Banned, but Still Collectible?

The Atomic Energy Lab was considered the world’s most dangerous toy since it contained actual depleted uranium, but a complete set sold for $5000 in 2017.

Some were removed from the marketplace because of serious personal safety concerns while others were banned for more local mores and traditions. Yet, they are still collected. Should they be?

Toys

The “Atomic Energy Lab” allowed a youngster to “perform 150 exciting experiments,” just one of many science-related chemistry kits available. Except this lab produced “nuclear and chemical reactions using radioactive material.” Yes, the set came with real depleted uranium. It was released by A.C. Gilbert Co. in 1950 through 1951 with fewer than 5,000 sets sold at $49.50 ($535*). The toy was banned shortly after and dubbed “the world’s most dangerous toy,” yet a complete lab sold for $5,000 in August 2017. Maybe a gift card from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission came with it.

Lawn Darts, known as Jarts, were heavy metal spikes embedded in a colorful plastic three-pronged fin that one threw into a plastic circle – or into someone else. After about 7,000 injuries, the toy was banned in 1988, but can still be bought at auction from $100 to $200 for the complete set. But why would you?

Do you remember these? Clackers were banned because if they shattered while being clacked together, they would send flying glass everywhere. This set sold for $20 in 2011.

Visit the Banned Toy Museum for more of a complete list of toys that were marketed to kids and subsequently banned for being inherently unsafe. Even still, many of the toys such as Clackers, the snacktime Cabbage Patch doll, the belt buckle gun, and the Battlestar Galactica Missile Launcher, among others, were removed from the market, but are still collected – just hopefully not played with.

Books

Censorship is the reason for banning books. Governments do it, schools do it, religions do it. Even still, collectors prize the books not only for their message, but also because they aren’t supposed to.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is an example of a banned book that has sold more than 65 million copies since it was published in 1951. A first edition sold for $4,500.

One of the most well known banned books has been The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. When it was published in 1951, its exploration of teenage insecurities, rebellion and personal discovery pushed it to the top of most every literary review as one of the world’s best novels, but also got it banned by local schools and libraries for its moral lapses, crude language and sexual references. Yet, it still has sold more than 65 million copies with a most recent sale of a first edition of $4,500.  Curiously though, there is an exact version with the author name of Richard Prince who bills himself as an “appropriation artist” whose reproduction sells almost as well.

Lately, the story of a boy in the 19th century American South has libraries and schools banning it for representing slavery, derisive language as it was spoken in the era, and experiences unsuited for his age. A first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain sold recently for $2,250 and is still widely read more for its authenticity of the time if not for its lasting virtue.

This first UK edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone recently sold for $60,000.

Even the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has been banned by some for its emphasis on magical sorcery, yet it continues to be collected, such as this first UK edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that recently sold for $60,000 (the UK first editions of this series are the most prized). Banned or not, the series is one of the most widely read children’s books of all time.

It seems that the more a book is censored, the more it is widely disseminated – and collected.

Advertising

On April 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed legislation that banned cigarette advertising on television and radio, but the tobacco industry moved mostly to print advertising. By 2010, after several additional series of legislation, tobacco advertising had been banned from outdoor advertising, cultural events, and give-away clothing.

Smoking in the United States is down from nearly half the population to less than 17%, yet, collectibles of vintage tobacciana continue to interest collectors, particularly early 20th century promotional items such as sports cards, flag felts and advertising signs.

Vintage tobacciana, such as this tobacco tin c. 1910, sold for $24, even though tobacco advertising has been banned or severely restricted since 1970.

Most recently, a tobacco tin circa 1910 sold for about $24 and a 19th century tobacco advertising poster sold recently for $3,500. Even recent painter-style tobacco advertising hats have been sold for $10 to $60 suggesting that advertising in any form is still getting the message out, even if it’s in the collectibles.

Flags

For most of the world’s 195 member and observer states recognized by the United Nations, the national flag is proudly displayed by any person, household or business– unless you aren’t allowed to.

During the era of the Soviet Union, for example, the display of the national flag (or more properly, the state flag as opposed to the civil flag used by those outside government) was intended for government or military only. This set of national flags of eight of the soviet states sold for $120 and the set was only available once the country collapsed in 1991.

While not exactly banned, certain national flags are severely restricted within the country. However, they are nonetheless routinely available outside of the state itself, such as this North Korean national flag that was captured during the Korean War, and sold for $229 in 2016.

The national flag of Tibet, created in 1916, has been banned for use within the autonomous region that also includes Mt. Everest. A 1956 “Flags of the World” trading card featuring the flag of Tibet sold for $75 in 2014.

Other flags, like the state flag of Tibet, are banned within the area known as Tibet, officially a mostly autonomous region within China. Yet, a Topps “Flags of the World” trading card for 1956 featuring the flag of Tibet sold in 2014 for $75.

There are items that are indeed a hazard to life and limb, and there are some items that just offend some sense of decorum that each community decides. Therefore, these items are restricted as to how they can be acquired, if at all. But then, restricting them may lead to collecting them in the first place – either for good or for bad.

*Note that the selling price of the time is inflation-adjusted in parentheses, if it was known, using the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 


Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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