CYNTHIANA — A 131-year-old gold coin dropped in a bell-ringer's red kettle could bring more cash into the Salvation Army's kitty to use for those in need this winter.
The 1880 $10 gold piece with a Liberty head on one side and an eagle on the other was put into a kettle at the Cynthiana Wal-Mart earlier this month. A similar coin sold for $900, according to an Internet search.
The Salvation Army plans to put the coin up for auction, then use the proceeds to help people pay utility bills or to buy food, said John Hodge, chairman of the service unit of the Harrison County chapter of the Salvation Army.
"The coin we have is in almost uncirculated condition," Hodge said. "We're looking to generate $1,000 with it."
The coin went unnoticed through the hands of a bell-ringer coordinator and treasurer for the Salvation Army before a teller at the Kentucky Bank branch in Cynthiana saw that it was something special, Hodge said. A jeweler confirmed its potential value.
Hodge, retired principal of Harrison Area Technology Center, said he thinks the coin was not dropped in by mistake but was donated deliberately by an individual who has "some resources but who does not necessarily want to be identified as generous or giving or whatever."
"It's a way for them to give back anonymously," he said.
Similar stories of valuables dropped in kettles have been reported around the country.
Earlier this month, a mystery donor dropped a South African gold coin worth $1,740 in a Salvation Army kettle outside a Clarksville, Tenn., Sam's Club.
Five gold South African Krugerrands were dropped in four kettles in Frederick, Md. The owner of a coin exchange bought them for $9,000.
And a Salvation Army collection center in Shawnee, Kan., found a solitary diamond among its donations.
Hodge said it's common to find washers or tokens in the red kettles with the coins and paper money.
But "to have a coin like that show up in Cynthiana, a small, rural community in Central Kentucky," is unusual, Hodge said.
The Salvation Army will accept sealed bids for the coin until 4 p.m. Jan. 9. Bids may be sent to the Salvation Army, P.O. Box 295, Cynthiana, Ky., 41031. The minimum bid will be $800, Hodge said. The coin may be inspected by calling Hodge at (859) 234-7649.
The coin will go to the highest bidder. In the meantime, it will be kept in a safe-deposit box at the bank.
The Harrison County chapter's kettle campaign typically will collect $10,000 to $11,000 from Black Friday through Christmas Eve. So the coin could bring about 10 percent of a season's receipts.
"We could use 10 more of them, if somebody wants to feel generous out there," Hodge said.