US Coins

Readers Ask: What is behind the high value?

A 1956-D Jefferson 5-cent coin with full steps (this piece is graded Mint State 66 full steps by Professional Coin Grading Service) can bring prices that are astronomically higher than coins in the same grading but lacking full steps.

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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?

George Pauley

Berlin, Conn.

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.

Coin World’s Readers Ask department does not accept coins or other items for examination without prior permission from Coin World. Readers Ask also does not examine error or variety coins. Materials sent to Readers Ask without prior permission will be returned unexamined. Please address all Readers Ask inquiries to or call 800-673-8311, Ext. 172.

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