That ain’t garbage


I was having a grand old time digging through this trash when I heard the front door open. A man emerged and proceeded to tell me that everything he put on the curb was garbage (“not worth anything”) and that if I didn’t put it back he’d call local security.

His was clearly displeased. I asked if I could keep some sweaters and t-shirts I had taken from one of the bags, but he was firm in his conviction that nothing was to be taken. Fortunately by this point I had already put my best finds in the car.

I’ve heard this “my garbage is garbage” story many a time. However, the meaning can be different depending on the situation and the tone used to express it. Sometimes people will say it in a kind way, genuinely believing their trash is of no value. They don’t mind if I look through their trash just to make sure. Sometimes someone will say it confidently, and I’ll have already seen enough of their crap to think “yeah, you’re probably right!”. Others, like this guy speak it in telling me to leave their garbage alone.

When this happens I’ll try to make myself look as non-threatening as possible, usually by pointing out some useful if unexciting low-value item (like the sweaters in this case) that I’d like to take, hoping to appeal to the part of their brain that might have once considered donating the item or items in question. I’ve always avoided mentioning the best of what I’ve already found, or at least how much I think I could get for it. I guess part of me is worried that once they hear how much it’s worth they’ll change their minds about throwing it out, or that they’ll get “garbage remorse” and accuse me of stealing.

Sometimes though I wonder what would happen if I told these more aggressive people the truth. I could say that one of the items they tossed was worth 100$, for example, and that this fact disproves their notion that their garbage is indeed junk. I have no idea how they’d react. I kind of doubt they’d suddenly be enthused about my digging, however, and it’s likely best I stick to my current strategy.


One bag contained a whole bunch of vintage pennants. I mentioned these as being “pretty cool” in my brief attempt to reason with the guy.


Most are from towns in eastern Canada (Digby, Moncton, Sandy Cove, Truro, Summerside, and Sandy Cove) while a few are from elsewhere (Quebec, Lowell Pennsylvania, Bermuda, and Quebec City). The “WHS Highland” pennant likely came from the West Highlands Elementary school in Nova Scotia.


These two are among my personal favorites. I like the maple leaf and the date on the Fredericton pennant, and the image of the ship on the MV Bluenose.


These are the ones I knew I could make money off, however. The top pennant represents the 40th Battalion, a Nova Scotian infantry unit that existed only during World War I. The pennant below features Valcartier, a Canadian Forces Base near Quebec City that was founded at the beginning of WWI.

Both flags are around 100 years old and are fairly hard to come by, particularly in this condition. I found only one that was comparable on eBay – it sold for nearly 150$. I priced the 40th Battalion pennant at 180$ and the Valcartier at 200$. I might end up lowering those prices a tad, but I expect they’ll earn me enough to conclusively disprove the assertion that they’re garbage!


I saved a lot more from this spot though. I brought home some WWII era equipment, including a US Army belt; …



… a couple of lids in a ziplock bag, one of which is marked as sterling silver;


… a small collection of newspapers from the 70s and 80s, back when Billy Carter was politically relevant;


… a very nice pair scissors by Birks, which I think were made for hairdressing;


(I’m going to keep them for my own beard trimming needs)


… and a large collection of letters, many of which are from the war years. These were packed with care into ziplock bags.

My mom, who was in town for a few days volunteered to look through them. The letters seem to be authored by two different people, one of which is more eloquent and poetic than the other. She didn’t get too deep into the contents but did read aloud some interesting passages regarding travels in India and a symposium featuring Albert Einstein and Max Planck.


Mixed in with the letters were some miscellaneous pieces of ephemera. These little leaflets were stashed in an envelope on which was written: “Propaganda dropped by the British in Germany in World War II (Found in Denny’s file of war letters and mementoes [sic]”.


The leaflets are interesting if not particularly valuable. I haven’t translated much of it, partly because I have a hard time understanding the Gothic font. However, “luftpost” is “air mail,” “geiselmord” means “murder of hostages,” and “von der Royal Air Foce abgeworfen” translates to “dropped by the Royal Air Force.”


I can’t read the title here, but the image of the hanging swastika is quite striking.


Of all the ephemera I most enjoyed these old WWII identity cards. These kinds of things always tell a great story.


I don’t think they’re particularly valuable in the monetary sense, though I couldn’t find any other Air Forces in India identification cards on eBay. Regardless they are very cool.


It was a great haul overall. Still, I can’t help but wonder what was in the two bags I didn’t have time to look though. It could have been junk, but they might also have held treasures beyond my wildest imaginations. We’ll never know! Either way, I’m quite happy with my finds to start the year.

31 thoughts on “That ain’t garbage”

  1. Too bad the visit to this place was aborted. It’s possible you could have saved so much more.
    I had a great time poking through all that ephemera you found (and am looking forward to my next opportunity). 🙂
    That lid will add a bit of bulk to your scrap silver pile.

  2. Such a shame the homeowner wouldn’t let you continue your search! Glad you were able to save what you’ve shown in this post!

  3. Hi Martin,
    It’s JF the wwii collector, would you considere to keep me the wwii memorablias, please. Give me your phone number or adress to meet you.
    Best regards,

  4. “Garbage remorse”–LOL! What a wonderful term. On the one hand one wants people to be aware of what they are throwing away so they change their ways and donate the stuff instead. On the other, their indifference means better finds for those who make a living from redistributing these articles to people who can really appreciate them. Until such time as people become more thoughtful about their divestments, the discreet approach seems wisest for the prevention of garbage remorse.

    1. Glad you liked it. I mostly worry that someone might call the cops and pretend I stole the items if I mention that they might have value. It’s unlikely, but you never know. Part of the reason I take the “before” photos (the one of the trash pile in question) is to prove I was at that location during trash day, just in case I need to prove it for whatever reason.

      For the record, I also take those photos to emphasize that these treasures are most often stashed in pretty inconspicuous places. Hidden in plain sight, more or less!

  5. Joane is wise in her comments.However charities don’t accept or resell personal memorabilia,old letters,old diaries and wartime souvenirs.These kinds of things are best kept by individuals(family members,friends,etc) or memorabilia collectors or museums.Personal items of historic value cannot be donated to charities,only to museums,archives or family history societies.

    1. True. Unfortunately these personal items, like old photos and letters are trashed fairly regularly. For instance, this is the third time I found a notable number of WWII-era letters. They’re always cool to come across, but they’re no longer surprising to see.

  6. Damn… based on your initial picks you should have gone back 30 minutes later, thrown all the bags in a car, and hauled off. Those pennants are amazing. Send a letter to the guy’s house with printouts of ebay actions of the stuff…

  7. You may have already addressed this question previously, but why don’t you collect the bags unopened & take them home to go through at your own pace? thanks

      1. I always wonder too though if doing this might weird people out. The way I do it now I try to be clean, and in general make it look like I was never there at all. But I always thought people might feel funny if they see all their trash bags missing, while their neighbors still have theirs. I usually go out at night these days, so if someone changes their trash habits as a result of their fear (ie: by putting it out in the morning instead of at night) then I’m not likely to see what they’re throwing out.

        1. You should just take the trash bags and go through them in a garage if one is available. We have a joke in our family that if you leave it at the curb, it will be gone in 30 seconds. I don’t even bother to take things to the thrift store anymore. My kids grew out of that play kitchen, curbside and gone. Little table and chairs – gone. Natty chair with multiple mystery stains – gone. My time is more valuable to me to spend the time selling on line or having a garage sale, so I just pass these things on to the multiple scrappers who drive through my area.

          1. Lol. The same thing is true here. I’ll often take stuff, and then later decide it’s not worth keeping. I’ll put it in a box on the curb and all the best stuff will be gone by the time the garbage truck comes. I put out on average maybe a box a week of random stuff. I’m pretty sure other scavengers go out of their way to check my curb on trash day, which is kind of funny!

    1. I try not to put unopened bags in the car for a couple reasons. One, my car isn’t really all that big, so it wouldn’t take long to f ill the car. The second is that sometimes these bags will contains things that might leak out and dirty the car. Food waste or kitty litter is bad enough, but something like kerosene from a lamp would be extra hard if not impossible to clean out.

      Sometimes I’ll throw a whole bag or two, but I’ll always try to peek at what’s inside f irst to see what’s inside.

      1. Thanks for the response – makes more sense to me to look curbside instead of moving the bags now!

        1. It all depends on what works for you of course. If you put a heavy blanket down (like a moving blanket) you could put bags in your car without worrying too much about spillage, and look at it all the next day with the clarity of daylight. That might be preferable to you for a variety of reasons. There’s more than one way to skin a cat! (That’s a weird expression when you think about it…)

  8. The fat print of the swastika leaflet says: “Bombs, bigger bombs every time”. “You can say thanks to ‘H’ for that”.

    I can translate the rest if you’d like.

          1. No not long at all. Just prefer for you to publish it or not. Also transcribed the Gothic to readable Western text. Could help you to learn to understand the script.

            1. ok anounismounly

              Jezt legen wir erst richtig los.
              Unsere Antwort auf hitlers Terror:
              Bomben, immer grössere Bomben!
              Was Ihr heute Nacht erlebt habt, waren nur die ersten Tropfen, die den kommenden Gewittersturm ankündigen. Immer wuchtiger, immer vernichtender wird es auf Deutschland herabpraffeln: so rechnen wir mit hitler ab! Wenn es zuviel für Euch wird, wenn Ihr de Urgewalt des Orkans nicht mehr widerstehen könnt, dann denkt daran:
              Das dankt Ihr hitler!

              We’re going to start for real now.
              Our answer to hitlers terror:
              The bombs will only get bigger and bigger.
              What you experienced last night were only the first drops that announce the coming tempest. It will batter on Germany harder and more destroying: that’s how we will settle the bill with hitler! When it becomes too much for you, when you can’t bear the brute force of the hurricane any longer, then realize:
              You owe it to hitler!

              1. Great translation, thanks for that. I wonder if it worked or not. I bet at the time (1941) it wasn’t super effective because the Germans were doing quite well. The message might have been more effective in 44 or 45, when they were quite obviously on the decline.

            2. Ah I see. Well, if you send it to my email I can see one way or another. I would be interested to check it out. I likely won’t post it though, because I tend to post about new finds rather than expanding on the old ones. That’s why I was thinking it would be good in the comments, because someone could just scroll down from this post and find the translation.

  9. Town of Mount Royal is such a strange enclave.Every time I visit it,I feel I am visiting England or Scotland.95% of the Streets in the Ville of Mount Royal seemed to be named after historical figures of British /Scottish origin,or régions in England and Scotland.There are very few streets in TMR bearing French names.In sharp contrast to that,just north in the highly multicultural Ville St.Laurent more than half of the streets have French names.Also in the north,most streets in Ahuntsic bear French names.I cannot understand why there is such a resistance and opposition to scavenging in Town of Mount Royal.There seems to be more resistance in TMR to garbage scavengers than even wealthier Westmount.I know people who have scavenged dozens of times in Westmount without getting a ticket or being warned by authorities.What makes the people in TMR so uppity and anti-scavenger?Very curious indeed.

    1. I know, it is a bit funny. It was very much built by and for “old stock” Canadians. The same is true for Montreal West – if anything it reminds me even more of that segment of our culture. Some parts of NDG are also like this.

      My theory is that the people of Westmount are more connected to the city, and are more familiar with scavengers and similar folk. TMR is an old garden suburb that has intentionally tried to separate itself from the rest of the city, so they are more surprised when outsiders appear.

  10. Some people are doing renovations and deliberately leave furniture and other things outside their garage for a while.Others keep things in their backyard or outside their front door for a bit .These items are not often not abandoned and the owners can legally accuse strangers and scavengers of stealing their stuff if their stuff is illegally removed.Some scrap metal collectors have gone into people’s backyards to take out old appliances and chairs without permission.They have had to back down or face charges of stealing/theft.Unless things are out on the curb with the garbage on garbage day or the day before,passers-by and scavengers do not have the right to take it.When in doubt,do not take it.Play it safe or risk getting a big fine.

    1. Yeah I don’t take anything unless it’s on the curb. It’s happened before that there’s cool looking trash sitting at the outside of the house (ie: not on the curb) that I’m 99.9% sure is garbage but I don’t look because it’s still on the person’s property. The only exception is when people get those huge dumpsters, I’ll dig around in those even if they’re technically on the driveway.

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