Famous Americans

Shell's Famous Americans Coin Game

Shell's Famous Americans

Above: Woodrow Wilson, prize-winning game coin for the $1.00 prize.


FAMOUS AMERICANS COIN GAME was a promotional game issued by the Shell Oil Company in 1968. This was a collect-and-win game with instant winners. With each visit to a participating Shell station, customers received a free aluminum game 'coin' showing a portrait of a famous American. The coins could be mounted on a game card and the objective was to try to collect all the coins in any section of the game card, in which case the player won the prize for that section. Some coins were INSTANT WINNER coins.

There are twenty-four basic obverse designs in Shell's Famous Americans Coin Game. Orville and Wilber Wright appear together on one coin; Meriwether Lewis and William Clark appear together on another. Therefore, twenty-six different Americans are featured in the game.

Collecting the right combination of coins won cash prizes of $1, $5, $50, $500, $1,000 or $5,000.

If a game coin had FAMOUS AMERICANS INSTANT WINNER on the back, a prize was won without having to collect any other coins. The instant winner prizes were listed on the game card.

Glendinning Companies, Inc. produced the game pieces and all the associated promotional materials. The coins were struck by The Danbury Mint (a subsidiary of Glendinning) at their mint in England.

Famous Americans Instant Winner

Above: The game coins were sealed in paper packets.

The Game Coins

The game coins were struck on aluminum alloy planchets. The planchets are relatively thin, but the alloy used is quite hard which makes the coins sturdy and scratch-resistant compared to standard soft aluminum. The 'coins' (more accurately, 'medallions') are 26mm in diameter with a plain edge.

The coins came from Glendinning sealed in white, square, opaque paper packets. Forty-eight different game coins were issued, tallied as follows: Eighteen common coins with the 'Smooth Shell' reverse design; Eighteen common coins with the 'Coarse Shell' reverse design; Eleven key coins; One redesigned Lewis & Clark coin.

The Glendinning Company Flunks History

One of the medallions produced for Shell’s ‘Famous Americans Coin Game’ was the Lewis & Clark medallion. On the medallion, the Glendinning Company inadvertently spelled William Clark’s last name ‘Clarke.’ This was quite a blunder considering Shell Oil touted the coins as “educational.” At some point late in production, the error was noticed and new dies were prepared with the correct spelling of ‘Clark.’ About 90% of the Lewis & Clark medallions show his name misspelled.

I can only speculate how this error occurred. There are not any reference sources showing William Clark’s name spelled with an ‘e’ on the end. There is a man in United States history (unrelated to William Clark) named Lewis Clarke. Perhaps the Glendinning Company’s research expert found a reference to this man and became confused. Regardless, the minting of additional Lewis and Clark medallions with the correct spelling had no bearing on the function of the game or the prizes. It did, however, create a major variety in this series of medallions.

Famous Americans

Above: The medallion on the left was minted with an error in the spelling of William Clark's name. The medallion on the right shows the re-issued version with 'CLARK' spelled correctly. About 90% of the Lewis & Clark medallions were issued with the misspelling.

Three reverse designs were used on the game coins. Over 99% of the coins have the either the 'Smooth Shell' or 'Coarse Shell' reverse design. These were issued in roughly equal quantities. Less than 1% of the coins have the 'FAMOUS AMERICANS INSTANT WINNER' reverse design.

Famous Americans

Above: The coin on the left shows the common 'Smooth Shell' reverse design which came first. The middle coin shows the 'Coarse Shell' design. The picture on the right shows the INSTANT WINNER design.

The Game Cards

The game cards were given away free at participating Shell gas stations. The cards are 12 1/8" tall by 8 5/8" wide and are die-cut such that the game coins can be mounted and stored on the cards. The cards are also scored so they can be folded

Game cards were also inserted as an advertising supplement in some newspapers as part of the marketing blitz. These cards are usually overprinted on the back with the name of the newspaper and sometimes the insertion date.

Famous Americans Coin Game

Above: Front of a game card. The game cards held the aluminum game coins and described the rules and prizes.


Famous Americans Coin Game

Above: Back of a game card.

How to Win a Prize

There were two ways to win a prize in Shell's Famous Americans Coin Game. The first way to win was by collecting all the coins in any section of the game card. Each section has one 'key' coin that was issued in small quantities. The key coins are shown in the table below. The second way to win was by receiving an INSTANT WINNER coin.

Eleven different key, prize-winning coins were issued in this game as follows.

PrizeKey, Winning CoinReverse Design
$5000Eli WhitneyCommon Reverse Design
$1000Alexander Hamilton Instant Winner Reverse Design
$1000Alexander Hamilton Common Reverse Design
$500Patrick Henry Instant Winner Reverse Design
$500Patrick Henry Common Reverse Design
$50Daniel Boone Instant Winner Reverse Design
$50Daniel Boone Common Reverse Design
$5Henry Clay Instant Winner Reverse Design
$5Henry Clay Common Reverse Design
$1Woodrow Wilson Instant Winner Reverse Design
$1Woodrow Wilson Common Reverse Design

Famous Americans Coin Game

Above: Henry Clay, which is the key, winning coin for the $5.00 prize. Scarce.

Varieties

There are multiple varieties of the game coins. I have cataloged twenty-nine minor varieties in this series and there are probably more. The varieties were created when The Danbury Mint prepared new dies using redrawn obverse designs, or changed the position of the portraits in relation to the lettering. By numismatic standards, many of these varieties are significant enough to qualify as a separate issue. Therefore - counting the minor varieties - at least seventy-seven different game coins were produced in Shell's Famous Americans Coin Game. I will take pictures of a few varieties and post them in this section when time allows.

Famous Americans Instant Winner

Above: There are several dozen minor die varieties in this series. Shown are two different George Washington medallions.


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