US Coins

Collector finds three Sacagawea Cheerios dollars

Finding a single example of a rare prototype coin from 2000, worth thousands of dollars, would be remarkable. What about finding two? How about three?

Maryland collector reports that he found three examples of the 5,500 prototype 2000-P Sacagawea dollars, which were randomly hidden inside Cheerios-brand cereal products during a 2000 General Mills advertising promotion as part of the U.S. Mint’s introduction of the small dollar.

three auction catalogsInside Coin World: Three auction catalogs, three centuries: Our print-exclusive columns in the Nov. 19, 2018, issue of Coin World look at what ties together three auction catalogs issued in different centuries, and why 2018 is a great time to collect.

ANACS confirms that it has certified all three coins as bearing the prototype reverse.

The 5,500 coins were struck with a reverse die produced from a different hub than that used for the regular-issue Sacagawea dollars. The differences between the two variants of the design are seen in the eagle’s tail feathers.

The Cheerios dollars are referred to as Reverse of 1999 since that is when that version was first used on some special 2000-dated gold versions struck in 1999, while the regular circulation reverse is called the Reverse of 2000.

Joppa, Maryland, collector Cliff Long told Coin World that he had the unparalleled luck of finding three of the Cheerios dollars, two during the 2000 promotional period and one recently from general circulation.

Long, 77, who has been collecting coins for seven decades, said he and his wife, Miriam, were living in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, when he discovered the first two coins.

Long said he ate a lot of cereal before finding the first example, but not long after the first find, he found the second example. He placed them in a safe, not realizing they were anything special. The coins were sealed inside a cellophane envelope with a cardboard information card that blocked examination of their reverses.

Five years later, in 2005, Mint officials corroborated suspicions raised by numismatist Thomas K. DeLorey in October 1999 that the Cheerios dollar reverse was different from the reverse on the general circulation strikes.

The differences between the Reverse of 1999 and Reverse of 2000 hubs are subtle, affecting only the tail feathers of the eagle, and can be easily overlooked. The central line of the tail feather shaft is raised on the Sacagawea dollars found in the Cheerios packages (and on the special gold versions), but recessed on coins struck for circulation. The tail feathers on the Cheerios dollars also have more detail than the tail feathers on the coins struck for circulation. The changes to the design for the circulating issues were deliberate, intended to make the tail feathers more realistic.

Longtime collector

Long was introduced to coin collecting at the age of 7 while returning glass soda pop bottles for the two-cent deposit. He would also buy soda pop in bottles, sell it at a premium, and then retrieve the bottles for the two-cent return. One of the people to whom he sold the soda pointed out the differences on the Lincoln cents he obtained, specifically the D and S Mint marks of the Denver and San Francisco Mints. The individual provided Long with a Whitman coin folder, into which he could put coins he found by date and Mint mark. That sparked a lifelong interest that’s included searching for varieties and anomalies.

In 2017, while rooting through coins in his safe looking for something else, Long came across his two Cheerios dollars from the cereal boxes in 2000, and submitted the coins to ANACS for grading and encapsulation. One came back Mint State 63 and the other Mint State 62.

During the summer of 2017, Miriam, a second alto singer in the Deer Creek Chorale from Harford County, Maryland, had the opportunity to accompany her singing group to perform in Barcelona, Spain.

To help finance the trip to Spain, Cliff said, he instructed Miriam to sell the MS-62 Cheerios dollar on eBay. The coin sold for $5,200 within 20 minutes of being posted with a Buy It Now option. Here the story takes an unusual twist, and the third Cheerios dollar comes into play.

While en route to Newark International Airport in New Jersey to board their flight to Spain, Cliff decided to stop at a local bank to pick up two more rolls of small dollars. In one of those rolls, he discovered his third Cheerios dollar. ANACS has authenticated and graded that example About Uncirculated 55.

For now, Cliff is content to hold on to the MS-63 and AU-55 Cheerios dollars, and he continues looking for the possibility of more.

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