Full-step designations focus on the reverse of Jefferson nickels (1938-present), with the two major holdering companies having slightly different criteria, which most lots on Proxibid, HiBid, and eBay muddle, hyping inferior coins.
Full-step designations bring higher prices, in some cases, dramatically higher ones. Consider the common 1961-D nickel. It has a mintage of 229,342,760. In gem condition without full steps, its PCGS retail value is $28. With full steps, the price rises to $20,000.
Yes, that’s a dramatic case. But in general, any FS designation will increase business strike values substantially in any Jefferson nickel year.
Before we make that case here, let’s view definitions of full steps from PCGS and NGC.
PCGS states: “Full Steps (FS) is the designation following the numerical grade of some regular-strike MS-60 or higher Jefferson nickels that have at least five separated steps (lines) at the base of Monticello. Any major disturbance or interruption of these steps or lines, whether caused by contact, planchet problems, or another source, will result in the coin’s not being designated FS.”
NGC states: “Since 2004, NGC has used the 5-Full Steps (5FS) and 6-Full Steps (6FS) designations for qualifying Jefferson Nickels. Before 2004, 6FS Nickels were recognized with the FS designation. Any coin that received an FS designation by NGC is now treated as 6FS in the NGC Census.”
Both companies caution that any disruption in the steps on the reverse will not earn the coveted FS designation.
PCGS provides crisp photos of full steps:
If those coins were submitted to NGC, the 100% FS would be 6FS, and the minimum one would be 5FS.
Here is one of my submissions that recently earned the FS designation:
This coin, which earned an MS-66FS designation, probably would have been 5 full steps at NGC because of a slight smoothing on the 6th step above the “C” in “Monticello.”
The issue in online bidding on HiBid, Proxibid, and eBay concerns hyped designations or poor photos, or a combination of both.
Here is an example with a good photo hyping double die reverse with full steps:
The 1939 double die is rare and valuable. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a gem and the rare “Doubled Monticello” as depicted below:
The HiBid photo is just too blurry — but not with respect to full steps. This coin simply lacks it.
Here’s the difference between an MS-65 Double Die “Monticello” Reverse 1939 with ($2,600) and without ($1,350) full steps. Also, keep in mind that there are other double die reverses for this particular year (1939 five-cent Reverse of ’40, DDO FS-101, Regular Strike) that are only slightly higher in value than a common 1939 Reverse of 1940.
I just can’t tell from the photo.
The seller provides this description:
“Looks like full steps” is hardly encouraging. In sum, the photo is just not crisp enough to warrant a bid exceeding $100, let alone $1,000. Nevertheless, I assure you that this coin would not earn FS from any of the major grading companies.
Here are two nickels the HiBid seller states have full steps:
I would be surprised if there were one or two steps on these coins.
Also, be wary of sellers who not only claim the full-step designation but post a range of possible values for a coin, as in this example with a subpar photo:
Often you can get good Jefferson nickels in partial double mint sets. Those are boards whose half dollars or quarters have been removed for slabbing, as in this example:
Again, however, you will have to rely on the photos.
In sum, there is too much downside in bidding on a raw Jefferson nickel unless the photos are crisp and the seller is respectable. While bargains can sometimes be had in bidding on raw coins, I recommend slabbed coins that carry the FS designation. You might pay more, but you’ll be getting what you paid for.