Banks that provide safety deposit boxes must turn over the contents to the state when the owners have not kept up rental payments and can’t be located. States usually auction the tangible items like baseball cards, coins, bullion, jewelry etc. to the public after going unclaimed for two years. Proceeds from the auction are held by the state for possible future claims by heirs. In the state of Oregon, the interest earned on these funds is ultimately used for the benefit of public schools.
One auction for safety deposit contents was conducted by Liska and Associates for the benefit of the Oregon Department of State Lands. The auction was conducted over two days at an industrial warehouse in White City on April 5th and 6th of 2014. The first day only jewelry was on the docket with coins going the following day. There was a 5 hour preview period earlier in the week. There were over 600 lots of jewelry and over 600 lots of coins for a preliminary schedule of over 1,200 items to be auctioned over the weekend.
I attended the preview and found the jewelry section completely packed, elbow to elbow, with many people looking like professionals with their scales, jeweler’s loops and other testing apparatus. I made the quick decision to view some of the coin lots and attend just the coin auction on Sunday.
Here is a small sample of what some of the lots sold for (including the 10% buyers premium):
Lot 100 1979 $5 Canadian note $ 5.50
Lot 359 7 1922 Peace silver dollars $148.50
Lot 375 44 1964 & 119 1965-69 JFK half dollars $577.50
Lot 411 1965 Washington quarter, 1918 wheat penny $ 2.10
Lot 431 151 Mercury dimes $275.00
Lot 521 11 silver half dollars dated 1941 to 1962 $ 82.50
Some bidders really pay too much. It must be the winner’s curse that I understand is common in auctions. In the quest to “win” an auction the winner often overpays. This seems especially true for low value items.
A 1925 Stone Mountain Memorial half dollar was the subject of my lesson in the importance of previewing a coin that is bought for more than just its bullion value. This is a silver coin so I knew it was worth about $7 in silver content. I’ve admired the design of this coin since I was a kid so I thought I’d try to pick one up at the lower end of the price scale. A 1966 Kennedy half dollar was part of the lot so I felt that this 40% silver coin would be worth around $3.00 with silver at about $20 per oz. I won the auction with a bid of $40 ($44 with the 10% buyers premium). That means my Stone Mountain half would cost me about $41 … a reasonable but not fantastic price. Unfortunately, I didn’t see this coin at the preview and made a spur of the moment decision to bid on it up to my $40 maximum for the small lot. The coin looked nice on the overhead projector screen. When I got my bag of goodies home and examined this particular prize up close, my heart sank as I saw someone had defaced the coin by scratching the word “MAN” on the front of the coin. All I could say was “Mannnnn” as well as a few other choice words!
I know there were several counterfeit gold coins that were part of the auction so someone else certainly felt (or will feel) a lot more pain than I did. Items are sold “as is” with no warranty implied or given. In the front of the catalog it was stated “It is the responsibility of the buyer to inspect the property prior to sale and satisfy himself or herself as to its condition, value and fitness for intended purpose.”
There were just too many knowledgeable attendees to get a screaming great deal on anything and dangers lurked in the form of possible counterfeit coins as well as bullion. However, the auctioneers did a great job and were very entertaining. I came away with a few silver bullion coins and some nice old Morgan silver half dollars at a good price. However, the highest value was the useful tutorial learned from my impulsive decision to bid on a coin while assuming it was at least in fair to good condition.