Why Do People Put Rare Coins In Salvation Army Kettles?
So what's the deal with all the rare coins? I asked Donn Pearlman, a spokesman for the Professional Numismatists Guild and a former Chicago journalist and broadcaster who reported over the years on many of the early gold coin donations to the Salvation Army about the annual appearance of gold coins in the collection kettles. He says that the tradition of people generously and anonymously putting gold coins into Salvation Army kettles began in December 1982 when someone placed five, one-ounce South African Krugerrands into a kettle at a shopping mall in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, Illinois. Krugerrands or Canadian Maple Leaf gold coins subsequently were dropped into a kettle at that same location every December for the next five years, spurring stories about the phantom philanthropist and the Salvation Army's Christmas-time fund-raising efforts.
Pearlman says that no gold coin donations were reported in 1988 and 1989, but in December 1990 the gold rush resumed in Crystal Lake. The following year it spread into Chicago with a kettle on North Michigan Avenue in the city's "Miracle Mile" neighborhood anonymously receiving a Credit Suisse one-ounce gold ingot and some late 19th and early 20th century U.S. gold coins. In succeeding years, gold coins were reported in other Chicago suburbs and then in other states, all given by unknown benefactors who don't ask for tax-deduction receipts for their donations. There's been speculation over the years that the first anonymous gold coin donor in Illinois was someone who may have been helped at one time by the Salvation Army or knew someone who received assistance..
Four years before the first gold coin was donated in Illinois, someone reportedly placed a $1,000 denomination bill into a Salvation Army kettle in Morgantown, West Virginia, starting a brief tradition there in 1978. Still legal tender today, $1,000 bills have not been printed since 1945 but have a collector premium above their face value.
Given the rocketing value of gold lately the gift is worth even more. One-ounce gold bullion coins, such as Krugerrands, Maple Leafs and the popular American Eagles, are priced based on the current value of gold. At the time of the first anonymous donation 27 years ago, the coins placed in the kettle were worth about $450 each. Today, a one-ounce gold coin has over $1,100 worth of precious metal content. Obviously, it's more than a mere drop in the bucket!