The Crazy Shell's Mr. President Coin Game

Mr. President Coin Game
George Washington Token

This is a common game coin (more accurately 'medallion')
which was made of aluminum by The Franklin Mint. Scroll
down to see all thirty-nine game coins.

Marketing Brilliance

Shell’s Mr. President Coin Game was a fabulous success for Shell Oil Company in 1968 and 1969. A lot of people played and a lot of people won prizes. Perhaps you did, also? In its wake are millions of aluminum president game coins and millions of bronze prize coins. You can buy them on auction sites every day. Also in its wake are collectors who try in vain to assemble a complete set of the original game pieces. In my quest to complete a set I have learned a lot about this promotional game and it can all be found here.

Many people have fond memories of playing the game and winning prizes and that, in itself, is a testament to its success. The Mr. President Coin Game inspired a multitude of similar collect-and-win games which continue to this day, like McDonald’s ‘Monopoly’ game. Such games were also a shot in the arm for numismatics because it got people in the habit of identifying and collecting sets of coins.

The design and execution of this marketing promotion was nothing short of brilliant and it’s crazy that there is so little information available about it. No one can tell me when the game started, when it ended, how many game pieces were issued, or how many prizes were awarded. No one can tell me if this game was nationwide or only released in certain regions. There are many unanswered questions but there are a lot of clues.

Coin Game Packets

Left: First version of the game coin packaging used until 11/12/68.
Right: Second version of the game coin packaging used after 11/12/68.

Simple and Fun for the Whole Family

The game was simple on the surface – just collect coins and win prizes. Whenever you filled up with gas at a Shell station1 you received a paper packet which contained one of 39 different aluminum president coins. You then placed your coin in the matching space provided on the official game card. The game card was divided into sections and if you could get all the president coins in any one of the sections, you won the prize indicated for that section.

Prizes ranged from $1 to $5,000 (that’s about $30,000 in today’s dollars!) and you could also win a beautiful bronze set of presidential medals that came with a mounting board. This is the prize most remembered as over a million of these bronze presidential sets were given away2. There were also ‘instant winner’ coins that won a prize without having to collect any additional coins. I remember the excitement of opening up a game piece and seeing SHELL'S INSTANT WINNER on the back.

The game coins were often given to kids to play with and they were educational to boot. How fun!

Shell's Coin Game Card

Above is the common version of the game card onto which you placed your game coins. If you filled any of the game sections you won the indicated prize. These game cards were given away at Shell stations and they were also inserted as a supplement in selected newspapers as part of Shell Oil's marketing blitz. Click here to see a scarce version of the game card.

Instant Winner

If your president coin had INSTANT WINNER
on the back something good happened. You
won the prize stated on the game card.

President Game Winning Token

Newspaper ad in The Southeast Missourian on
4/26/69. The Shell Oil representative is holding
the John Tyler $100 prize-winning coin3 and
handing over a check to the winner.

Game On

Sometime in March, 1968, the game started but only in selected regions. When released in a region, it ran for three to five months then ended. It wasn't released in California until August, 1968. Some regions did not start the game until the middle of 1969 and some regions never saw the game. Where released, people played and won prizes right away. In April, 1968, Shell Oil began running newspaper ads announcing prize winners. A lot of ad space was purchased to promote the game and Shell also came up with a musical jingle that was used in the advertising.

Shell Changes the Game Rules … Three Times

At the beginning of the promotion the prize for completing section one was $2,500. In July, 1968, the prize was reduced to $1,000 and stayed that way for the remainder of the game.

Also at the beginning, game cards had the word "FREE" printed over six of the presidents. This meant that a prize could be won without collecting the specified free coins. These "FREE" spots were eliminated in July, 1968. Players then had to collect all the presidents in a game card section in order to win.

The game continued in some regions until December 4, 1969. By then over a million prizes had been awarded. As the game progressed Shell did things to keep players’ interests up. As early as April, 1969, Shell began running newspaper ads proclaiming how many prizes had been won and how many prizes were still remaining “in your area.” Then in October, 1969, Shell ran ads announcing a major change in the game rules – you no longer needed to collect all the presidents in a game card section to win a prize! The new rules stated that you only needed to get one specific president in any section on the game card and you automatically won the prize for that section. This sounded great on the surface, and had marketing punch, but it was meaningless to anyone who had been playing the game. The specific presidents Shell said you needed to get was, of course, the key coins which players had been trying to get all along. Every seasoned player already knew that if you got a key president coin you were a winner.

President Game Winning Token

Newspaper ad in The Indianapolis Recorder
on 4/20/68. A customer received a James
Madison coin and won the $2,500 prize.
The prize for a James Madison coin was
reduced to $1,000 in July, 1968.

Scandal Strikes the Mr. President Coin Game!

On November 12, 1968, Shell Oil recalled the game pieces from all service stations, temporarily halting the game while new, tamper-proof game piece packaging could be prepared. Word got out that Shell station dealers were cheating and cashing in the prize coins themselves. With the first version of packaging, some people figured out how to tell which coin was in the package without opening it. This fueled the ongoing legal debate concerning these types of games. Read the original article here.

Shell quickly replenished service stations with the new (version two) coin packaging and the game went on. What did Shell Oil do with all the game pieces that were recalled? No one can tell me. Assuming large quantities of prize-winning coins were included with the recall, the game odds (and quantity of outstanding winning coins) would not be known without opening each one. Because it would have been more expensive to open and repackage them all than make new ones, I suspect they were simply destroyed and replaced with new ones.


Shell Oil Mr. President Coin Game Newspaper Article

The Game Pieces

Manufacturer: The Franklin Mint in 1968 and 1969
Composition: Aluminum alloy, proprietary to The Franklin Mint
Diameter: 26mm
Edge: Plain
Obverse Designs: 32
Reverse Designs: 2
Total Different Medallions: 39
Packaging: Square, Opaque, Plastic-Lined Paper Packets (Two Versions)
Quantity Produced: Unknown. (My Estimate: 130 Million)

Below are the thirty-nine different aluminum Mr. President Coin Game medallions given away during the promotion.
George Washington Medal John Adams Token Thomas Jefferson Coin James Madison Instant Winner
George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
Key - $1,000/$2,500 Winner
James Monroe Medal John Quincy Adams Token Andrew Jackson Coin Martin Van Buren Instant Winner Coin
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
Key - $500 Winner
William Harrison Medal John Tyler Instant Winner Coin James K. Polk Token Zachary Taylor Coin
William H. Harrison
John Tyler
James K. Polk
Zachary Taylor
Key - $100 Winner
Millard Fillmore Token Franklin Pierce Coin James Buchanan Instant Winner Token Abraham Lincoln Medal
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Key - $50 Winner
Andrew Johnson Medal Ulysses S. Grant Token Rutherford Hayes Instant Winner James A. Garfield Token
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield
Key - $5 Winner
Chester Arthur Shell's Instant Winner Grover Cleveland Medal Benjamin Harrison Coin William McKinley Token
Chester A. Arthur
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
William McKinley
Key - $1 Winner
Theodore Roosevelt Token William H. Taft Coin Woodrow Wilson Medal Warren Harding $5000 Winner
Theodore Roosevelt
William H. Taft
Woodrow Wilson
Warren G. Harding
Key - $5,000 Winner
Calvin Coolidge Coin Herbert Hoover Instant Winner Franklin D. Roosevelt Coin Shell's Mr. President Coin Game
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Common Reverse Design
Key - Bronze Presidents Set
Instant Winner Coin

Three key instant winner coins. Top: This Herbert Hoover coin was
found buried in the ground in California by a metal detector! Middle:
This Chester A. Arthur Instant Winner coin could have been redeemed
for $1.00 in cash. Bottom: This coin is made of gold-tinted aluminum.
It is the only coin in the series struck on a gold-tinted planchet.

The thirty-one presidents above were all issued with the common reverse design. Seven of these presidents (Madison, Van Buren, Tyler, Buchanan, Hayes, Arthur and Hoover) were also issued with the INSTANT WINNER reverse design. In addition, Shell issued a gold-tinted aluminum $1.00 instant winner coin for a total of thirty-nine game pieces in a complete set.

Collecting a Set of Original Game Coins

Do you want to collect a set of the original aluminum game coins? Good luck! Of the thirty-nine different medallions, twenty-three are common and easy to find. They were given away by the tens of millions. The remaining sixteen are ‘key’ coins that were, effectively, prize winners. Of course the key coins – especially the top prize coins - were issued in small quantities. I can’t find a record of the quantity of each of the key coins that were issued but my research indicates the following:
QuantityPrizeMedallion
75$5,000Warren G. Harding (common reverse only)
150$1,000James Madison (common and instant winner reverse)
525$500Martin Van Buren (common and instant winner reverse)
2,250$100John Tyler (common and instant winner reverse)
1,500$50James Buchanan (common and instant winner reverse)
56,000$5Rutherford B. Hayes (common and instant winner reverse)
1,500,000$1Chester A. Arthur (common and instant winner reverse)
600,000Bronze SetHerbert Hoover (common and instant winner reverse)
Unknown$1One Dollar - Shell Emblem (common reverse only)
I estimate that over 130 million game coins were issued which would put the odds of winning any prize at about 1:60, and the odds of winning the top prize at about 1:1,733,000. As I watch Shell’s Mr. President Coin Game coins come up for sale on auction sites, the ratio of common coins to prize-winning ‘key’ coins is about 1:2000. This indicates that perhaps 97% of all the key coins were redeemed during the game and may never be seen again. It also indicates that there could still be over 65,000 key coins outstanding. Using this math it can be estimated that the following quantities of key coins remain outstanding:
QuantityPrizeMedallion
2$5,000Warren G. Harding (common reverse only)
5$1,000James Madison (common and instant winner reverse)
16$500Martin Van Buren (common and instant winner reverse)
68$100John Tyler (common and instant winner reverse)
45$50James Buchanan (common and instant winner reverse)
1,680$5Rutherford B. Hayes (common and instant winner reverse)
45,000$1Chester A. Arthur (common and instant winner reverse)
18,000Bronze SetHerbert Hoover (common and instant winner reverse)
Unknown$1One Dollar - Shell Emblem (common reverse only)
Due to tokens getting thrown away or otherwise destroyed, the quantity of key coins that still exist today is far less than the quantity I have estimated in the table. For example, I think that if there truly were 1,680 Rutherford B. Hayes tokens remaining, they would be seen frequently at coin and token shows, on auction sites, or at least mentioned on token collecting websites. On the contrary, I have only seen or heard of nine Rutherford B. Hayes tokens in all my years of searching (one is in my personal collection). In reality, there may be less than 200 Rutherford B. Hayes tokens in existence, and less than 10,000 key coins total.

Let’s crunch the numbers to see how likely it is to be able to assemble a complete set. Using the table above there could be 63,000 Arthur/Hoover coins outstanding versus 1,816 of all the others combined for a ratio of 1:35. That means for every 35 key coins that come up for sale one of them should be a $5 winner or higher. And, yes, that’s about the ratio I observe on the auction sites. This also means that the ratio of prize keys $50 or higher is about 1:463. I only see a key coin come up for sale about once a month which means I’ll be waiting 38 years for a chance to acquire a high-value key coin. Say it isn’t so!

The following factors give me hope that a complete set can be assembled in less than 38 years:

  • 1) Key coins are ‘discovered’ all the time. Some are found stored for 50 years in people’s attics, some are found at flea markets and yard sales. They keep popping up. Consider the Herbert Hoover instant winner coin pictured above. It was dug up by someone metal detecting in Chatsworth, California in 2016. This key coin wasn’t redeemed during the game, it wasn’t saved as a fun memory, and it did not end up in the hands of a collector. It somehow ended up buried in the ground. Maybe it got tossed out the window of a car in 1968 … who knows? Are there more key coins yet to be discovered? Yes.
  • 2) The big-prize key coins are rare but there is no market for them. If you have an 1804 U. S. silver dollar, you know it. There are only 19 known to exist and they are worth over $1,000,000 each. The whereabouts of each one is well-documented because there is a market for them. Many people who currently possess key Mr. President Coin Game coins do not realize they are keys. I sometimes see key coins as part of a large group for sale … cheap. The sellers obviously do not know what they have. Is it possible a Warren G. Harding coin will show up someday on an auction site for 99 cents? Yes.
  • 3) Some of the key coins look common. Most keys were minted with both the exciting 'SHELL’S INSTANT WINNER' reverse and also the common ‘SHELL’S MR. PRESIDENT COIN GAME’ reverse. Of course, game players in 1968 would quickly notice the INSTANT WINNER variety and cash it in. But if they received a key coin with the common reverse they may have simply placed it on their game card. The game may have ended without them knowing they held the key. If a high-prize key coin were to show up for sale, I think it would most likely be an inconspicuous ‘SHELL’S MR. PRESIDENT COIN GAME’ reverse variety. Is there a chance these coins will quietly make their way to market? Yes.
  • 4) They are perceived to be low-value items. When people are facing financial hardship they often look for valuable things they have that can be sold. This usually does not include their stash of Mr. President Coin Game medallions. As a result some people have been sitting on valuable key coins4 for years and have not yet considered selling them. Will they (or their heirs) consider selling them some day? Yes.
  • 5) There could be a secret stash. I estimate that there may only be two Warren G. Harding coins outstanding. That may be true for officially-issued game pieces but could The Franklin Mint also have a few samples in their archives? Could Shell's marketing agency have one or two samples that were not part of the official release? Could a Shell Oil executive have tucked one of the redeemed Warren G. Harding medallions in his desk drawer just for fun? Yes.

The official reports that circulated during the game claimed that The Franklin Mint randomly inserted the key coins into boxes as they shipped them out. Unofficial reports allude to uneven distribution of the key coins, whereas Shell may have favored larger cities and dealers with higher volumes.

I have estimated that 97% of the key coins were redeemed during the game based on my observations of existing medallions. My estimate may be way too high. Shell Oil never announced the total number of prizes offered, or awarded, but such games usually have a much lower redemption rate. For example, in 1969 Sinclair Oil revealed that only 51% of the top prizes available in their 'Double Dino Dollars' game (prizes $100 or higher) were awarded. The low ratio of key coins versus common coins on auction sites may be partially due to collectors holding onto their key coins and selling off their common coins. Regardless of the percentage of key coins that were redeemed during the game, there may be less than 10,000 key coins remaining today.

Some people have speculated that all the high-prize key coins were redeemed during the game in 1968 and destroyed by Shell Oil. That's an easy conclusion considering the sheer absence of the coins. I agree that the majority of the coins redeemed during the game did not make their way back into circulation, but I have no confirmation that they were actually destroyed. I am currently researching a report that indicates some of the low-prize-value key coins turned in to Shell Oil in 1968 may have made their way back into circulation after the game ended.

I do not agree that all the high-prize coins were redeemed during the game. About 3,000 prize-winning coins (with prizes of $100 or more) were issued and it is unlikely that every one was redeemed. Possible, but unlikely. Finding one would answer the question but I have not been able to find one - nor have I heard of anyone possessing one.

I hold the opinion that no one has ever possessed a complete set of thirty-nine aluminum coins - neither now nor during the game in 1968.5 However, I suspect the major key coins do exist ... somewhere ... and it’s on my bucket list to find them. If you have one (or a picture of one) please contact me at the following email address: travelbug, followed by the @ sign, followed by: billjamie.com.

Presidential Hall of Fame

One of the prizes was the 'Presidential Hall of Fame'
medal set struck in bronze by The Franklin Mint. Pictured
is the fifth version of the set.

The Prizes

You could only win two things in Shell’s Mr. President Coin Game; cash or a set of presidential medals struck in bronze. Cash prizes were $1, $5, $50, $100, $500, $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000. The $2,500 prize was only available regionally at the beginning of the game (see game cards here). Of course, the game pieces themselves were like little prizes you received just for stopping in.

The bronze medal set called 'Presidential Hall of Fame' was won by collecting three president coins ... Coolidge, Hoover and F. D. R. (with Hoover being the key) ... or receiving the President Hoover INSTANT WINNER coin. The prize came in a large envelope with the medals, a cardboard display to mount the medals, a small informational booklet, and a registration card that could be mailed back to The Franklin Mint.

There were five versions of this prize and you can see them all here.

The Franklin Mint produced 1,377,324 'Presidential Hall of Fame' sets in bronze but not all of them were for the Mr. President Coin Game promotion. They were also given as a prize in Shell’s 1968 ‘Famous Facts & Faces’ coin game (which ran concurrently with the Mr. President Coin Game) and they were also sold separately by The Franklin Mint. I cannot find any record of the number of bronze presidential sets given away in the Mr. President Coin Game but I would estimate it was in excess of 600,000. The medals were nicely struck but the display board was of poor quality. It was made of cardboard and often creased under the weight of the bronze medals. The die-cutting of the holes was sometimes off-center which cut into the printed lettering. Nice sets in their original packaging are available every day on popular auction sites.

Franklin Mint Prototype

Andrew Jackson prototype struck in aluminum and still in original cello
packaging. Diameter: 26mm; Plain Edge; Extremely Rare.

The Franklin Mint Creates a Rarity

The Franklin Mint began in 1964 producing commemorative medals and coining legal tender for foreign countries. Within a few years they landed contracts with casinos in Las Vegas (and elsewhere) to supply large quantities of gambling tokens. In 1967 The Franklin Mint began creating and selling beautiful sets of presidential medals based on the designs of sculptor Harold Faulker. The medals were struck in sterling silver, platinum, and bronze (in four different diameters) and sold in sets. As evidenced by the sales piece below, The Franklin Mint was attempting to attract large corporate customers in early 1968 by offering to mint the presidential sets in volume for marketing purposes. They hit the jackpot with Shell Oil Company.

In the sales piece, The Franklin Mint stapled a sample of what a mass-produced coin might look like. It is an Andrew Jackson medal, 26 millimeters in diameter and struck in aluminum. I presume one of these sales samples was shown to Shell Oil and their marketing agency. This basic design ended up being mass-produced in bronze for one of the prizes in the Mr. President Coin Game.

This specific medal design, with the Franklin Mint hallmark above Jackson's left shoulder, was never mass-produced or sold in aluminum. It was only made in small quantities for the sales piece and this is the only example known to exist. (It is currently in my personal collection.)

The Franklin Mint The Franklin Mint The Franklin Mint The Franklin Mint
Early 1968 Sales Piece: Front
Inside Left
Inside Right
Back
Error Coin

Die scratches evident on the reverse of a Woodrow Wilson medallion.
I've nick-named this the 'Shooting Star' variety.

Franklin Mint Bombs the Production

The Franklin Mint coined the aluminum game pieces and also the attractive ‘Presidential Hall of Fame’ bronze medal set which was one of the prizes in the game. Whereas The Franklin Mint produced beautiful, high-quality coins, tokens and medals up to this point, they bombed the production of the aluminum game coins. Many were weakly struck with some of the lettering and design elements weak or nearly missing. As the dies became worn and flawed from use, The Franklin Mint continued to repair and use them to strike the medallions. Die flaws can be seen on many of the coins.

In the normal course of production, the planchets were punched from aluminum sheets that had a brushed surface. When the planchets were struck between the dies this brushed surface became smooth and gave the coins their shiny surface. If the planchet was weakly struck, as many were, the original brushed planchet surface did not smooth out and the lettering did not fully punch up. This makes the finished coin appear to have post-strike scraping damage in some areas. I've seen this condition on many coins right out of their original packaging. Granted, these were mass-produced, inexpensive, throw-away game pieces but I would expect better from The Franklin Mint - especially considering the striking pressures did not need to be high for aluminum.

Error Coin Error Coin

At first glance this appears to be scraping damage after entering circulation but it is actually caused by a weak strike. The original brushed surface of the planchet is visible (it looks like scraping) and the metal did not flow into the lettering of the dies in some areas. Weak strikes plagued the entire production run. This Millard Fillmore medallion is uncirculated and undamaged.

The die that struck this Grover Cleveland coin was welded and ground in two places. The surface of the die was left quite rough and the copyright date became obliterated.


One Font, Many Appearances

Only one font was used for the lettering on all the president dies but the font appears to be different on certain presidents. This is because the depth of the impression during the hubbing process was inconsistent. If a die received a shallow impression from the hub the lettering was thinner and the ornate details of the font were more pronounced. Dies with deeper impressions show thicker lettering and less of the ornate font details.

It is not known how many dies were produced for each president but the hubbing depth is consistent and the appearance of the font and design elements for each president was consistent. Some medallions were struck with dies that had a smaller outer diameter. These medallions have a slightly wider rim, and lettering that appears closer to the rim. These may have been struck with new dies that were prepared differently, or old dies that had the outer diameter machined down.

Clashed Dies
Shell's Coin Game

These two medallions have the same font. The George Washington medallion (top) shows ornate details of the font while the Calvin Coolidge medallion (bottom) does not. The font details became less pronounced when the dies were hubbed deeper.

Concentric lines from the reverse die can be seen on the obverse of this John Quincy Adams medallion. The obverse die became damaged when it clashed against the reverse die without a planchet in place.


Instant Winner Hall of Fame

Click here to see Instant Winner coins from various gas station games. Some are quite rare.


The Collect-And-Win Craze

Oil companies had been using games and incentives to attract people to their gas stations for decades but the Collect-And-Win format was wildly successful, especially when it included 'Instant Winner' game pieces. From 1965 to 1970 over fifty Collect-And-Win games were launched by oil companies. Billions of game pieces were distributed to consumers and many millions worth of prizes were awarded. Standard Oil gave away over 1,000 brand new Ford Mustangs in their All-Pro and Super Pro games. (The top prize in Shell's Mr. President Coin Game was worth more than a new Mustang.) Some games were only released locally, some regionally, and some were nationwide. These promotions increased sales and created fierce competition. One gas station owner described the games as "a necessary annoyance."

Shell's Mr. President Coin Game wasn't released in all areas of the country but it was the most popular and most widely played. This is evident by the huge quantity of game pieces and game prizes extant. The list below only shows oil company games that used the Collect-And-Win format with which you could actually win a valuable prize. Additional promotions where 'collectible' game pieces were given away, with no prizes offered, are not listed.


Rio Grande Criminal Hunt Shell's Americana Game Shell's Spell Americana Game Shell's Mr. President Coin Game
Rio Grande Criminal Hunt
Americana
Spell Americana
Mr. President
Rio Grande Oil - 1937 (Click to see)
Shell Oil - 1965 (Click to see)
Shell Oil - 1967
Shell Oil - 1968 (Click to see)
Shell's Famous Facts & Faces Game Shell's Famous Americans Game Mileage Money Shell's States of the Union Game
Famous Facts & Faces
Famous Americans
Mileage Money
States of the Union (Version 1)
Shell Oil - 1968
Shell Oil - 1968
Shell Oil - 1968
Shell Oil - 1969 (Click to see)
Shell's States of the Union Game Shell's Man In Space Game Shell's Play Bingo for Cash Game Shell's Hot Wheels Coin Game
States of the Union (Version 2)
Man in Space
Play Bingo For Cash
Hot Wheels Coin Game
Shell Oil - 1969 (Click to see)
Shell Oil - 1969
Shell Oil - 1972
Shell Oil - 1972 (Click to see)
Shell's Presidential Coin Game Drive to the Super Bowl Fast Cars - Fast Win World of Prizes
Presidential Coin Game
Drive to the Super Bowl
Fast Cars - Fast Win
World of Prizes
Shell Oil - 1992 (Click to see)
Shell Oil - 1995 (Click to see)
Shell Oil - 1996
Citgo Petroleum - 1965 (Click to see)
Sunoco Sunny Dollars Game Sunoco Sunny Dollars Plus Game Half & Half Lucky Envelopes
Sunny Dollars
Sunny Dollars Plus
Half & Half
Lucky Envelopes
Sunoco - 1966
Sunoco - 1968
Sunoco - 1960s
Sunoco - 1960s
Sunoco Antique Car Coin Game Sunoco Antique Car Coin Game Sunoco Landmarks of America Game Esso Tigerino Game
Antique Car Coin - Series 1
Antique Car Coin - Series 2
Landmarks of America
Tigerino
Sunoco - 1969
Sunoco - 1969
Sunoco - 1969
Esso/Enco - 1966 (Click to see)
Esso Tigerama Game Esso Winning Ticket Game Ashland Oil Grand Slam Baseball Game Mobil Play Safe Game
Tigerama
Winning Ticket
Grand Slam Baseball
Play Safe
Esso/Enco - 1967 (Click to see)
Esso/Enco - 1968 (Click to see)
Ashland Oil - 1967
Mobil Oil - 1966
Mobil Safety Pays Game Mobil Winning Line Game Mobil International Flags Game Mobil World Passport Game
Safety Pays
Winning Line
International Flags
World Passport
Mobil Oil - 1967
Mobil Oil - 1967
Mobil Oil - 1969 (Click to see)
Mobil Oil - 1972
Amoco NFL All-Pro Game Amoco NFL Super-Pro Game Amoco Winners Circle Game Amoco Mr. and Mrs. Game
NFL All-Pro
NFL Super Pro
Winners Circle
Mr. & Mrs. NFL
American/Amoco - 1967
American/Amoco - 1967
American/Amoco - 1968
American/Amoco - 1968 (Click to see)
American Scene Atlantic Match the Red Ball Game Play Ball Game Sinclair Dino Dollars Game
The American Scene
Match The Red Ball
Play Ball
Dino Dollars
American/Amoco - 1969
Atlantic Oil - 1967 (Click to see)
Atlantic Oil - 1968
Sinclair Oil - 1967 (Click to see)
New Dino Dollars Sinclair Double Dino Dollars Game Texaco Instant Bingo Game BP Wonders of the World Game
New Dino Dollars
Double Dino Dollars
Instant Bingo
Wonders Of The World
Sinclair Oil - 1968
Sinclair Oil - 1968
Texaco - 1967
BP - 1970
BP NFL Match 2 Game BP USAthletes Game Getty Oil Win-a-Check Game Getty Oil Flying Aces Game
Match 2
USAthletes
Win-a-Check
Flying Aces
BP - 1990 (Click to see)
BP - 2012 (Click to see)
Getty Oil - 1964 (Click to see)
Getty Oil - 1966 (Click to see)
Cash on the Line Hula Dollars Treasure Hunt Wiki Wiki Dollars
Cash on the Line
Hula Dollars
Treasure Hunt
Wiki Wiki Dollars
Chevron/Standard - 1966
Chevron/Standard - 1968
Chevron/Standard - 1968
Chevron/Standard - 1969
Pump Up the Fun Big Stuff Big Stuff 2 Big Stuff 3
Pump Up the Fun
Big Stuff
Big Stuff 2
Big Stuff 3
Irving Oil - 2016
Terrible Herbst Oil - 2014
Terrible Herbst Oil - 2015
Terrible Herbst Oil - 2016
Cash in a Flash Super Cash in a Flash Pay Day Boron Bonanza
Cash in a Flash
Super Cash in a Flash
Pay Day
Boron Bonanza
Sohio/Boron - 1967
Sohio/Boron - 1967
Sohio/Boron - 1968
Sohio/Boron - 1969
Clean up with Mobil Super Win-a-Check Twist & Win Win with the Stars
Clean Up With Mobil
Super Win-a-Check
Twist & Win
Win with the Stars
Mobil Oil - 1968
Phillips 66 - 1966
Phillips 66 - 1988
Sohio/Boron - 1970
Jackpot Million Gallon Giveaway $2,900 Every Day The Game of Life
Jackpot
Million Gallon Giveaway
$2,900 Every Day
The Game of Life
Union 76 - 1966
Shell Oil - 2006
Shell Oil - 2008
Shell Oil - 2014
Classic Soul Race To Millions Race To Millions II Double Match For Money
Classic Soul
Race To Millions
Race To Millions II
Double Match For Money
Conoco - 1998
Texaco - 1997
Texaco - 1998
Sunoco - 1968
Money Match Noughts and Crosses Scratch and Win Pump, Scratch, Win
Money Match
Noughts and Crosses
Scratch and Win
Pump, Scratch, Win
BP - 1983 (England)
Esso - 1985 (England)
Esso - 2014 (Singapore)
Esso - 2015 (Singapore)
Match To Win Swipe, Scratch, Win Tiger Cards Galaxy of Prizes
Match to Win
Swipe, Scratch, Win
Tiger Cards
Galaxy of Prizes
Esso - 2016 (Singapore)
Esso - 2016 (England)
Esso - 1966 (Canada)
PKN Orlen - 2015 (Poland)
Scratch and Win Make Merry Bruce's Lucky Deal Match and Win
Scratch and Win
Make Merry
Bruce's Lucky Deal
Match & Win
Shell Oil - 2016 (Palau)
Shell Oil - 1984 (England)
Shell Oil - 1985 (England)
Sunoco - 1982 (Canada)
Shell's Make Money Game Kakadu Safari Game Hockey Stars TV Cash Game Scratch and Win
Make Money
Kakadu Safari Game
Hockey Stars
Scratch & Win
Shell Oil - 1966 (England)
BP - 1991 (Australia)
Esso/Enco - 1983 (Canada)
Statoil ASA - 2014 (Poland)
Make Money Mastermind Star Trek - The Game Strike it Rich
Make Money
Mastermind
Star Trek - The Game
Strike It Rich
Shell Oil - 1984 (England)
Shell Oil - 1984 (England)
Shell Oil - 1991 (England)
Pioneer - 1960s (Canada) (Click to see)
Esso Roadshow '67 Scratch & Win! CalTex Lucky Star CalTex Everyday Winners
Esso Roadshow '67
Scratch & Win!
Lucky Star
Everyday Winners
Esso - 1967 (Canada)
Caltex/Chevron - 2011 (Singapore)
Caltex/Chevron - 2013 (Singapore)
Caltex/Chevron - 2014 (Singapore)
Great Gasoline and Grocery Giveaway Warp Speed Cars We Love Superprix
Great Gasoline and Grocery Giveaway
Warp Speed
Cars We Love
Superprix
Chevron - 1990
Chevron - 2013
Conoco - 1991
BP - 1970s (Canada)
Tiger Tiger Tiger Tiger Tickets Drive in to Win Dallas Oil Game
Tiger Tiger Tiger
Tiger Tickets
Drive in to Win
Dallas Oil Game
Esso - 1967 (Germany)
Esso - 1967 (France)
Shell Oil - 2013 (Barbados)
BP - 1985 (England)
Scrabble Cluedo The Crazy Tear National Parks
Scrabble
Cluedo
The Crazy Tear
National Parks
Mobil Oil - 1984 (England)
Mobil Oil - 1985 (England)
Esso - 1991 (Italy)
Mobil Oil - 1973
Win With the Tiger
Win With the Tiger
Exxon - 1991

Prize-Winning Promotions

Since day one, oil companies have offered prizes and premiums to inspire consumers to fill up at their gas stations. The first modern gas station - a Gulf station in Pittsburg, PA - opened on December 1, 1913 and they gave away road maps on the first day. These promotions attempt to gain an edge over the competition and build customer loyalty. Gas station promotions take many different forms but they all fall into four main categories:

A) Play Our Game and Win a Prize. There are four types of prize games.

Type 1) Collect-and-win, plus instant winners.
Type 2) Collect-and-win, but no instant winners.
Type 3) Collect-for-the-sake-of-collecting (no prizes for collecting the game pieces), but there are instant winners.
Type 4) Instant winners with nothing to collect.

The most successful prize games are the first type. They have two important goals and two game elements to achieve them. The first goal is to get consumers to switch from their current, favorite gas station just once. To accomplish this, the games have an 'instant winner' element so the player has a chance to win a prize on their first visit. The second goal is to get the consumer to come back over and over. This is accomplished with the collect-and-win element. Players accumulate game pieces, one per visit, in hopes of completing a set and winning a prize. Shell's 'Mr. President Coin Game' (1968) is the best example of this type.

The second type - games that lack an 'instant winner' element - are less effective because players have to visit the gas station over and over before they have any chance of winning anything. Shell's 'Americana' game (1965) is one example.

The third type is remarkably successful even though there are no prizes for collecting the game pieces. These games rely primarily on the 'instant winner' element. When you get your game piece, either you're an instant prize winner or you go away empty-handed. However, if the game pieces are interesting, and there is a good chance of completing a set, you may be inspired to come back over and over just for the satisfaction of completing your set (and maybe getting an instant winner game piece in the process). Sunoco's 'Antique Car Coin' (1969) and Shell's 'Presidential Coin Game' (1992) promotions are two very successful examples of this type. Coin and stamp collecting was popular in the 1960s and 1970s and these games capitalized on the collecting mindset of consumers. The problem is that the odds of winning anything in these games is usually about 1-in-60.

The fourth type (instant winners with nothing to collect) are usually scratch-card promotions. Players receive a scratch card at the gas station and some are prize-winning cards. These promotions do not qualify as 'games' in the traditional sense, but neither do the promotions in Type 3. Legally, all four types are regarded as 'games of chance' because there is no skill involved in any of them. They are just marketing campaigns of the oil companies, and the prizes come out of the marketing budget.

Examples of those four prize game types are illustrated above.

B) Win a Prize in Our Sweepstakes. There are two types of sweepstakes promotions.

Type 1) Collect sweepstakes tickets. With every visit the customer receives a pre-numbered sweepstakes ticket. The customer then needs to come back to the station when the winning numbers are posted to see if they have won a prize. Humble Oil's 'Lucky Tiger Money' promotion (1966) is one example of this type.

Type 2) Fill out our sweepstakes form. Traditionally, the forms were to be dropped off at the gas station (or mailed in) and winners were notified after a drawing was held. In recent years, online registration has become the norm - sometimes with a code obtained at time of purchase - and pre-selected winning codes are identified immediately.

Examples of sweepstakes promotions are listed below.


Photocrime Contest White Rose Slogan Shell's Jackpot of Prizes Sinclair Gasoline Sweepstakes
Photocrime Contest
White Rose Slogan
Jackpot of Prizes
Sinclair Gasoline Sweepstakes
Richfield Oil - 1939
Canadian Oil - 1952
Shell Oil - 1958
Sinclair Oil - 1960
Parade of Prizes World of Prizes Tiger In The Tank Lucky Tiger-Money
Parade of Prizes
World of Prizes
Tiger In The Tank
Lucky Tiger-Money
Sunray DX - 1961
Cities Service - 1964
Esso/Enco - 1965
Esso/Enco - 1966
Great Corvette Giveaway Fast Break Dream Lease Rimula Oil
Great Corvette Giveaway
Fast Break
25th Anniversary Dream Lease
Rimula Oil
Mobil Oil - 1985
Ashland Oil - 1985
Mobil Oil - 1999
Shell Oil - 2013

C) Stop in and we'll give you a free gift.

These 'premium' promotions are the earliest type of promotion and continue to this day. The effectiveness, of course, depends on the desirability of the gift. There have been multitudes of these advertising promotions over the years and I don't dare try to compile a list.

Collectible premiums that are part of a set continue to be the most popular; sports cards and sports coins are especially popular. These promotions rely on the psychology of 'the thrill of the chase,' where it is very natural to want to return to the gas station over and over to try to complete the set, even if the completed set is nearly worthless.

D) Collect our loyalty stamps, then trade them in for a prize or discount.

Loyalty stamps ... also known as savings stamps ... were used in gas station promotions as early as the 1930s. With each purchase, stamps were given to customers along with a savings booklet to stick them in. When the booklet (or a portion of it) was filled, the stamps could be redeemed for something of value at the gas station; usually a discount on a purchase. There have been many variations on this theme but they are all designed to build loyalty and reward the customer for multiple purchases.

In 1936 a special type of savings booklet was produced by Liberty Sales System, Inc. and sold to oil companies for their promotions. These booklets were custom printed with the name of the service station (and their products) in them. The booklets, when filled with the gas station's stamps ... either physical stamps or rubber stamp imprints ... could be redeemed for a mystery prize of cash, merchandise, or services. The front of the booklets promenently showed the cash prizes - up to $20.00 - which was a lot for a loyalty reward back then. The amount of the prize was hidden in the cover of the booklet under a riveted panel which was not to be broken until redeemed. Several oil companies used the Liberty booklets in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Liberty savings booklets were well-designed and introduced clever marketing elements that would become commonplace in oil company promotions:

  • They teased the customer with the chance for a substantial prize.
  • It was necessary to return to the gas station over and over to have a chance to win.
  • The prize was concealed in the book and had to be revealed. This had the element of anticipation and surprise - like a scratch-off card.
  • Some booklets contained larger prizes than others - a game of chance.
  • The booklets, which were filled with the oil company's advertising, were designed to be endeared and opened multiple times during the promotion.


1954 Cadillac

A 1954 Cadillac up for grabs in a sweepstakes. I do not know what promotion this was, but the Sohio Standard Station in the background is a clue.



Production Note: The same "INSTANT WINNER" reverse design that was used for the key medallions in Shell's Mr. President Coin Game was also used for Shell's Famous Facts & Faces game, and the first version of Shell's States of the Union game. The Franklin Mint used the exact same dies that they used to strike the Mr. President medallions. The dies were well worn after striking all the Mr. President keys and the wear is obvious on many medallions from these two other games.

Warren G. Harding Winning Coin Fantasy

This is a fantasy image I created in Photoshop
to show what a $5,000 prize-winning Warren G.
Harding medallion may have looked like. A small
quantity of Harding medallions were minted but
it is not known if any still exist. I can't find a
photo of one so I made my own.

Fun and Scary at the Same Time

Many promotional games ran concurrently in the late 1960s (not only by oil companies) and it is a fun challenge to try to keep them all straight. But there is a dark side. Any historic study of oil company promotions exposes the student to an intense, convoluted, powerful industry. Oil companies have continually merged, acquired and rebranded themselves and this is not a game. The legal, political and ethical battles fought behind the scenes are both interesting and frightening. I would surmise that governments and oil companies have shaped civilization over the past 150 years more than anything else; but any such discussion is beyond the scope of this study. The promotional games that showed up at the pump are just a small part of the history - the fun part.

Comments or questions? Send me an email: travelbug, followed by the @ sign, followed by: billjamie.com

1 You did not need to buy gas to get a game coin. No purchase was necessary and you could walk in and get one every day if you wanted.
2 The Franklin Mint produced 1,377,324 'Presidential Hall of Fame' sets. About 600,000 were given away as prizes in Shell's Mr. President Coin Game.
3 It is assumed that the coin in this fuzzy photo is the John Tyler coin. If true, it is the only picture of a John Tyler coin I can find.
4 Prize-winning 'key' game coins now have only collector value.
5 I know of a collector who has 30 of the 39 aluminum game pieces.

Click here to see the Instant Winner Coin Hall of Fame.
Click here to see the game card page.
Click here to see the prize page.
Click here to see the newspaper page.