As a newer collector, I have a question that I hope someone can
answer. Why are some Jefferson 5-cent coins worth so much more in Mint
State 66 full steps than in regular MS-66? For example, Coin
World’s Coin Values lists a 1956-D 5-cent coin graded MS-66 at
$45 with an MS-66FS example at $3,500. Is this a misprint? Is the
decimal point in the wrong place?
Collectors who specialize in Jefferson 5-cent pieces look to the
reverse to see how well the steps of Monticello are defined. Jefferson
5-cent pieces are often found weakly struck and a weak strike
manifests itself with lumpy steps.
The term “full steps” is a designation that is used when the steps
of Monticello are fully defined.
Professional Coin Grading Service defines “full steps”
(abbreviated typically as “FS”) as occurring on Jefferson 5-cent coins
grading on MS-60 or finer. Specifically, “at least five complete steps
must appear on Monticello. Any steps that join or fuse together,
whether created that way or subsequently damaged, cannot be considered
for the Full Steps designation.”
In 2004, Numismatic Guaranty Corp. began designating two full
steps categories: 5FS for five full steps and 6FS for six full steps.
In a Feb. 1, 2004, press release the firm noted, “Since NGC’s standard
hitherto has been to label as FS only those coins having six complete
steps, any NGC-certified Jefferson Nickel already carrying the FS
designation may be considered to have six full steps.”
Coin World’s Coin Values prices are guided by basic principles of
supply and demand. Jefferson 5-cent pieces of some years are
exceedingly rare with fully struck steps on Monticello. Intense
collector demand means some rare high grade examples with full steps
sell for huge prices.
A 1956-D Jefferson 5-cent piece is generally a common coin with a
mintage of more than 67 million pieces. Examples occasionally surface
in pocket change.
Yet with full steps it is exceedingly rare. PCGS has graded more
than 600 examples of the issue MS-65 and finer, but it has graded
fewer than 40 with full steps, across all grades.
In a 2012 Heritage auction, a PCGS MS-65 full steps 1956-D 5-cent
coin brought $823, while at a 2010 auction one graded MS-66 full steps
realized $2,900. Back in 2007, at a Bowers and Merena auction, one
realized $4,600. To contrast, typical MS-65 examples without full step
designations realize $15 to $20 at auction while MS-66 examples can
realize $40 to $50 when offered.
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