The Cheerios Dollar
A Cheerios Dollar is a Sacagawea Dollar bearing the date 2000 that was inserted into boxes of Cheerios cereal in early 2000 as part of a U.S. Mint promotion to raise awareness about the new "Golden Dollar." There were 10 million boxes of Cheerios in the promotion, all of which included a newly-struck 2000 Lincoln Cent. A lucky 5,500 boxes also contained a Sacagawea Dollar, which was later discovered to have been struck from a different set of master dies than the regular Sacagawea Dollars.
Most collectors consider these rare coins, which quickly gained the moniker Cheerios Dollars, to be pattern coins. They can be distinguished from standard Sacagawea Dollars by the enhanced eagle tail feathers on the reverse (see photo.) Significantly few specimens have come to light, perhaps no more than 60 or 70 total, and they are pretty valuable, selling for $5,000 to $25,000 depending on grade. However, numismatic researchers later discovered that not all of the Sacajawea dollars placed in the boxes have the enhanced tail feathers as initially thought.
How Many Cheerio Dollars Are There?
Some experts from a third-party grading service opened a sealed box of Cheerios that contained the Sacajawea dollar some years ago. However, the dollar included within the package was a regular Sacajawea dollar without the enhanced tail feathers. Furthermore, the cereal box appeared authentic, and there was no evidence that anybody tampered with the card carrying the Sacajawea dollar. Therefore, it is impossible to know exactly how many boxes of Cheerios contained a Sacajawea Dollar with the enhanced tail feathers.
According to an official statement from the United States Mint that was released on June 17, 2007, by spokeswoman Joyce Harris: “5,500 Golden Dollars of a ‘high detail’ feather variety (12 tail feathers) were manufactured and shipped to General Mills as part of the Golden Dollar promotion in October 1999, under a detailed arrangement that they not be released until January 2000. Before the coins were released to the Federal Reserve in 2000, the feather detail was softened, and the center tail feather was recessed to solve a die manufacturing issue. Recessing the center tail feather gives the illusion of a 13th feather, but that was not the intent.”
Why Are They so Valuable?
As coin collectors started to assemble complete sets of Sacajawea dollars, they realized that there were two different varieties of the 2000 Sacajawea coin. They were first listed in the 60th Edition (2007) of A Guide Book of United States Coins (aka "The Redbook") by R. S. Yeoman. They are also listed in the Cherrypickers' Guide To Rare Die Varieties Of United States Coins, Fourth Edition Volume II, by Bill Fivaz & J. T. Stanton. Fivaz and Stanton described the coin as "Enhanced Reverse Die" and gave it a catalog number of FS-C1-2000P-901.
Since the number of known specimens is so few, an advanced collector seeking to assemble a complete set of Sacajawea dollars, including all die varieties, will need one of these coins to complete their collection.
Nobody knows why so few Cheerios Dollars have come to light; some people think they were all spent in circulation, while others believe they're just sitting in people's drawers and coin jars, waiting to be discovered.
Regardless of the hypotheses circulating in numismatics, people are still discovering specimens. Some people have found them in "dealers' junk boxes," and others have been found in circulation. So far, PCGS has certified 107 examples, and NGC has only certified two specimens. The highest price ever paid for a Cheerios dollar was $29,900 for a PCGS MS-68 specimen in the May 2008 Heritage Auction in Long Beach, California, at the Signature Auction #1108.
Now that you know what to look for, you should look at every 2000 Sacajawea dollar you come across. Since there are dealers that are not familiar with this rare die variety, you should also ask to see their Sacajawea dollar specimens. You never know what you will find.