Missouri Unclaimed Property Auction draws regulars and newcomers alike

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 | 9:09 p.m. CDT
The Missouri State Treasurer held an unclaimed property auction Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Columbia. Currency, coins and jewelry made up the bulk of the items up for auction, and bids ranged from $1 up into the thousands.

COLUMBIA — When Jason Sutton wants to intimidate other bidders during an auction, he gets to his feet. At 6-foot-9, he's a presence on the auction floor, standing coolly with his bidding ticket raised high above his head.

The tactic didn't seem to work, however, during a crucial bid at the Missouri Unclaimed Property Auction on Wednesday.

The auction is put on by State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, and this is the third year in a row the event has taken place in Columbia.

After five or more years without any documented activity, banks turn safety deposit box contents over to the state, and by law, the treasurer may hold an auction when the physical vaults of unclaimed property fill up.

So when lot 639 — a 5.2-karat diamond ring Sutton said has a retail value of $75,000 to $80,000 — went up for auction, the room went wild. The auctioneer's voice rumbled like a motorboat engine as Sutton and a man from Florida duked it out in dollars. After a long struggle, the item sold for $7,600 to the man from Florida.

Sutton frequents auctions across the country and abroad. He makes a living buying and reselling all sorts of things he buys from auctions and private individuals, but he said he isn't a picky buyer.

"I buy comic books," he said. "I buy toys. I buy anything I can resell. I buy teeth. You wouldn't believe how many teeth I bought this year."

He's been attending auctions for five or six years, but he said he's been buying and selling jewelry since he was 16.

"I've never worked at Burger King or Toys 'R' Us or any place like that," he said. "I'm 35, and this is what we do."

Mark and Alicia Fults are also regular attendees of auctions. They've been going to these events since before they were married, Alicia said, when they were looking to furnish their house.

Mark Fults said it doesn't matter how far he and his wife have to travel to get to an auction.

"It's adventure," he said. "That's the whole thing. And it's the people. You learn something new every time."

Seated among the regulars was Sharon Watts, a woman from St. Louis who said she was attending her first unclaimed property auction. She showed up to the auction before 8 a.m. with her brother, Ricky Jones, and stayed until the last lot was sold.

Jones is a regular attendee of car, storage-unit and unclaimed-property auctions, and Watts decided to tag along with her brother because she's interested in old money.

"I came to see the two-dollar bills," she said. "My dad has a whole bunch of them."

Watts said she had a good time and that she plans to go for coins at the next auction she attends.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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