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Last Updated: Friday, 27 May, 2005, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Paris lost property reaches 200
lobster
The lobster was dead on arrival at the office
One of the world's oldest lost property offices - in the centre of the French capital Paris - is celebrating its 200th birthday this week.

The Service des Objets Trouves receives 900 items from all over the city every day - usually small objects belonging to commuters, such as mobile phones, umbrellas, glasses, hats and wallets.

But some of the more unusual items have included a wedding dress, a skull, a wooden leg, and a 1kg solid gold bar - which remains unclaimed.

"As far as can I remember it was a taxi driver who handed the bar in - a very honest taxi driver," Abdourazak Bourhane, who has worked at the lost property office for the last nine years, told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"The odd thing was that nobody came to claim it. In that case, according to the rules here, the object can be returned to the finder.

"[The taxi driver] could in fact come and retrieve it."

A year and a day

The office manages to return around 43,000 objects a year to their rightful owners.

This task is easier with items that have an identity printed on them, such as credit cards. In these cases, a letter can be quickly sent to the owners.

The office will write to anywhere in the world, if they have a clue as to who the owner might be.

One recent case saw a number of diamonds, which had been found in a public area, returned to their owner - an American woman - after she was tracked down.

Commuter at Paris's Metro
Lost items come from the metro, airports and off the street
"We wrote to her, and she came especially here to retrieve the diamonds," Mr Bourhane said.

"She was very surprised."

However, not everything can be traced, and the more unusual items that go unclaimed reside in a small museum at the office.

These include a dead lobster, which was found at Charles de Gaulle airport and handed in, dental plates and false teeth, and the funeral ashes of a cremated person, identity unknown.

"We found two urns," Mr Bourhane explained.

"One was claimed by its owner, and we still have the other one here."

For unclaimed items, a time limit is applied to determine how long it is kept.

Items worth less than 50 euros (34) are kept for three months, whereas items worth more are kept for a year and a day.

After this time, the item is handed to a special office at the finance ministry and sold at auction.


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