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You’d think that the definition of ‘Toy’ would be pretty well understood, but actually it is quite complex, and recent events made the definition even more stringent.

Every now and then we have a customer who picks up a box holding a popular desktop toy and notice a lot of these kinds of things have these words on the box.  The usual reaction is ‘whaaa’?


“What are they talking about?” they say. “Of course it is a toy, this isn’t Treachery of Images! It’s a toy!” You expect to see these words on plastic bag kids can suffocate themselves with, but this?

They aren’t wrong, strictly speaking. But when an obvious toy or entertainment item is in a box marked ‘This is not a toy” it is simply a matter of adhering to the laws regarding ‘toys’ as covered by various safety commissions.


You see, the various safety commissions have very clearly definition of ‘Toy’. They also have strong defintions of other products but we’ll concern ourselves mostly with ‘Toy’.

Consumer safety divisions have always had listed Toys as being strictly for children. Ergo anything that might sit on your desktop at work and entertain you, a fully grown adult (theoretically), would not be considered a toy.  In the past the safety concerns were mostly about not having toys that would shoot things down kids throats, and making certain that toys for kids under the age of 3 (the ‘swallow everything’ age) had nothing that could break off, fall off, or be removed that a small child could then swallow. Almost every toy or not-a-toy will have some warning about keeping it away from children under the age of 3.

Beyond that, the age groups was mostly that of classification: 5 year olds probably shouldn’t be forced to handle delicate items or work tools and small parts, 8 year olds could be expected to do some assembly but not complex designs, and nobody under 13 years of age should have a ‘toy’ that is made of glass. That was pretty much the main concerns.

All of that changed when some famous incidents involving lead paint on toys coming out of China were discovered. There was a huge uproar domestically, and a mixed reaction overseas lead to more stringent requirements on toys that will end up in childrens hands.

Now, in addition to have the previous age classifications, all toys needed to be tested for safety issues – lead paint, dangerous Pthanlenes in the plastic, asbestos in the stuffed toy fibers and a host of other tests needed to be run.

One could opt out of the testing by classifying the toy as beig for ages 13+, which put it in the ‘a toy but not a toy’ category. This had limits, however. It was one thing to classify a kaliedoscope this way, and things like Drinking Birds should always have had such a classification, but if you were to try and put it on something that is obviously exclusive aimed at kids (collectors notwithstanding) such as Barbie Dolls, there will be problems.

Needless to say, this testing can get costly. So many manufacturers of ‘toys’ that will likely never see a small child’s hands often get the “This Is Not A Toy!” tag, which works out well for desktop items. Not all such desktop toys need to have these warnings – something like the company that manufactures it can be a factor. If your company is named the ‘Happy-Fun Toy and Doll Company” you will lkely need a warning for your non-toys. But if your company is named ‘Baltimore Product Makers’ you can probably get away with not having it.




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