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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Bargains galore at US lost luggage sale
By Andy Gallacher
BBC News, Scottsboro, Alabama

It is the warehouse of the lost and never found, the final destination of airline luggage that goes missing in the US and is never reclaimed.

A Tibetan trumpet, shotgun, snare drum and model
The centre's collection of goods often throws up surprises

The building is situated on the edge of the sleepy town of Scottsboro in Alabama.

It does not seem like the kind of place that would attract a million visitors a year, but bargain hunters from around the world converge on the centre every day, eager to see what treasures the Unclaimed Baggage Center has uncovered.

It is a company that buys all the lost and unclaimed luggage from airlines across the US and then sells on everything from clothes to expensive jewellery at discount prices.

"When they come in, we always tell people to plan a few hours to go on their treasure hunt," says Brenda Cantrell, the centre's marketing manager.

"Dig through it, have fun with it, you never know what you might find."

Sight unseen

The luggage is only sold to the Unclaimed Baggage Center once 90 days have passed, and the owners have not been traced.

Racks of clothes at the Unclaimed Baggage Center
Worldwide 30m pieces of luggage went missing last year

They receive it, sight unseen, and then unpack, sort and display the items inside the warehouse that is the size of a city block.

For the most part that means clothes, rows and rows of them, but it also means some very unusual and valuable items, sometimes sewn into the linings of cases or hidden in crates.

"We had a 19th Century full suit of armour, an underwater camera from Nasa, Egyptian artefacts and props from movies," says Brenda as she proudly stands next to a display case that holds a puppet from the Jim Henson film, Labyrinth.

He was discovered staring out at the staff in a packing case back in the 1980s. His name is Hoggle and he now resides in the centre's museum along with a set of bagpipes, and ancient maps of Afghanistan.

Over the years, shoppers have made their own special finds.

One woman discovered $1,000 (500) hidden in the lining of a case she bought for pocket change, while another found out that the glass vase she had bought as a trinket was actually worth a small fortune.

Hoggle is not for sale
"I was here Friday, Saturday, yesterday and today and I'll probably come back tomorrow," says Abby Gentry-Benson, who is festooned with diamonds, silver and gold jewellery all purchased at the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Abby, who describes herself as a Chanel No. 5 girl, has been coming to the warehouse for more than 30 years and bought most of her jewellery for around half-price.

Her entire collection is worth a great deal, and she feels no guilt that many of the items were possibly heirlooms or precious keepsakes.

"Most of the pieces that people have lost, they got the insurance money from and have bought something to replace it. Somebody like me that loves it and cherishes it every day, it's got a good home you know."

Finders keepers

Over in the sporting goods and electronics section there are piles of mobile phones, ever popular iPods, golf clubs, a ukulele (with one string), and even a shotgun that was misplaced by one careless owner.

A selection of watches at the Unclaimed Baggage Center
The chance of securing a bargain is a big draw

Steve Mare and his mother-in-law have flown all the way from Texas just to visit the warehouse.

"Both of us had heard about it for years and we wanted to come and see what bargains we could find," says Steve, who is looking for a new suitcase.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center started down the road in a shack, when the founder began the business by buying lost luggage from the Greyhound Bus Company.

In those days things were literally thrown onto a table and people sorted through, in search of a bargain.

But now the centre is one of Alabama's top tourist destinations proving that "finders keepers, losers weepers" is a big attraction for those in search of a new suit of clothes or a suit of armour.

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