When a vintage first aid kit required the bomb squad

Sometimes our profession of finding and reselling vintage items can be hazardous to our health. No one can attest to that more than De Crow, owner of the Etsy shop  Urban Renewal Designs. We interviewed De about how an innocent Girl Scout item was the reason for a visit from the local police department bomb squad to her house.


Here is De’s story in her own words:

The following story is TRUE! I want to share it with all of you as a safety WARNING! This is what happened to me not so long ago as a consequence of a fun day out pickin’ for treasures.

My story began at an estate sale (where else?). I’m rather fond of anything vintage Girl or Boy Scout and when I found a wonderful 1939 Girl Scout First Aid kit (Johnson & Johnson) with ALL the contents still inside, I was thrilled and immediately purchased it. Sounds wonderful, eh?

As soon as I got home, I took photos, taking each item out to showcase the contents of the box, then I listed this little treasure on Etsy and included a list of all the contents from the label on the inside of lid in the description. Of note is that I actually handled ALL of the contents and moved them around quite a bit while photographing, etc. Fast forward about two days at which time I received a message from a man who said:

“If the Picric Acid gauze bandages are still in this first aid kit, I urge you to remove them and call your local fire department. Picric acid becomes explosive after it dries out or crystallizes. Bomb squads all over the country have dealt with this dangerous chemical and the post office will not accept anything that includes it. The rest of the kit is, of course, legal to sell.”

After gasping in horror at what I had just read, I hurried into my storage room to check the contents of the First Aid kit. Sure enough, the Picric Acid gauze pads were inside the tin all snugly packed!!


I pulled them out of the tin (bad idea) and laid them on the counter, still not totally grasping how volatile these things could be. As I was deciding whether to call the police/fire/bomb squad or what, I got another message in response to my thank you to my good Samaritan with a link to a video to a TV news story about an experience with Girl Scout first aid kits.

To shorten this story, I will just say that as soon as I watched the video, I called 911 and an officer was dispatched to my house ASAP. He was not just any police officer, but the Sergeant in Charge of our local BOMB SQUAD!

He came in the house and checked out the packages and asked a lot of questions and then asked to see the first aid kit. He then told us that it was indeed a potentially explosive material (what they use in TNT and other explosives, and was an ingredient used in the past for burns, etc. by doctors and packaged in some older first aid kits). When/if it crystallizes, it becomes even more dangerous. He couldn’t really tell if it had crystallized or not as it was covered with wrapping, but said to tell everyone that I had definitely done the right thing by calling them!

In a few minutes, a second bomb unit officer showed up with a big black heavily padded bag and a long clipper. He scooped up the packages from about 2 feet away and put the Picric Acid Gauze Bandages in a bag and put that bag in another bag, zipped it all up and drove away to take to the disposal unit!

I’m sure the expression on my face was one of those “deer in the headlight” ones as I watched the bomb squad officer racing out my front door with the big black bag that held the picric acid at arms length!

Obviously, this is something that all of us who actually go out looking for items such as a vintage First Aid Kit should ALL be aware of … who would have EVER thought that an old GIRL SCOUT First Aid Kit could/would be dangerous? Well, it just might be…so please check!

Picric acid can also be found in old doctor’s bags or medicinal supply boxes. It was used on burns as well. It’s not just in Girl or Boy Scout 1st Aid kits and not in all of those. The bomb person told me that a lot of Picric Acid had also been found in WWII undetonated bombs from Japan.

So, PLEASE pass the word to your fellow pickers, friends, family and anyone else who might come across Picric Acid in any form in their boxes “treasures.”

Call 911 IMMEDIATELY! Do NOT touch or disturb the packaging in any way!

A few days later, I was at a vintage market show and the first booth I stopped at had an old Boy Scout first aid kit! I immediately opened it to check for contents. While there were still several items still in the kit, the picric acid gauze pads were no longer there. However, these items were listed on the contents label in the top of the lid…so, I will continue to be the picric acid police woman everywhere I go. LOL!

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

De’s story is just so shocking. These days the Girl Scouts are best know for their cookies not for explosive items!  

The links to the television interviews were no longer working but we did find this article detailing her ordeal  and another video of an incident with picric acid in a college classroom.


Save the world, buy VINTAGE! Tina@GirlPickers

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1 comment

  1. Thank you so very much for publishing this article, Tina! While all of us “pickers” love finding special treasures (the hunt is 3/4ths of the fun), we also need to be cognizant of the hazards inherent in some of these older items…they were made long before all of the health and safety standards of today!

    I have shared this information with every picker I know and hope that each of you who read it will share as well. Our community of vintage treasure hunters is like “family,” so keeping them safe is vitally important!

    Happy SAFE Pickin’
    De Crow

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