Presidential Coin Game

Presidential Coin Game
Presidential Coin Game

Top: Common game coin struck in brass.
Bottom: Scarce instant winner token struck in nickel-silver.

Shell's Presidential Coin Game was a promotional game issued by Shell Oil in 1992. This was an instant winner game and the grand prize was a $50,000 gold bar! The game pieces were collectible and there was game-themed merchandise that could be purchased.

The game ran for 45 days, from 5/22/92 to 7/5/92. During that time 45 million game pieces were distributed. With each visit to a participating Shell gas station, players received a foil packet. In the packet was either a presidential medal struck in brass, or an INSTANT WINNER token struck in nickel-silver. There were six different prizes of gold and silver which were won by receiving one of the instant winner tokens. A list of the prizes can be found below.

Presidential Coin Game

Above: Cardboard promotional sign measures 24" long, 10" high.

There is a lot of material associated with this game which has been a great source of confusion to collectors. Much of the information available online today is incorrect. This page attempts to sort it all out.

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Game Packet
Game Coin
Mounting Board
Winner Token
Bronze Set
Dealers Kit

The Game Packets were made of thin foil and contain one game piece. The packets have a shell emblem printed on the front and some versions have the game rules printed on the back. There are at least three versions of the packets. Two are shown below.

Presidential Coin Game

Above: Front and back of a foil packet which contains a game coin. This is the 'silver' version.

Presidential Coin Game

Above: A pile of unopened game piece packets. This is the 'yellow' version.

The Game Coins were concealed in the foil packets and they were either a brass presidential medal or an instant winner token made of nickel-silver. Eight different presidents appear on the brass medals and they were intended to be collected on a mounting board which was also given away free at the gas stations. There was no prize for collecting all eight presidential medals but the completed set made a nice consolation prize. The medals are 32mm in diameter, weigh 10 grams, and have a reeded edge. There is a short bio of each president on the reverse. All of the game coins and tokens were minted by Osborne Coinage and their logo - an interlaced "O" and "C" - appears on the obverse of the coins. Forty-five million game coins were produced.

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Presidential Coin GamePresidential Coin Game
Above: The eight common game coins were minted by Osborne Coinage on brass planchets, 32mm in diameter, reeded edge.

The Mounting Boards were made out of cardboard and held all eight presidential game coins. The title printed on the boards is 'Presidential Collector Coins' and Shell conveniently placed two Shell Oil logos on the boards. In my opinion, the logos lessened the desirability of the sets. The design of the presidential medals was not all that attractive to begin with so the finished sets simply became an advertising piece for Shell instead of something someone would be proud to own and display. On the back of the mounting boards is an advertisement for related merchandise. You could buy individual game coins (to complete your set, if needed) or a complete set of game coins pre-mounted on a mounting board. You could also buy an attractive set of presidential medals struck in antiqued bronze. Six million mounting boards were produced and you can buy them every day on popular auction sites.

Presidential Coin Game

Above: The cardboard mounting board given away free. This example is populated with all eight brass coins.

The Instant Winner Tokens were, of course, what every player was hoping to find in their game packet. The tokens were struck with the same dies as the regular game coins but nickel-silver planchets were used instead of brass. After striking, the tokens were over-printed with red paint "WINNER" on both sides of the token, along with the prize won. The weight and size of the nickel-silver planchets is the same as the brass planchets so it is not possible to tell which coin is in an unopened packet by the weight. Once the packet is opened it is very obvious if you have received a winning coin because of the silver color and the red overprint.

Only 61,261 instant winner tokens were issued and the odds of receiving one was about 729 to 1. Those are terrible odds for this type of game. By comparison, Shell's Mr. President Coin Game had odds of winning about 60 to 1. (See footnote.)

Presidential Coin Game

Above: Four instant winner tokens. Three are George Washington and one is Abraham Lincoln.

The Prizes totaled $1,000,000 and included a one-ounce U. S. Silver Eagle coin which was the lowest-value prize in the game. At the time the price of silver was about $4.00 per ounce so it was an attractive little prize. (These coins are worth over $20.00 in today's market.) The grand prize was a gold bar containing $50,000 worth of gold, based on the spot price on February 3rd, 1992 ($356 per ounce). If the winner elected to take their prize in physical gold, the bar would have weighed about 140 troy ounces. Such a bar would be worth over $170,000 today. I'm guessing the winner opted to take $50,000 in cash instead of the gold bar but I cannot find any record of this. Shell never announced if the grand prize token was redeemed.* However, players could mail in an entry for the 'second-chance drawing' which assured that the grand prize, and all ten of the $5,000 prizes, would be awarded in the event that the winning game tokens were not found and redeemed.

To claim any prize in the game it was necessary to mail your prize-winning token to Shell (actually, to Gage Marketing Group, Inc., Shell's marketing agency in Minnesota) for verification.

The table below shows the quantities and prizes available in the game.

Presidential Coin Game

Above: Stock photos of 1-oz. U. S. Gold Eagle and Silver Eagle coins
which were prizes in the game.

QuantityPrizeRetail ValueOverprint on Token
1$50,000 Gold Bar$50,000$50,000 WINNER
10$5,000 Gold Bar$5,000$5,000 WINNER
501 Oz. U. S. Gold Eagle Coin$3801 OZ. GOLD WINNER
1001/2 Oz. U. S. Gold Eagle Coin$2201/2 OZ. GOLD WINNER
10,0001/10 Oz. U. S. Gold Eagle Coin$551/10 OZ. GOLD WINNER
51,1001 Oz. U. S. Silver Eagle Coin$6SILVER EAGLE WINNER
Presidential Coin Game

Above: Individually-purchased coins came sealed
in clear plastic pouches.

Retail Products: If you wanted a complete set of all eight of the standard brass presidential medals, or just one or two to complete your set, Shell conveniently offered them for sale by mail order. The cost was $1.00 for the first presidential medal and $0.50 for each additional medal. You could specify which president(s) you wanted and they came sealed in clear plastic pouches.

If you ordered all eight presidential coins (for $4.50) they came mounted on a standard cardboard mounting board shrink-wrapped with plastic at the factory. Very few of these sets have survived with the shrink-wrap still on them. Once the shrink-wrap is removed they are indistinguishable from the regular giveaway sets.

Also available by mail was a set of the eight presidential medals struck in bronze with an antique finish. These were attractively mounted in a black leatherette clamshell case with a blue felt interior. Each antiqued-bronze medal was encapsulated in its own protective plastic capsule. The cost of this set was $29.95. That was a lot of money in 1992 and few were purchased, considering you could get the shiny brass version at the gas station for free. The bronze medals were struck with same dies as the brass game coins.

Shell printed these sales offers on the back of all six million mounting boards.

Presidential Coin Game

Above: Screen grab from a 30-second TV commercial that aired in 1992.

Above: The antiqued-bronze set that could be purchased for $29.95.

Dealer Invite Kits were distributed to gas station owners in advance of the game. As usual, dealers were not required by Shell Oil to participate in promotions but they were strongly encouraged to do so. Shell gave dealers cardboard boxes that contained information about the upcoming Presidential Coin Game promotion, reasons why dealers should want to participate, and a sample of all eight of the brass medals which were glued onto the box. The medals were production game pieces, identical to the game pieces issued during the game.

Above: The dealer invite kits came in a silver-colored cardboard box.

Above: Three paper panels that unfolded in the box. The middle panel shows a photo of a pile of game coins.

Above: Actual brass game coins are glued into each box.

Game-Themed Clothing was made, including Presidential Coin Game T-Shirts and caps. I do not know if the clothing was intended only for gas stations employees or was available for sale to the public.

Above: Game-themed T-Shirt and Cap.

*If you happen to be holding the grand-prize winning game token, or have a photo of any gold-winning token from this game, please send an email to me at this address: travelbug -at- Thanks!

Footnote: There is an unusually high number of the key, instant winner coins in circulation, and also an unusually high number of unopened game packets. This indicates that there was quite a few game pieces left over at the end of the game. This gives collectors a good chance of acquiring a 'Silver Eagle Winner' game coin when normally - with a total issue of only 51,100 pieces - it would be difficult to ever acquire one. For comparision, Shell Oil's 'Hot Wheels Coin Game' in 1972 had an issue of 52,500 of the prize-winning 'Lotus 72' game coins and it is very hard to find one today. That's because all the game pieces were distributed during the game and the vast majority, as usual, were turned in to Shell for the prize.

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