AUGUSTA — Nana’s jewelry, an old copy of “Robinson Crusoe,” four bars of silver, old coins and some possibly collectible cigarette airplane cards are all things that people thought were important enough at one time to store securely in the vaults of banks and credit unions across Maine.

Those items and hundreds more are now in the custody of the Office of the Maine State Treasurer, because the boxes and their contents have been abandoned by the people who rented them.

And by the end of this year, they will be headed to the auction block for the first time in nearly 20 years because the Treasurer’s Office is running out of room to store them.

The office says it’s currently holding over $309 million worth of so-called unclaimed property.

“Every year, we might get 100 bags,” Laura Hudson, director of Internal Operations at the Treasurer’s Office, said Tuesday, standing in the secured storage room in the Cross State Office Building.

In the bags are the contents of safe deposit boxes that are considered abandoned when the items are not claimed by owners within three years of the last lease payment or rental period on the box. By law, they are turned over to the state treasurer’s office for safekeeping.


Some boxes have contained letters, postcards or diaries and printed mementos. Others have coins or collectibles.

“I love touching the things; they have history,” Hudson said, noting that the correspondences and diaries remain unread.

These pieces of jewelry are among the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes in the custody of the Maine State Treasurer’s Office that will be auctioned off later this year. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Some contain stock certificates and bonds, and others military medals or decorations, which will not be auctioned and will be retained securely by the state.

Unpaid wages, uncashed checks, life insurance policies and the remnants of bank accounts also make up part of the heaping sum of unclaimed property. Real estate, animals and vehicles are not included.

One abandoned box contained four bars of silver, each weighing 100 ounces. At Tuesday’s spot market value, each bar was worth about $2,300.

Officials have found a lot of pens and even a bag of Snyder’s pretzels and oddly, a bunch of candles that didn’t seem to be special in any way.


“The saddest part of it all is, whoever these people are, they didn’t have documentation in their homes that said they had a safe deposit box in the home,” Hudson said, “or nobody found it on a list of things you want to tell people in their twilight years.”

Even though the items are abandoned, the Treasurer’s Office takes great pains to reunite them with the people they belong with as they do with all unclaimed property they receive. They review probate files, advertise and try to track descendants whatever way they can.

An old copy of “Robinson Crusoe,” bars of silver, jewelry, coins and cards are among the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes in the custody of the Office of the Maine State Treasurer that will be auctioned off later this year. The office is holding over $309 million worth of unclaimed property. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Earlier this month, the Treasurer’s Office took out full page ads in all of the major newspapers in the state listing the names, dates and the banks where the contents came from.

“We have a few claims, but it doesn’t look like a lot of that is going to go back (to people),” said Jeff Chetkauskas, the assistant director.

Following a bidding process, the Treasurer’s Office has contracted with Texas-based Lone Star Auctions, which has experience in auctions like these, to handle the sales. The auctioneer will evaluate the value of the items and price them appropriately. If its workers can’t assess the value, items will be sent to someone who can.

The auctions are slated to start later this year, with the longest-held items being auctioned first.


“We will publicize every time we have at auction,” Hudson said.

The office will issue news releases and the information will be posted on the Treasurer’s Office’s homepage.

If owners or relatives can be found before the auction, they’ll be able to claim the item. If not, the Treasurer’s Office will hold the cash value of the item to be claimed.

If an item doesn’t sell at auction, it will be rolled over to the next auction.

“If we determine there is no value to sell, or maybe it would do better if it was pieced with something else of a similar type,” Chetkauskas said.

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