CONWAY — When Capt. David Robinson of The Salvation Army in Conway opened one of the red kettles last week to count the money, he saw something strange.
“I picked it up, thinking it was another car-wash token — it didn’t look like the rest of the stuff we’ve been getting,” Robinson said. “It was bigger than the gold dollars. … It was really heavy, and I looked at it, and it said Krugerrand.”
Krugerrand, as in the South African coin that’s 22-karat gold alloy and copper, worth about $1,235 based on today’s gold prices.
“I was like, ‘Holy, moly,’” he said.
He said he turned to his wife, Capt. Joanna Robinson, and said, “You know all those other people who get coins dropped off in their buckets?”
“She said, ‘Yeah.’”
“We just got one,” he told her.
The mystery person dropped this Krugerrand into the red kettle manned from 10 a.m. to noon Monday by volunteer Cecil Clements of Vilonia at the Walmart Supercenter on U.S. 65.
“He only rang for two hours. It wasn’t very heavy, so it was easy to pick out,” David said. “He was totally shocked. He said, ‘I don’t know who would have done that.’”
Clements said he used to ring a bell for The Salvation Army when he was a Realtor, but he is now retired.
Monday was his first time in years to volunteer to ring a bell, he said.
Clements said David called him Tuesday morning to tell him about the coin.
“I was amazed because I knew what a Krugerrand is. I’d seen them before, but it had been years and years ago. I thought it was pretty neat,” he said.
Although he wonders who dropped it in, “obviously, they want to be anonymous,” he said. “They did a good thing.”
David said it’s become “kind of a tradition” this time of year for the Krugerrands to be dropped into Salvation Army kettles around the country.
“I don’t know if it’s one person who goes around; I don’t know. It’s usually wrapped in a dollar bill or $2 bill. Ours was by itself,” he said.
Joanna said she gets Google alerts on her phone with any news relating to The Salvation Army.
“They’re few and far between around here,” she said of the coins. “They’re usually in bigger cities.”
David said the same day the coin was dropped into the Conway kettle, Krugerrands were found in Salvation Army kettles in Tulsa, Okla., and Owensboro, Ky.
To be sure the coin is an authentic Krugerrand, he took it to River Town Pawn in the same shopping center as The Salvation Army office on Harkrider Street.
“He said, ‘I hate to tell you this,’” David said. “I thought, ‘Oh, no.’ He said, ‘I can’t find anything wrong with it.’”
Cal Carlson at Ye Olde Coin Shoppe on Museum Road said the collectible coins aren’t rare, but they’re not something one commonly sees around town.
“Oh, gosh, no,’” he said. “It’s a bouillon item. A lot of people buy them for investment. We’ve got one in stock.”
He described the coin as having “an ugly old man” on one side — that would be Paul Kruger, the four-term president of the old South African Republic. Rand is the South African unit of currency, according to Wikipedia.
The other side is “more attractive,” he said. It depicts a springbok antelope.
The coin looks beautiful to the Robinsons.
David said he plans to sell it to put toward the kettle campaign, which is lagging behind this year by $19,000.
The late Thanksgiving holiday and ice reduced the time out with the kettles, he said.
“It just means later on down the line, it’s going to be slim pickings. It’s going to slow us down in buying food for our food boxes; it’s going to slow us down in being able to help with rent and utilities,” David said.
“Now, we know we’re going to be short; we’re going to have to look at our budget and tighten it up. We’ll cut back and try to make it stretch as far as possible,” he said.
Clements said he is scheduled to man the kettle in front of Belk on Monday, and he would be happy to get another Krugerrand in his bucket.
“It wouldn’t bother me a bit, and I hope they do. I don’t expect it, but that’s the way it is,” he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.