Some people like the look of well worn and dilapidated toys as it matches the aesthetics of their house or shop etc; however, I believe they are unaware of the hidden dangers that lurk within old toys because old toys were either painted or coated with lead paint and therefore not ideal for children to play with.

For example:

Pre 1950’s the paint can contain up to 50% lead.

From the 1950’s till the late 1960’s paint still contained more than 1% lead.

From the 1970’s it was limited to no more than 1% lead.

From 1992 to 1997 it was limited to no more than 0.25% lead.

From 1997 paint can contain no more than 0.1% lead.

For this reason I personally don’t feel comfortable with young children playing with unrestored Rocking Horses or toys of any kind as the paint will most likely contain traces of lead; therefore I can not in all good conscience sell an unrestored horse for children to play with.

I don’t believe any of our modern paints from local suppliers contain lead as it is not mentioned on the tin; if lead is present, labelling is mandatory.

Some people just give old horses and toys a coat of clear over the top to maintain the look and match their aesthetics; but this is only a very thin layer between the children and the underlying lead paint.

I don’t feel this is a sufficient solution if a child is going to play with it; I believe it is however fine to apply a clear coat is it is just to be used purely as a collector’s item or show piece as this retains the original patina.

How do I combat this without stripping the horse back to bare timber?

I generally don’t strip a horse bare, although I can if requested; I remove all flaky paint and feather all edges,  then I fully gesso all old horses with up to 6 – 8 coats of gesso depending on the condition of the horse; then 2 thick coats of oil based undercoat, then 2 thick coats of oil based top coat, then 2 thick coats of clear Polyurethane. I believe this gives a fairly thick and durable coating over any existing paint that may contain lead.