False teeth, ashes, parrots... lost but not always found
In January 1891, a Penzance woman lost a bag containing "cash, notes and securities, the value of £200 [£17,000 in 2010]", reported Lake's Falmouth Packet, and when a local butcher found and returned it to her "she handed him one shilling [1/20 of a pound, or £4.26 in 2010] for loss of time and honesty." Would he have been pleased or taken aback?
In trying to decide if she was a meanie – given that some people might find the idea of rewards distasteful and would refuse them however big they are – I came across London examples of a shilling's 1891 buying power, which was roughly a week's butter (1lb, or 454gm) for a family of six, or about three hours' wages for a butcher.
Just as some cash-finders might be offended by a £4.26 reward (either seen as too little or for being offered at all), it must also be a truism that huge rewards don't necessarily help anyway. Robert Napier offered £10,000 to no avail after BBC News revealed in 2008 that he'd left his 17th century violin (valued at £180,000 and played by his mother, from Wellington, to entertain troops during the war) on the luggage rack of a Paddington to Taunton train when he got off at Bedwyn, Wiltshire.
Similarly still lost, and reported by the Western Daily Press on May 4, 2012, is a tame African Grey parrot owned by Pauline and Ade Hale from Burnham-on-Sea that flew out of their back door in January 2012, alarmed by a passing digger. Ade told me they're still hoping someone will bring it back (£1,000 reward).
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Sometimes, sentimental items fly back to the owner without reward, First Great Western telling BBC News in 2007 that found on one train at Bristol Temple Meads was a light heavyweight title boxing belt (returned to owner in time for title fight). Other commonplace items found among the 12,000 lost in 2006 (such as coats, bags with shopping, umbrellas, glasses and pushchairs) were wheelchairs and crutches. Passengers concerned about ticket prices are asked to remember that FGW's service does include special healing powers.
The London Underground lost property office has a staggering array, from schoolbags and lunch boxes to a wedding dress (tearful owner found), a 4ft (1.2m) Mickey Mouse, false teeth (tray of), an 80-year-old German's brother's ashes (reunited five years later) and six mannequins (being loaded as doors closed – never seen again).
And there are always honest travellers. Office manager Julie Haley told Time Out in April 2007: "We get several single pound coins handed in each week… also suitcases and bags full of crisp new notes, £10,000 once."
Now famous is the homeless Kansas City man given money in February 2013 by a woman who accidentally dropped her engagement ring into his cup. Perhaps assuming it was cheap, he asked a jeweller and declined his $4,000 offer, realising its value and thinking she'd come back.
She did, and her impressed fiancé started a public fund to reward him. After publicity, he found his family, a home, part-time job and the $191,760 raised. "I got an air mattress now," he said.
Some lost property is downright unusual. In July this year, the crew of HMS Somerset found a lost racing pigeon in the North Atlantic and its ID helped trace the owner in North Yorkshire where it returned (in a basket). I also saw online 'Somerset Dam – Lost and Found', which is wonderful news. They have a website so that others who've lost dams can have someone to talk to.
A drunk Falmouth plumber with personal worries, reported This is the West Country on August 6, 2013, was found by a taxi driver asleep in a bush. He was fined £200 plus costs, although leaving him there to sleep it off might have been a nicer reward.
The prevailing agony for so many people is the loss of a pet, many lost property websites specialising purely in animals, the National Pet Register listing a Doberman that was lost in Loxley Wood, Shapwick, west of Glastonbury, in March 2013, saying: "Reward offered on safe return". They mean the Doberman's safe return, right?
As for the parrot someone might have given a home to after finding it 18 months ago within five miles of Burnham, it could be time to be brave and ring the town website so Ollie can go back to the one he already has.