Unclaimed safety deposit box treasures to be sold at auction

A small-scale version of the TV show "Storage Wars" is coming to White City next week.

Unclaimed property from abandoned safety deposit boxes across the state will be up for bid starting at 9 a.m. Friday, April 4, at 855 Industrial Circle in White City. An auction preview will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 3.

Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for Oregon Department of State Lands, says items up for grabs include silver bars, a $20 bill from the Confederacy, Michael Jordan basketball cards and antique tools.

All auction proceeds will go into the state's Common Schools Fund — which distributes money to Oregon K-12 public schools twice a year. The schools won't get the auction proceeds; the money will generate interest in the fund.

The interest will be distributed to schools, but the proceeds from the auction will be kept by the state in case the box owners ever come calling.

"That money is available for claim forever," Curtis says.

The property up for auction comes from 300 to 500 or so abandoned safety deposit boxes around the state. A safety deposit box is considered abandoned if the owner fails to make rental payments or can't be found for two years. Then banks and other financial institutions turn over unclaimed contents to the state.

Before auction, department officials post property owners' names on an online database.

"We have had cases where we have reunited the contents of those boxes with an owner," Curtis says.

Unclaimed contents have included valuable property such as antique jewelry and rare coin collections. Curtis says personal belongings such as photographs are sometimes left behind.

More eccentric items also are found. A pittance of cat hair was once found in one of the boxes.

"It's surprising what people think is valuable or is valuable to them," Curtis says. "Sometimes there are unusual things."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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