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As We See It

The fate of unclaimed property: Nevada’s annual Safe Deposit Box Auction

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Comic relief: The annual Safe Deposit Box Auction is an inherently somber affair, but the TNT pros know when to lighten the mood.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

In a plastic bag taped to a banquet table, old coins wink under a pair of leather wallets, a tangle of gold jewelry and a lustrous knuckle of jade being scanned by a man with an ultraviolet flashlight and a calculator. He ignores the Chuck E. Cheese token. It’s the kind of thing I would keep, worthless and precious.

It’s part of one lot among more than 300 in the Safe Deposit Box Auction, an annual event organized by the state treasurer’s office. It’s a last resort, says Mary McElhone, deputy for unclaimed property. After three years of dormancy, banks and casinos try to find safe deposit box owners before turning the assets over to the state, which does a final, exhaustive search that can take two years before inviting the public to thin the stockpile.

Most items up for bid today have obvious value, from a Saint-Gaudens coin to a white gold Cartier watch. An antique IOU for 10 pounds of rice and autographed Luis Tiant baseball card are harder to price, but any proceeds will stay in the original owner’s name forever.

An autographed Luis Tiant baseball card, just one of the items auctioned off on Saturday.

“You never lose the right to file a claim,” McElhone says, adding that your heirs are included, whether the inheritance is postcards or diamonds.

She has more stories about people being joyfully reunited with their heirlooms than happy bidders walking away with them. But the auction serves its purpose, and this one brings in more than $100,000 for those who left their treasures behind.

The bag with the pizza token goes for $255. I hope the winning bidder appreciates how much it’s really worth.

For more about Nevada’s $500 million in unclaimed property and a Q&A with Mary McElhone, click right here.

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Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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