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Ancient coins fetch thousands for Salvation Army, but donor remains a mystery

Unless the anonymous benefactor comes forward, their identity might never be known.

TAMPA — Months after someone anonymously dropped two ancient Greek gold coins into a red kettle outside a Tampa Publix, the donation has been converted into dollars.

The coins fetched a combined $4,800 in an online auction on April 24. That’s more than double their worth to benefit the Salvation Army of Tampa/Hillsborough County.

But the identity of the donor remains unknown and likely stay that way unless they choose to come forward.

“I was hoping the donor would make themselves known after the auction,” said Todd Imhof, vice president of Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, which sold the coins. “Part of me is curious if he is a savvy coin collector. Did he know their value? Did he buy them as an investment or just for kicks?”

And Imhof, who described his company as “the largest rare coin dealers and auctioneers in the world,” said it is nearly impossible to learn the donor’s identity.

For starters, he said, the coins manufactured between 42 and 40 B.C. are not that rare.

More than 1,000 were discovered in the mid-1500s in the area that is now Turkey, Iran and the Black Sea and he estimates thousands exist.

“If they were rarer, perhaps an auction record would exist,” Imhof said.

The coins were donated in a holder labelled with the name of the company, International Coin Grading, that once certified their authenticity. Such companies have records stating for whom they certified coins. But International Coin Grading shuttered in the 1990s, Imhof said.

Related: Two ancient coins anonymously donated to the Tampa Salvation Army will be auctioned on Friday

The first coin was dropped into the red kettle on December 6.

Six days later, a second, identical one was donated and wrapped in a note that read, “My hope is to continue drawing attention and publicity to such a wonderful organization. The whole country should know about the amazing things the Salvation Army does for their community.”

It was signed, “Doing the most good.”

Last December, an anonymous donor dropped two ancient Greek gold coins into a red kettle outside the Publix located across the street from Plant High School. This note was wrapped around one of the coins. [Courtesy of Heritage Auctions]

Each has a gold value of around $450, Imhof said, but a collector value of $1,000 apiece.

They sold to two different “experienced collectors” at the auction, he said.

The first coin went for $2,500 and the second for $1,500.

“They certainly paid a premium for them,” said Imhoff, who would not provide their names. “I don’t know if they were motivated because of the back story with the Salvation Army, but I can’t think of any other reason they would have.”

Heritage charged the winning bidders a total of $800 in buyer’s premiums.

Those premiums cover the auction house’s expenses, but Heritage donated the $800 to the Salvation Army.

“We praise the Lord for bringing us this type of income,” said Andy Miller, Salvation Army area commander for Hillsborough County.

And Miller has a message for the donor:

“Thank you for thinking of us in this creative way. This was beautiful.”