Who would have thought that free dollar coins given away inside boxes of Cheerios would later sell for over $20,000 each at auction? Read on…
In 2000, the US Mint was set 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 best they could. One such promotional deal was struck with General Mills, who agreed to include one new 2000 Lincoln cent in 10,000,000 boxes of Cheerios, while one in every 2,000 of those boxes included both a Lincoln cent and one of the new 2000 Sacagawea dollars.
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 this time, the design for the new dollar coin hadn’t been tested or finalized, and here’s where these coins differ from all the other 2000 Sacagawea dollar coins.
The Unique Reverse
The reverse of the Sacagawea dollar depicts a soaring eagle. However, the prototype die used to make these early coins for General Mills had very detailed tail feathers for the reverse’s eagle. These details were later removed before any more dollar coins were struck, leaving all future dollar coin eagles with less detailed, flat tail feathers. This prototype die’s detailed tail feathers made these first 5,500 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 the summer of 2005. Many factors account for such a late discovery. First, because these were given away in boxes of cereal, most were bought 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 it existed, no one knew to look for it.
Because most of these Cheerios dollars were spent or currently reside in the bottom of kids toyboxes, very few were preserved in mint state condition. And again, “condition” in coin collecting usually means “value” in coin collecting. In fact, less than 100 of these coins are currently known and in the numismatic marketplace.
Auction Prices Set Value
Once discovered, news spread and collectors began to search for this unique variety. A few years later in 2008, three separate examples of this coin sold at auction for prices ranging from $23,000 to $34,000. These auctions were all held by Heritage Auctions, one of the most respected names in numismatic sales.
After the initial excitement wore off, later examples have sold anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000, setting an average estimated value for this variety now at a little under $7,000.
During the summer of 2008, both PCGS and NGC, both leading grading and authentication services, confirmed coins they removed from some of the original Cheerios packaging did not include the boldly detailed tail feathers. So the actual mintage of the “Prototype Reverse” dollars is now confirmed to be even lower than the original 5,500 mintage originally indicated.
Last year, the “Cheerios”/Prototype Reverse dollar was named #14 in the 100 Greatest US Modern Coins book published by Whitman Publishing, locking in the legendary status of this coin.
I purchased one of these Cheerios dollars (the one pictured above in all images) in January of 2012 via a private transaction with a North Carolina coin dealer. My Cheerios dollar has been authenticated and graded by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation in Mint State 67 (coin grades range from 1 to 70, with a 70 graded coin being “perfect”, and a 1 graded coin being “very poor”) and is confirmed the rarer Prototype Reverse type. My Cheerios dollar purchase also included the original Lincoln cent and packaging from the General Mills box (again, pictured above).
Total Mintage: Less than 5,500
Authenticated Examples: 79
Estimated Value: $6,500
Variety Name: “Prototype Reverse”, “Cheerios Dollar”, or “Reverse of 1999″
Note: All of the above information, values and mintage counts were accurate as of the publication date, February 2, 2012. Numismatics, as with all markets, fluctuate and new pieces are being found while new prices are being set, every day.