YARMOUTH – Stuff can be so valuable that people put it into a safety deposit box, and then forget all about it. Sometimes, that stuff is contraband.
On May 3, the state will begin an eBay auction of unclaimed items left in safety deposit boxes. No, not the contraband. Examples of items that will be auctioned are on a five-city statewide tour, and on Tuesday several locked glass cases of mostly coins and jewelry were brought to the Cape Cod Irish Village in Yarmouth.
“These items represent cases where we weren’t successful in reuniting the property with their owners.” said James F .Roy III, Manager/Agent with the Unclaimed Property Division of the state Treasury Department. “This is a solid sampling of the types of properties we have and also how we describe it.”
Under the watchful eye of state police, folks wandered into the room where the the glass cases were brought, and marveled, for instance, that a couple of plastic containers of gold coins could be worth $10,000. Barry Clayman of Yarmouth was interested in viewing a gold Krugerrand. “It’s interesting to see what comes out of people’s safety deposit boxes” he said.
Roy, who has worked for the Unclaimed Property Division since 2003, said the eBay auction began in 2005. That first year, he recalled, a 3-1/2 pound bar of platinum sold for $54,000. So why would anyone buy platinum? “Platinum is a precious metal. It’s used in jewelry, industry, and electronics,” he said.
Each year, said Roy, the contents of 1,200 to 1,500 unclaimed safety deposit boxes are put up for auction. This is in addition to unclaimed checking accounts and
saving accounts that banks are required to report to the treasury, he said.
The state prints a list of 60,000 to 80,000 names of people with unclaimed property every year, said Roy, who said people should check for their names and those of relatives at FindMassMoney.com In addition, he said, “Make provisions for wills and estates.”
Every year, he said, about 1/3 of unclaimed property is found by people seeing a name on that list. “Massachusetts is very aggressive about our outreach programs,” said Roy.
The rules for abandoned safety deposit boxes, he said, say that after one year of non-payment the financial institution can report it to the treasury and can drill out the lock and catalog and store the items. The items remain at the institution for seven more years, when they can be put up for auction. The state waits even longer, he said.
“Everything here is disassociated from its owners for at least ten or 11 years,” said Roy.
In abandoned safety deposit boxes, said Roy, there are 500,000 to 750,000 items every year. “The majority of material we have is paperwork without commercial value,” he said.
“Sometimes, people leave things that they want people to know about,” said Roy, “and sometimes they leave things they would not want anyone to know what they’re doing.”
“We have coins, jewelry, cash, deeds, wills, insurance policies, firearms, and contraband,” he said. “There are photos of trysts and activities that are unmentionable. There are videos.” A bullet was found from a suicide and someone had saved the bullet, he said. “We have found teeth, hair, love letters, letters of lovers, and adoption papers,” said Roy.
But on this tour, John McAndrews of Yarmouth said, “I thought there would be more material. It’s just coins and watches.” He called himself “a half-ass collector” and added, “I already see that most of those watches are out of my league.”
Faith Duprex of Harwich said, “I thought we were going to look at antique furniture.”
Her husband, Tom Duprex, said he came to the showing because, “I was curious what the hell it was. There’s a lot of stuff pulled out of somewhere.”
According to Roy, the items on tour are representative of what will be auctioned. The auction will start on eBay on May 3 with 100 lots. “A lot could be a single item or 10 of thousands of items, such as coin collection,” he said.
For the first seven days, there will be 100 new lots each day, he said, and then it will slow down. “Each lot will be live for seven days,” said Roy. “By June 6, 1,200 lots will have been listed.”
While many items found in safety deposit boxes have no commercial value, others have been priceless, said Roy, who cited a silver tankard made by Adam Tyler, who predated Paul Revere, that was donated and is now on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
And yet Roy said the state continues to actively pursue the rightful owners and even at this late date, just before the auction, is not too late. In fact, he said, even after the auction any proceeds raised can be claimed by anyone proving ownership of an auctioned item “in perpetuity.”.
He said he knew that it was more than old coins and pocket watches that that the state is selling. “We try to take an even handed approach to property,” he said. “We find items that represent a history of a person’s life, like a charm bracelet. There could be someone’s life story in that charm bracelet.”
On this tour there was a silver brick, old Beatles collectable cards, and masonic awards “with twelve hundred dollars in gold value. And they would mean much more to a Mason.”
Looking at all the gold coins, Roy said, “This is investment grade gold.”
The material, on a five-city tour, is very valuable and Roy said, “We don’t discuss how the material is moved.”
Looking at the material that once belonged to someone will soon belong to the highest bidder, McAndrews said, “I learned a lesson. I’ve got to get together a will.”
— Brian Tarcy