100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins Series: 2000-P Sacagawea Dollar, Cheerios Variety

The beginning of the millennium was massive in more ways than one. A marketing and promotional goldmine for anyone and anything, it especially rang true for the United States Mint when they decided to introduce another new dollar coin. After the less than impactful dollar coins released before it, the new one was pushed with the biggest media buzz there could be. One of those promotions is the reason it has landed on Whitman Publishing’s 100 Greatest United States Modern Coins list as put together by Scott Schechter and Jeff Garrett, along with some of the most influential coin dealers across the country.

#12 – 2000-P Sacagawea Dollar, “Cheerios” Variety

To avoid the mistakes of the past involving dollar coins, the U.S. Mint wanted to remove any and every possible roadblock to getting the Sacagawea dollar off the ground. As previously mentioned, this involved media and promotional tools that were widespread and included things such as television commercials and getting one of the biggest retailers, Wal-Mart, to use the new dollar coins as change to customers. Another way was involving General Mills in a giveaway promotion as they pictured the coin on every box of Cheerios.

As part of a millennium promotion, one of the first 10,000,000 Lincoln cents struck with the 2000 year-date was included in each marked box of Cheerios that year. One in every 2,000 boxes included both a cent coin and a Sacagawea dollar. The promotion hit home that, according to General Mills, the only place to get either coin in the month of January was in a box of Cheerios. How could they promote such a thing as true? The Sacagawea dollar was not released to Federal Reserve banks until January 26, 2000. In addition, Wal-Mart agreed not to release them until January 30, 2000.

In the late summer or early fall of 1999, the Mint delivered 5,500 coins to General Mills for the promotion. Full-scale striking of the dollar coin did not begin until mid-November of 1999. The time in between was used as a testing period at the Mint as the design used to deliver to General Mills was a variation separate than the final circulation version. What is referred to as the “Cheerios” or Reverse of 1999 Sacagawea is easily distinguishable from the circulation finish as the eagle’s wings and tail show more intricate detail. This includes a raised central feather shaft and numerous veins. The final version does not have these details and features an incused shaft. As the Cheerios variety is more detailed, it is also speculated that it is like the 22-karat gold coins from West Point that were struck in June of 1999. Further speculation from numismatic researcher Tom DeLorey implies that the same die that was used to strike those gold Sacagawea coins was the same one used to deliver those 5,500 coins to General Mills.

While there was speculation about its striking, the discovery of this variety of Sacagawea was not identified until June 2005. According to authors Schechter and Garrett, there were two factors that contributed to this fact. The first one was that with the obverse in the holder, the tail-feather detail was not visible. The second reason was that they were delivered in “non-numismatic circles.” In short, people who enjoyed Cheerios were “collecting them,” not numismatic individuals who knew what they were and why they were important. No one wanted to take them out of the holder as they thought it made them worth more.

With as little as 5,500 struck, circulation and distribution were minimal, making them rare. There are just a few hundred examples known in the numismatic market as of now, but more are being discovered over time.

Since the first edition, this coin has moved up two spots from #14.