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Unclaimed property auction offers assortment of items

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | 5:30 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Elizabeth Oligschlaeger, left, shows coins to Tom Foster on Monday, the night before bidding at the Missouri unclaimed property auction at the Hilton Garden Inn in Columbia. Thousands of coins are up for auction ranging from pennies to gold Double Eagles predicted to go for at least $2,000 a piece.

*A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Missouri State Treasury employee Scott Harper.

COLUMBIA — Dozens of buyers scooped up more than 1,000 items at an unclaimed property auction put on by the state Tuesday.

More than 100 banks contributed more than 1,200 safety deposit boxes with unclaimed property to State Treasurer Clint Zweifel’s office in 2011, according to a news release issued by the treasurer’s office last week.

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Some items were novel, such as a photograph and baseball signed by retired St. Louis Cardinal Ozzie Smith, which sold for $25 with two sets of baseball cards. A pocket knife disguised as a coin went for at least $20.

Other items were worth more than one might expect, like the bag of dimes minted before 1964 that sold for more than $700.

*Scott Harper, an employee with the state treasurer's office, explained that the quality of silver from that era makes the coins worth far more than face value.

The total amount from all items sold will be released Wednesday.

The items sold in Tuesday's auction represent less than 1 percent of the total $600 million held in reserve by the treasurer's office.

Property accumulates when banks turn over safety deposit boxes to the state that have been unattended for five or more years, Zweifel's spokesman Jon Galloway said.

Harper said he has worked on every unclaimed property auction put on by the state in the past 23 years.

The process of cataloging items, finding a location to hold the auction and arranging to work with an auctioneer is a process that take months of planning by the treasurer's office, Harper said.

"By the time we open the doors, we've done a big chunk of our work already," he said.

Items from the unclaimed boxes are stored in vaults in the basement of the Harry S. Truman Building in Jefferson City. According to state law, unclaimed property can be sold at auction when the amount of property exceeds the space used for storage.

Only items deemed to have marketable value are sold. Profits from the sale are kept under the name of the original owner, then remain held in trust by the treasurer’s office.

Harper said not everything they find in boxes is worth selling. The most unusual things he said he ever found in a safety deposit box were a ski mask, a change of clothes and a gun.


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