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.

 

Interview with Mike Judkins of Treasure Listings and EstateSales.org

estate sale

First off, I would like to introduce Mike and his companies to you.  Mike started Weekend Treasure.com in 2006 to map out garage sales for him and his wife. He has since grown the business to include several services both on the web and mobile. 


How did you first get interested in shopping garage sales? In reading the “About” page on your site, I noticed that you quickly found searching for and mapping out sales was a pain point. What led you to address that?

It started when a friend of mine came over for dinner one night and was telling me all about how he was going to garage sales and then selling what he bought for many times the amount or more on eBay. I got the idea that it would be a fun thing to do – to try and find things that were underpriced at garage sales and then sell them for a profit.

After my first weekend of going to garage sales I was hooked on the thrill of finding the unexpected and just checking out other peoples stuff as a slightly different form of people watching. It was a bonus if I found things that I could resell for profit, which often happened. I soon devised a way of prioritizing which sales I thought would have better things. I would create a list on pen and paper and would star the sales that were more promising. I would then get directions to each sale by entering addresses by hand into my Blackberry, which was one step up from a fold out map, but archaic by todays standards.

At the time, Google Maps had just come out, and I thought a great way to prioritize which sales to go to would be based on proximity, and the easiest way to do that was to put each of the sale addresses I found on a Google Map. Since I work in the internet industry, I wrote a computer program which essentially took a feed of garage sale addresses from online classifieds sites and put them onto a Google Map so I could see where exactly they were in relation to each other. Then I designed a website around the program which was called WeekendTreasure.com.

At the time you started, were estate sales even on your radar, or just garage and yard sales? What led you to expand into estate sales as well?

I wasn’t really familiar with what an estate sale was at first. After building WeekendTreasure.com, I installed some analytics software and I noticed that a lot of my traffic was coming from people on Google looking for “estate sales”. So that’s when I started looking more into what they were.

How were you able to transition from mapping out garage and yard sales for weekend shoppers to working with professional estate sale companies, realtors, and senior move assistance companies?

I got the idea to create a separate website that was focused on estate sales and was fortunate enough to buy a good exact match domain name which was EstateSales.org. The domain broker wanted 10k for it and I offered them 2k for it, which was a huge amount of money for me at the time. I got lucky and they ended up accepting my lowball offer and then I had to explain to my wife that I was buying a domain name for $2,000.

At the time, I had one other competitor for the garage sale site called gsalr.com which also ranked well on Google for “estate sales”, and so I called the owners of that site up and offered them 50% equity in EstateSales.org if they would help me build the site and direct their audience to the new site. They said yes and we spent the next 6 months working nights to launch a really basic directory of estate sale companies and estate sales. At first we just got all the data from online yellow pages. We sent out emails to all the estate sale companies we had information on, made it free to list estate sales or your estate sale company, and it started catching on from there.

Was this an organic transition or was it planned?

A little bit of both. I had not thought about doing anything related to estate sales until I had noticed the shared audience between garage sales and estate sales.

How does dealing with estate sales and estate liquidators differ from someone who just wants to hold a garage or yard sale?

The biggest difference is that there is a professional industry dedicated to the estate sale market where as yard and garage sales are almost purely a DIY sort of thing. Garage and yard sales are very casual and are often conducted several times throughout ones lifetime with very little forethought. Estate sales are usually only conducted as a result of a major life change such as death, divorce or large downsizing and they often require a large amount of work in order to prepare, appraise, organize and market vs a yard sale.

You are now handling online estate auctions as well. What new challenges did that incur?

The biggest challenge has probably been in developing the software because it’s very unique to the estate sale industry. We developed our own software to allow estate sale companies to not only hold an online auction but to hold a combination in-person and online auction, where some items might only be for sale in-person and others can be purchased online. The other challenge has been in getting traditional estate sale companies to recognize the value of the online model. This has been made easier by companies such as Everything But The House (EBTH) and Caring Transitions, both of whom have proven the online estate sale model to be viable.

Are you seeing more companies transition to online estate auctions or more new companies with the rise of mobile and social media?

There are definitely more companies that are experimenting with online estate sales now as well as more new estate sale companies overall. The estate sale industry has been growing steadily over the last decade in the U.S as the baby boomer generation finds a need to help their aging parents downsize. It can be a tough industry to crack at first but usually those who are tenacious, are prepared to work hard and can stick out the first few years building up word of mouth prevail.

And how has that affected your business?

The growth of the estate sale industry has been great for business. We went from a 3 person skeleton crew working nights to now employing 10 full time people in 5 states.

How does working with online estate auctions such as EBTH change the game?

Companies like EBTH have helped bring the idea of online estate sales to the mainstream. A lot of smaller companies feel the need to compete with that but most of them don’t have the technological capability to host an online auction, and they can sometimes lose out on clients because of it. With our online auction platform, we set out to offer these estate sale companies a tool that allows them to easily compete with the larger corporate brands in the online estate sale space.

What are the unique opportunities working with online sellers as opposed to location-based sales?  

Working with online sellers allows us to differentiate ourselves from our competition, as well as create a whole new experience for our users because it merges e-commerce with the in-person estate sale experience. With online sales, people can browse our online auctions section at estatesales.org/online-auctions and it’s like they are at an estate sale.

What advice can you offer for a buyer who is looking to shop garage, yard or estate sales?

Bring a big enough car for your haul! Bring cash and small bills too since most estate sale companies will accept credit cards only if your purchase is over a certain amount, and almost all yard sales are cash only. Many estate sale companies have steep discounts on the final day, so if you are looking for great deals go on the last day which is typically a Sunday. If you want to get first pick, show up early on the first day. Also, you can download our free mobile app, Garage Sales By Map, which is available on iTunes or the Google Play Store. You will see all the new garage and estate sales near you on a map every week.

Do you have any advice for sellers that would help them to have a more profitable sale, or make it easier for them as sellers?

If you are conducting an estate sale, don’t try to do it yourself. I recommend hooking up with a good estate sale company by submitting a service request on our website at EstateSales.org  If you are holding a yard or garage sale, I published a good article containing 101 tips for sellers

What have been some of the biggest challenges of growing your business? What do you see for the future?

I’d say one of the biggest challenges has been in getting people to think of us first when they think of where to list their garage sales instead of going straight to craigslist without thinking. For the future I see this industry growing even larger and moving more online.

Do you still have time to shop garage sales? Last question, what was your best garage or estate sale find?

I’ve had three kids since I first started garage sale-ing back in 2006, so I have slowed down a little bit but still go every once in awhile. There have been several good finds and flips I’ve made over the years. One guy just gave me a box full of these obscure European DJ records that I ended up selling on eBay for $400. Another time, I bought a box full of costume jewelry for $10 that had a $300 antique cameo ring in it at a garage sale. My favorite estate sale find is probably an old album full of vintage postcards from the 1950s and 60s. Anything that gives me a window into someone else’s life experience is fascinating to me.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I can’t think of anything else, thank you!


What a great view into a wonderful company. Thank you so much for offering to be interviewed for our blog, Mike. We really appreciate it.

Stop by or download one of Mike’s sites and see what treasures you can find at Treasure Listings.com.

Interview with Siobhan Welch of TreasureListings.com and EstateSales.org

flea market table

I would like to introduce Siobhan Welch of TreasureListings.com and EstateSales.org. She is the Content Strategist for Treasure Listings LLC.

You might remember a while ago we featured an post on 25 tips for shopping estate sales. That post was prompted by an article Siobhan wrote for her blog The Goods, titled Want to Sell vintage? Shop Estate Sales. In her post I was one of the vintage sellers interviewed so I asked her if I could return the favor.  Not only did she agree to the interview but she got her boss Mike to allow me to interview him as well. Here is Siobhan’s interview:


How did you get into the estate/garage/yard sale business?

I’m a copywriter, so my job changes depending on what I’m writing about. I jumped at the chance to write about something I actually enjoy – vintage, antiques, collectibles, and everything else that goes along with estate sales. I’ve always been a thrift shopper, and I love vintage things and antiques, learning history, going into people’s old homes, seeing their stuff and wondering about their lives.

What does your job entail? What are your responsibilities within your job?

Since this is a tiny company, I wear many hats, all of them content related. I plan and write for our two blogs, one is industry-related and the other, The Goods, is focused on estate sale shoppers. I research – which means a lot of reading and talking to people. Sometimes I attend estate sales. I manage all the email and social media. Then I try to make sure our content is found by promoting it as well as I can. I also track our analytics data to see what’s working and what’s not.

What is your favorite part of working at Estate Sales.org?

Besides getting to learn a lot about old things, provenance and history, I love talking to the people who run estate sales. They are all so smart and curious having come to the industry from all walks of life. They know a lot about a lot. They’re the kind of people you want to sit next to in a bar or coffee shop. They can tell you about history, how things were made, where they were made, why they were made that way. Most of them have an eye for good design – or more importantly, an eye for what’s interesting. And they have fascinating stories.

The estate sale industry has rapidly grown due to downsizing of the aging population. How has that affected your business? What opportunities do you see being created in the future?

I recently heard the Millennials just surpassed the Baby Boomers in population. Which means all this downsizing and figuring out senior-related issues is only going to continue – because the Millennials, though still in denial, will all get old one day and need liquidation services. Right now the issue is that they don’t want to take on a lot of the Boomers’ stuff – hence the need for estate sales. So who knows? If they continue to be minimalist and mobile, maybe there won’t be as big of a need for estate sales in the future, but I doubt it. Stuff will always exist (to fill the void), and since we’re human, there’s too much of it. Liquidation services will always be needed, too – professionals who are experts in pricing and appraisal, and who will run the whole thing because it can be quite a production.

How has technology impacted your business? Has it made it easier, or more difficult, in what ways? 

Our business is built on the internet, so giving shoppers a way to find sales and companies – and giving estate sale companies a way to easily advertise was a game-changer for the industry. With everything moving toward mobile, technology is even more important.

Do you shop estate or garage sales? If so, can you share a favorite story or find?

I do shop estate sales – there are a lot of cool ones in my neighborhood in Austin. Here’s a weird story about our website. I regularly go through the site looking for photos to use on social media or interesting finds. One day I was looking at a sale for what looked like an old dance studio…. and all the photos started to look very familiar. It turns out my ballet teacher had died and her estate sale was listed on our site! She had lived in a house attached to the studio, and as a child I always wanted to see inside her house. So now, twenty-something years later I got to. It was a weird, unexpected look into my past I wasn’t expecting. You never know what you’re gonna find at an estate sale – even virtually. 

What advice can you offer for shoppers?

Check out EstateSales.org to see photos of the sale first to decide if it’s worth driving out to. Get there early on day 1 for the good (midcentury) stuff, get there on later days for the discounts. Neighborhoods matter. Go with a friend for more fun, but it’s even more fun if you have different tastes.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to get into the estate sale business?

Learn everything you can about everything – but don’t think you can learn it all in a book. This is a very tactile business, so attend sales and antique fairs, touch and examine things, talk to people, ask questions.

What new trends do you see coming in the industry?

I see more sales moving toward mobile, with online auctions becoming the norm, although I think actual estate sales will always exist. You just can’t recreate the tactile experience (or that old house smell) digitally.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think that covered it – thank you so much!


Thanks so much Siobhan, we really appreciate it.  We love EstateSales.org ! Go check out The Goods too.