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Bidding for Customs goods at auction

Abandoned goods: Get a piece of the auction

Goods abandoned at Washington Dulles and other U.S. ports of entry don’t share the same fate as confiscated items. These lucky objects get a second chance, on the auction block.

Throughout the year, products odd and arty are auctioned at public events, both live and virtual. In mid-December, for example, an online sale featured pallets of medical scrubs, boxes of wool sweaters and hats from Chile, a tall metal vase from France and an ornate blue chest from India decorated in exotic peacocks.

The items are all legal but were orphaned for any number of reasons. In some cases, the owner didn’t want to pay the duty or was never notified of a package’s arrival. All the better for those of us needing a surfboard (sold this month for $164), tequila ($13,117), plastic cups ($25) or a 2008 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy motorcycle ($6,500).

CWS Marketing Group, a private venture based in Indiana, handles the sales for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other agencies, including the Treasury Department and the U.S. Marshals Service. The company holds Customs auctions in Long Beach, Calif., and Carteret, N.J., four times a year and organizes online auctions eight times per year.

Facilities across the country store the wares until the auctions and hold public previews, so you can pull together your shopping list before the big day. The CWS Web site ( provides a list of scouting sites, plus a catalogue of featured items and a calendar.

Attendance at live auctions is free, and the curious can follow online auctions without bidding. If you want to take the plunge, however, you must pay a refundable deposit of $2,500 for the online sale. The next auction of Customs treats, which were culled from East Coast ports, takes place in Carteret on Feb. 23.

Andrea Sachs (not the one who wears Prada) has been writing for Travel since 2000. She travels near (Ellicott City, Jersey Shore) and far (Burma, Namibia, Russia), and finds adventure no matter the mileage. She is all packed for the Moon or North Korea, whichever opens first.
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