Every year, banks turn over dozens of unclaimed safe deposit boxes to the Illinois State Treasurer's Office.
Some contain junk, but others hold valuable coins, comic books and jewelry. So the treasurer's office auctions off the items on eBay and donates the money to a needy cause - the state's $80 billion pension deficit.
The office is now holding a holiday-themed auction called "Bling in the New Year." People are invited to "shop the state's vault" and bid on the 60 items now for sale, which include Hummel figurines, three-cent coins, a 1917 U.S. dollar and all sorts of jewelry and other valuables.
People can link to the eBay site from www.treasurer.il.gov.
The bidding ends Wednesday, Dec. 9.
By law, banks are required to hold the unclaimed safe deposit boxes for five years. If they can't track down the owners, they give the boxes to the state treasurer's office. They, too, attempt to track down the rightful owners or their families.
"There've been cases where we've used inscriptions or names to track people down," treasurer's office spokesman Scott Burnham said.
But every week, more unclaimed property shows up, so the treasurer's office has to auction the items off.
In the past, the auction was held at the Illinois State Fair. But that method was bringing in only 28 percent of the items' appraised value. Since the auctions moved to eBay in August 2007, items started selling at 80 percent of their value.
In the past two years, the treasurer's office has raised more than $500,000 from these auctions.
If someone can prove to be the rightful heir to the property, he or she will be entitled to the proceeds of the sale, Burnham said. A certain amount of money is held in a fund in case that happens, he said.