Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

A 1904 gold coin weighing nearly an ounce officially became an anonymous donor's $1,625 gift to the Salvation Army in Sonora after an exchange Friday morning at Calaveras Coin in Angels Camp.

First given to the Sonora Area Foundation a week earlier with a request to quietly drop it into a bellringer's kettle, the coin came as a "huge, huge" surprise, said Peggy DuTemple, chairwoman for the Sonora Service Extension of the Salvation Army.

DuTemple said she and her family traditionally count the holiday donations to the Salvation Army in the Sonora area each Christmas and had not yet heard to keep an eye out for the $20 gold piece.

Shortly after she discovered the gold coin among the usual quarters, dimes and nickels, she checked her voicemail and heard further confirmation of the valuable gift from Cathi Nies, finance manager at the Sonora Area Foundation, who had dropped it into the bellringer's collection in front of Walmart.

"So I knew it was legitimate then," DuTemple smiled.

DuTemple spoke with Salvation Army Golden State Division Commander Lt. Col. Stephen Smith, based in San Francisco, who asked her to get three different appraisals before cashing in the coin. From among two Sonora bids and the one at Calaveras Coin, the $1,625 offered by the Angels Camp shop was the highest, she said.

"For a $20 gold piece, that's pretty good," DuTemple said.

The donation will boost the charity's continued efforts to assist the poor in Tuolumne County. It spent $45,640 in the most recent year serving 32,099 people with necessities like food, heaters, grief counseling and transportation assistance, DuTemple said.

The kettle drive of 2012 already exceeded the 2011 total of $13,466 before the coin donation. It jumped from $14,697 to $16,592 with the sizable gift.

"I would like to thank our anonymous donor for donating the gold coin, because it will help the Salvation Army better serve the residents of Tuolumne County," DuTemple said.

Ninety percent of donations made locally stay in the local service area with the remainder sent back to the division headquarters in San Francisco, she said.

Smith said two other gold coins were donated in the region this year, one similar to the Sonora coin and another a South African Krugerrand. The coins were given in San Francisco and Clovis, he said.

"Because they're anonymous, we can't shake their hand or write a thank-you letter, but I want to tell them thank you so much for your generosity," he said. "It means a lot to us."

Calaveras Coin Manager Scott May said the coin is made of 90 percent gold, weighs 33.3 grams and contains 0.9675 ounces of fine gold. The Lady Liberty piece was minted in 1904 in Philadelphia and was worth just $20.67 in 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, ending gold coin production and prohibiting private possession of more than $100 worth of gold coin, bullion or certificates.

The law would not be repealed until more than 30 years later.