Missouri Unclaimed Property Auction underway in Columbia

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 | 8:08 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Sitting in the last row of chairs in a large conference room, David Moore, a jewelry and antique dealer from Florida, flicks his wrist and raises his yellow paper paddle as the bid increments climb higher.

A cry of "Sold!" is heard, and Moore is awarded a gold-colored 1930s pocket watch.

It is Moore's third year attending the Missouri Unclaimed Property Auction, and he is looking to buy anything he can sell in his Florida store.

"I just look for anything I like or can turn into a dollar," he said as he bid against about 20 people for another antiquated pocket watch.

The Missouri Unclaimed Property Auction is being held in Columbia for the fourth time in a row. It started Tuesday and continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Holiday Garden Inn Conference Center, 3300 Vandiver Drive. It features books, stamps, tableware, pocket knives, jewelry, coins, tokens and currency.

About 200 people came to look and bid on Tuesday, said Scott Harper, Missouri director of unclaimed property. The same number of people are expected to come to bid on old coins and paper money on Wednesday, he said.

Moore said that most auctions today are held online, and that he tries to go to live auctions. 

"For me, it makes sense (to go to the auction) because it's hands-on," he said. "I don't like to guess what it is."

Mike DeBarry of Barnhart, who has been collecting coins for 20 years, said he was at the auction Tuesday looking to buy about 25 silver coins, dimes and half dollars to add to his collection.

The coins will be auctioned Wednesday, but he came early with his magnifying glass to examine them. He was looking at the display cases and compiling a list of what to bid on.

Several people came to the auction from around the country to bid on items.

"It's worthwhile for people to come because it's such a unique collection," Harper said.

The unclaimed items auctioned at the event come from bank safety deposit boxes.

Banks turn unclaimed property over to the state treasurer after five years, and the treasurer then holds onto it for about another five years, Harper said.

"Each year, we receive about 1,000 safety deposit boxes," said Meghan Lewis, director of communications for State Treasurer Clint Zweifel. "By statute, we're allowed to have auctions as needed since we have limited space. Columbia's a central location and it's easier for people to travel to."

Tangible items make up only one percent of unclaimed property, Harper said. Most unclaimed property is financial.

Some people do not claim the items in their safety deposit boxes because they have  moved or died, Harper said.

"Any kind of major change in their life can create unclaimed property," he said.

A team of people associated with the state treasurer mails postcards, participates in telethons and places newspaper ads to find the original owners of the property, Harper said. The items are sent to auction when the owner cannot be found.

"Our main goal is to return as much property as we can," he said.

When each item is sold, the proceeds are held in the name of the person who owned the safety deposit box until he or she comes to claim it. Because the money never becomes property of the state, the treasurer's office is holding $760 million in unclaimed property for 4.4 million account owners.

Last year's auction brought in about $76,000.

"The highest item last year was a clear stone in a platinum setting," Lewis said. "It sold for about $7,000."

Unclaimed property owners can search for or claim property at any time by going to

Supervising editor is Margaux Henquinet.

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