Ten Years Since the "Cheerios Dollar" Discovery

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Lastufka Collection

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The discovery of the prototype reverse was made in February of 2005, to celebrate I recently purchased this second high-grade example.

Who would have thought that free dollar coins given away inside boxes of Cheerios would later sell for over $20,000 each at auction?

In 2000, the US Mint was scheduled to release a new dollar coin. After failed attempts in the past, the Mint was set on promoting and distributing the new "golden" Sacagawea dollars as widely as possible. One such promotional deal was struck with General Mills, who agreed to include a new 2000-dated Lincoln cent in 10,000,000 boxes of Cheerios, while one in every 2,000 of those boxes also included a new 2000-dated Sacagawea dollar. (Other promotions included TV ads featuring actor Michael Keaton voicing a CGI George Washington promoting the dollar, in addition to numerous print ads showing Washington spending the new dollar coins at parties.)

The Mint only had to make 5,500 of the new Sacagawea dollars for General Mills, but because the promotion was set to kick off in January, the Mint had to produce these coins a few months ahead of schedule in the fall of 1999. At that time, the design for the new dollar coin hadn't been tested or finalized yet, and here's where these "Cheerios Dollars" differ from all the other Sacagawea dollar coins.

The reverse of the Sacagawea dollar depicts a soaring eagle. The prototype reverse die used to make these early coins for General Mills had very detailed, beautiful tail feathers not seen on any of the other Sacagawea dollars. When I spoke to former Mint employee and reverse designer Tom Rogers about the change, he told me that after minting the dollars for General Mills, the Mint discovered "the reduction rings were wiping out the tail feather details in the dies". So these details were removed before any more dollar coins were struck, leaving all future Sacagawea dollar eagles with less detailed, flat tail feathers. This prototype die's details made these first coins completely unique. And "unique" in coin collecting usually means "valuable" in coin collecting.

This unique, more detailed set of tail feathers on the reverse wasn't discovered until five years after the promotion, in February of 2005. Many factors account for such a late discovery. First, because these were given away in boxes of cereal, most were acquired by non-collectors who simply handed the coins to their children, or spent them without knowing what they had. Second, the coins were mounted on the inside of the box with the obverse, or front, of the coin displayed in the Cheerios plastic packaging making it impossible to examine the reverse without removing the coin from its original packaging. And finally, because no one knew the prototype reverse existed, no one knew to look for it.

Because most of these Cheerios dollars were spent, very few were preserved in mint state condition. And again, "condition" in coin collecting usually means "value" in coin collecting. Additionally, over the last few years, examples of non-prototype reverse dollars have been found in original Cheerios packaging, so only an unknown fraction of the 5,500 Cheerios dollars even feature the unique reverse.

As of January 2015, ten years after the initial discovery, only 105 of these Cheerios dollars with prototype reverse dies are currently known and authenticated.

Once discovered, news spread and collectors began to search for this unique variety. A few years later in 2008, three separate examples of these coins sold at auction for prices ranging from $23,000 to $34,000. These auctions were all held by Heritage, the largest auction house for numismatic sales.

After the initial excitement wore off, later examples have sold between $5,000 to $12,000, setting an average estimated value for this variety now at around $7,000.

In 2008, the reverse prototype Cheerios dollar was included in the 100 Greatest US Modern Coins book by Whitman Publishing at #14 on the list. The latest edition from 2014 bumped up its placement to #12.

I purchased one of these Cheerios dollars in January of 2012 in a private transaction with a coin dealer from North Carolina. One year later I sold that example for a 53% profit on eBay. Recently I purchased a finer example (pictured below) from Heritage Auctions. This Cheerios dollar has been authenticated and graded by NGC as MS 67.

I've also collected a Cheerios penny in General Mills original packaging, and a First Day Sacagawea coin cover hand-signed for me by both obverse designer Glenna Goodacre, and reverse designer Thomas D. Rogers (again, pictured below) to enhance the Cheerios dollar presentation.

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