A woman bids on an item at the unclaimed property auction in Columbia

More than a hundred people showed up for the State Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property auction in Mid-Missouri. It’s one of the few times you can find things like sliver bars, rare baseball cards, and an 1887 Morgan Dollar set into a bolo tie; all for sale in the same place.

Martin Belt came to Columbia from his home in Madison, Missouri to see what the auction had to offer.

“It’s my first (unclaimed property auction). I found it on the internet,” Belt said.

Other states have turned to the internet instead of holding live auctions. They put items they find in abandoned safe deposit boxes for sale on eBay instead. State Treasurer Clint Zweifel says it’s an idea he’s considered.

“We’ve actually talked with the legislature a little bit about making sure that these auctions are as relevant in the marketplace as possible. One of the keys is making sure that we can really move all these things out the door, and sometimes it helps to do them all in one physical setting,” Zweifel said.

Belt goes to a lot of other live auctions. He says comparing live and internet auction, prices seem pretty comparable.

“It’s about neck and neck, everybody’s looking for a bargain…. Either way,” Belt said.

One of the auctioneers takes bids

While the Unclaimed Property Division often handles things like lost bank or escrow accounts, it also takes safe deposit boxes.

“It could have been a safe deposit box that was created, opened up and forgotten about after some things were placed in there. Once that account is dormant for five years or more, it comes to us,” Zweifel said.

If the owner of the box claims it quickly enough after it’s transferred to the treasurer, they may be able to get their items back. But once the division’s store rooms start to run out of space, the Treasurer can hold an auction. This was the first auction in four years, and there were 900 separate lots for sale.

Each bag represents one lot in the 900 lot auction

“These safe deposit boxes have items like a Mickey Mantle signed baseball card to coins to special stamps. So there’s a wide variety of things that have an economic value but also are sentimental in nature, too,” Zweifel said.

Regardless, everything finds a price at the auction. Some items go for hundreds of dollars; others go for as little as one dollar. However much it is, the Treasurer’s office doesn’t get a dime.

“It goes into an account for perpetuity for the account owner. Just to give you an example, the average claim for individuals is about $365. One in ten Missourians have some level of unclaimed property,” Zweifel said.

Zweifel hopes the auction serves an even bigger role than just cleaning out storage space. He hopes this continues to spread the word about the Unclaimed Property Division, so more Missourians can get back what’s entitled to them. Follow this link to go to the Treasurer’s website.

Potential bidders had a chance to view the items before the auction started

“One thing that happens is I talk with some of the individuals that are here today and they say, ‘Hey I need to check the website for unclaimed property,’ showmemoney.com, because they actually remember, ‘Hey I may have some unclaimed property.’ So we’re already returning more property just by having this auction,” Zweifel said.

That was the result for Belt.

“Yes, I have and I had about $18 worth of something. I don’t know where it came from,” Belt said, laughing.

Zweifel says the process of making a claim is easier than it’s ever been as Missouri’s become the fifth state to make the process completely paperless, online.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]