Finders Keepers `Treasures' of Abandoned Safe-Deposit Boxes Go to the Highest Bidders at State Auction

By Bradbury, Peggy | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

Finders Keepers `Treasures' of Abandoned Safe-Deposit Boxes Go to the Highest Bidders at State Auction


Bradbury, Peggy, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Frank Tucker discovered a half-ounce gold nugget in a package of miscellaneous jewelry he bought Monday at an auction in St. Charles.

Tucker, an antiques dealer from Bigspring, Mo., was among 50 people who bid on unclaimed coins, stamps, jewelry and other items found in abandoned safe-deposit boxes. The items were auctioned at the Columns Banquet Center, 711 Fairlane Drive, by auctioneer James L. Johnson of Madison, Mo., for the Missouri treasurer's office.

Tucker's pleasure at finding the nugget, worth about $200, was offset by discovering that a gold chain and bangle bracelet, both listed as solid gold, were not. Besides jewelry, Tucker bought a German World War II medal with a swastika, two silver certificates, several wrist watches, a collection of whiskey tax seals printed in 1914, an antique Chinese perfume bottle made of cinnabar and a sheriff's badge from St. Louis County that belonged to Frank L. Malone. Malone was sheriff from 1961 to 1967 and died in office. "All in all, it was no great haul, but it'll make my trip in here worthwhile," said Tucker, who used to live in St. Charles. Each year, the state treasurer's office receives more than $15 million in unclaimed property - cash from abandoned bank accounts, stocks and bonds, unclaimed utility deposits and uncollected proceeds from insurance policies and the contents of safe deposit boxes that have been abandoned for at least seven years. Cash is banked in the Abandoned Funds Account forever, unless the owner or an heir claims the property, says a booklet from the treasurer's office. Items in safe deposit boxes are usually sold for lack of storage space, said William Johnson, director of unclaimed property. The exceptions are items of historical value and love letters. Historical items, such as a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, are stored either by the treasurer's office or by the state historical society. Love letters are destroyed after two years. Does anyone read the letters first? "No," says Johnson. " It's pretty easy to tell (love letters) when you take a look at the letters and there're a bunch of X's and O's." Another clue is if a stack of 200 letters is from one person. Proceeds from sales of unclaimed property are banked in the Abandoned Funds Account, waiting for claims by owners or heirs. About one in 10 Missourians has property in the custody of the Unclaimed Property Division. The Treasurer's Office holds one sale in the state every eighteen months to two years, says Johnson. …

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