 70,900 ppm Lead on the food surface
- Royal Doulton Cinnamon Pattern Lambeth Stoneware: 65,500 ppm Lead on the food surface
- Royal Doulton Angelique Pattern Fine Bone China: 56,900 ppm Lead on the food surface
- 1980 Royal Doulton Lambethware Florida Pattern Stoneware: 39,800 ppm Lead on the food surface
Section #3) What is”Vintage“
Given that the height of popularity of these dishes appears to have been in the 1970s and 1980s, it is important to clearly address the scope of the concern and the reason for the use of the word “vintage” in the context of these dishes. Specifically “vintage” (from a collector’s standpoint) refers to anything 20 years old or older. Now, if you were born in 1989 and had these dishes when you were a baby you might not consider them to be vintage – but they are.
We – at Lead Safe Mama, LLC – have not yet determined (based on the testing we have done) which years of manufacture (if any) of this product may be safe (every example of Royal Doulton Bunnykins dishes we have tested to date has been positive for unsafe levels of Lead) – but we have confirmed that examples from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (through 1989) are definitely unsafe by modern standards. There is some difficulty in pinpointing this date range, as the exact year of manufacture is not listed on each piece, but we have been able to date many of the pieces we have tested by referencing websites that track the changes in back mark on the back of the dishes, as well as by using anecdotal information from the owners of the pieces tested (Almost all pieces tested and reported on here on LeadSafeMama.com are sent in by readers – you can learn more about how that works on this link. This link also discusses our business model).
The new federal law (in the United States) that required children’s product to be Lead-safe (with Lead-levels required to be below 90 ppm in the paint, glaze or coating of an item) was passed in 2008 — and some manufacturing sectors (depending on the type of product and materials used) had until 2011 to be in full compliance with that law. As a result, we know for certain that post-2011 baby products (including dishware made for babies) should* be safe from a Lead perspective at least. [*”should” – if manufacturers do not seek loopholes to the current standards – as, for instance, the baby bottle industry has done – link.]
Section #4) But why is this a problem? Didn’t these pass leach-testing and / or meet manufacturing standards when they were made?
In response to the above common questions (questions that often come up when one brings up the Lead Levels in popular cherished dishware patterns) there are two basic answers:
- Manufacturing standards have changed over the decades (becoming more strict over time – specifically when it comes to dishes or other items intended for use by children). The common refrain from manufacturers when they are approached with these concerns (“we have always met all manufacturing standards at the time of manufacture of any of our products over the decades”) is truly a greenwashing / irrelevant statement — used as boilerplate “C.Y.A.” by nearly every manufacturer of vintage goods that has responded to the testing shared on this website – here’s one example. One notable exception to this is Fisher Price – a company that has heroically gone above and beyond — by publicly stating that their vintage children’s items should not be used by children today, as the safety standards have changed over the decades (link with more details on that here.)
- Manufacturing standards were, in reality, never actually good enough to begin with. Leach-testing standards for dishware only ever evaluated (and still today only evaluate) whether or not the dishes are actively leaching toxic heavy metals contained in the glaze (like Lead and Arsenic) at the time of manufacture. Leach testing standards have never taken into account what happens to the Lead in the surface glaze of an item years or decades after manufacture – after years (or decades) of regular daily use. The surface glaze becomes especially vulnerable to leaching when used with hot or acidic foods and when the surface glaze becomes compromised, with frequent heating in a microwave, washing in a dishwasher – or even hand-washing with abrasive sponges. Age alone can cause natural deterioration of a Leaded surface glaze, so please don’t feel you might be protected from exposure because your dish was “lightly-used.” You can read more about this concern on this link.
It would be really great if the new attention on this issue could generate a public statement from Royal Doulton similar to the statement issued by Fisher Price – letting the public know that their vintage dishware is not safe for children to use…however, I do not expect that to happen.
Section #5) Eight examples of toxic Bunnykins dishware
Below are links to each of the 7 additional posts (in addition to this one) with Bunnykins test results here on this website:
- Bunnykins with raft design: 93,600 ppm Lead on the food surface
- 1976 Bunnykins with postal box / mail man design: 77.900 ppm Lead on the food surface
- 1976 Bunnykins bowl with raft design: 59,000 ppm Lead on the food surface
- 1976 Bunnkyins baby mug with beach design: 40,200 ppm Lead on the food surface (cream colored interior)
- 1967-1976 Bunnykins straight-edge bowl with cottage design (children playing): 61,800 ppm Lead on the food surface
- 1988 Bunnykins straight-edge bowl with baby’s nursery design: 10,800 ppm Lead on the food surface
- 1970s full baby dish set with knitting a blanket design: 73,800 ppm Lead on the food surface
In light of the fact that there has been no public statement from Royal Doulton on this issue, the Lead Safe Mama Bunnykins posts (links above – each with different designs / products from different years) are vitally important to share (with your friends and family – especially those of you who have babies or young children in your lives) to raise awareness – and to protect children from potential Lead-poisoning.
These dishes should never be used for food, and especially never used by children – not only because they would be illegal if manufactured today, but also because the high-Lead decorative glaze has been demonstrated (by the work here at Lead Safe Mama, LLC – as shown by the eight examples of these products with test results posted on this website) to be on the food surface AND to wear with use (if you examine ANY example of one of these bowls that has been put into service for daily use — vs. one that has been solely stored on a shelf for decoration — you will see significant wear of the high-Lead decorative glazes on the food surface). It only takes a microscopic amount of Lead to poison a child (literally an amount that cannot be seen with the naked eye – read more about that here), so when visible amounts of Leaded glaze are missing from the decor on the food surface of a piece, it is already too late; a user has most likely been impacted by the toxicants that are in the glaze of that piece. The image below is a good example of a Bunnykins dish with significant visible wear. Continue reading below the image.
Sharing this information (that these dishes test positive for high levels – by all modern standards – of Lead, Arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals) will help to keep these dishes out of the hands of a new generation of babies and small children. It seems that nearly everyone of a certain age (especially young parents now in their 30s and 40s) still has (or used to have) these dishes — or the very similar Beatrix Potter ones – that are equally toxic! And the people who have them often let their children use them (as they have expressly intentionally – out of nostalgia – saved them from their childhood for their children or grandchildren to use!)
Section #6) One personal story (which may or may not be relevant)
A friend of mine who had these dishes and used them daily as a child (and had been letting her children use them for their daily dishes until I visited her home and alerted her to the concern) died of breast cancer in the summer of 2020 — at just 40 years of age [leaving behind two very young children]. While there is not yet a definitive link (officially) to early-childhood Lead-exposure and cancer later in life, we do now know that Lead causes a compromised immune system, and we also know that cancer takes hold in people who have compromised immune systems.
We cannot say for sure whether these dishes contributed to my friend’s cancer, but we can say that eating off of these as a young child may have impacted her health — and in a #KnowBetterDoBetter situation (#FirstDoNoHarm), it is better to remove all known potential sources of heavy metal poisoning from our lives, than to hold on to one or more for nostalgia’s sake.
Section #7) In conclusion (“What should I do with these dishes if I have them?”)
Lead Safe Mama, LLC’s position is that – given that science has established that
- There is no safe level of Lead exposure for a child
- The body burden of Lead is cumulative [scientists have asserted that “90% of the Lead we have ever been exposed to via ingestion or inhalation is still in our bodies”]
– any potential exposure to Lead is really not worth the risk, especially with Lead levels this high (and the fact that it is a ceramic baby dish that folks might typically use with hot and acidic dishes, like oatmeal, spaghetti, and soup)!
Lead-free modern dishes (that are in full compliance with current regulatory standards for the presence of toxicants like Lead, Cadmium, and Arsenic) are readily available — and at all price levels. In spite of historic transgressions in this area by most of the major china brands across the price spectrum (Tiffany & Co., Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Crate & Barrel, etc.) if a modern dish has been made for use by children (by a known brand), it will likely test negative for Lead, Arsenic, Antimony, Cadmium, and Mercury.
The best option for consumers – you – to help make a difference on this issue from an advocacy standpoint (if you own the vintage version of these dishes) would be to contact Royal Doulton and ask for a refund, or a replacement with a modern Lead-free version of this product. If hundreds, or thousands (or more) of consumers express their outrage in this way, there’s a chance that Royal Doulton may issue a public statement acknowledging the fact that these dishes are hazardous and should not be used by children. In doing so they will be seen as being accountable, responsible, and demonstrating integrity — and may even increase brand loyalty!
Aside from exchanging the vintage product for new safer choices, given the real possibility that this information – the fact that these Bunnykins dishes contain high levels of toxic heavy metals – could, realistically, be effectively “lost” to future generations of parents – I would actually recommend destroying these dishes (putting them in a sealed plastic freezer bag, and smashing them into your household trash) so that they cannot be accidentally ever again used for food purposes by your – or anyone’s – children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. This article discusses options for disposal (as well as other considerations in response to the question “I have these dishes, what should I do with them?”)
Owner – Lead Safe Mama, LLC
Additional images of the dish tested are below
For those new to this website:
Tamara Rubin is a Federal-award-winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children. Tamara’s sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in August of 2005. She began testing consumer goods for metallic toxicants in 2009, and was the parent-advocate responsible for finding Lead in the popular fidget spinner toys in 2017. Her work was also responsible for two CPSC product recalls in the summer of 2022: the Jumping Jumperoo recall (June 2022), and the Lead-painted NUK baby bottle recall (July 2022), and was featured in an NPR story about Lead in consumer goods in August of 2022. Tamara uses XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals), including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic. All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Items are tested multiple times, to confirm the test results for each component tested and reported on. Please click through to this link to learn more about the testing methodology used for the test results discussed and reported on this website.
Is there such a thing as lead free or is there usually always “trace” amount of lead in a lot of products for babies and kids? For example, if something was tested by a 3rd party and found to have < 10ppm, would that be considered lead free and would it be correct to assume that that would be trace amount of lead? Or is it really possible to find something to have 0 ppm lead?
For consumer goods, it is truly possible to find Lead-free items. I have hundreds of examples of Lead-free items here on the blog. Please check out the video that shows you how to find all of the different examples: https://tamararubin.com/2020/12/how-to-use-the-lead-safe-mama-website-video/
That said, a company that says their reading is “Less than 10 ppm” could have a true negative – they just did not test down to the level of accuracy required to determine that definitively.
Manon Shiralian says
I have the cup and bowl vintage artist set “bunnykins” Royal doulton. Has never been used, was getting ready to pass it on to my coming soon grandbaby. After reading what you wrote that obviously won’t be happening. Is it worth anything?
I’ve had it for 32 years and it has never been used .. thank god.