clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A peek into a trove of unclaimed property

“There’s a reason these things are put in safe deposit boxes, because someone valued them,” State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said of the state’s auction of unclaimed property.

Baseball memorabilia, including a ball signed by the 1984 Cubs, is displayed during an auction preview at the Thompson Center on Aug. 5, 2019.
Baseball memorabilia, including a ball signed by the 1984 Cubs, is displayed Monday during an auction preview at the Thompson Center.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

Each of the rare coins, the pocket watches, and the diamond rings, carries stories that are now probably lost forever.

Or there’s the silver snuff box with a tale perhaps best left forgotten.

“There are amazing stories locked away in vaults,” Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs explained Monday as he stood in the lobby of the Thompson Center. “There’s a reason these things are put in safe deposit boxes, because someone valued them.”

Frerichs was talking about a collection of the state’s unclaimed valuables that will be auctioned Aug. 17 during the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Monday was a preview of what to expect — with some of the more valuable items displayed in glass cases.

When an owner of a bank safe deposit box dies or moves, leaving no contact information, the contents end up in the hands of the state. Frerichs says his office staff do their best to find the rightful owners; when they can’t, the valuables are eventually auctioned off.

In the past four years — the auctions are held annually — the item that fetched the most money at auction was a rare American penny that drew a winning bid of about $9,000, Frerichs’ staff said.

The treasurer’s office holds onto the proceeds from the auctions, essentially keeping the money forever in case the rightful owner comes forward to claim it. Most of the time, they never do, staff said.

Not everything gets sold — baby teeth, locks of hair, love letters, for example.

Among the items on offer this year: a diamond-encrusted lady’s watch, an 1854 Indian princess $3 gold coin, and a handful of 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition tickets.

In all, there are about 25,600 items on offer at this year’s auction, staff said. Last year’s auction brought in about $96,000 — relatively low compared with 2016, which generated about $173,000, staff said.