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1953-S a sleeper, but full-step key

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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The 1953-S Jefferson nickel is well-positioned to be a sleeper in a set that is seemingly waking up. That could result in strong prices in the future, although at least for the time being the 1953-S remains a good value on a relatively low-mintage Jefferson nickel.

One of the signs that interest in Jefferson nickels is picking up comes from the famous 1950-D, which was the lowest mintage business strike Jefferson nickel. The 1950-D was a sensation in the 1950s and early 1960s, but then went literally decades without moving in price. In the past couple of years, however, the 1950-D has seen price increases in MS-60 and MS-65. That is usually a good sign for Jefferson nickels as the 1950-D seems to be an excellent indicator as to interest in Jefferson nickels, and right now it is showing signs of a change for the better.

In a sense, it’s ironic. If there was a reason for the 1953-S being overlooked at the time it was released, the 1950-D would certainly figure in. With a mintage of 2,630,030 as opposed to the 1953-S mintage of 19,210,900, the 1950-D naturally based on mintage looked like the much more interesting coin to own with much greater potential.

Moreover, at the time the 1950-D was not just looking like the better date based on its mintage. The 1950-D was the talk of the coin market, and it was moving to higher prices. The natural conclusion at the time was that if you could get a roll of either, you certainly wanted that roll to be the 1950-D.

As a result, we have to question just how much saving there would have been of the 1953-S. Moreover, the mint sets of the time ,which would have had the 1953-S and would potentially provide a supply, are of very little help for a couple of reasons. The first is that it was a little too early. The mint set had not really caught on and the 1953 totals show that just 15,538 were sold. Even if most remained today, that total would not help much. However, very few remain today anyway as they were broken up long ago for items like the 1953-S Franklin half dollar.

We do see a small indication that the 1953-S might be a little tougher than other dates from the period. Its current MS-65 price of $2.50 is higher than most dates from the mid-1950s, although just lower than the 1954-S. The price has moved little in recent times and until there is a real increase in interest in Jefferson nickels it would be expecting too much to think that price will suddenly increase dramatically.

One of the problems with the 1953-S is that we suspect it might be better, but that is really hard to document. Like a number of other dates in the period since the 1950s, the lower mintage would seem to point to the date being better but there are really no grading service totals to support that idea. At just $2.50 in MS-65, the 1953-S is not going to be sent in for grading in large numbers unless it has full steps.

That is one of the interesting things about the 1953-S: in MS-65 with full steps, it’s a $1,750 coin and rarely seen. That price and what grading service totals we have make the 1953-S basically the key date Jefferson nickel in MS-65 with full steps. Another interesting point is that the 1953-S Franklin half dollar is much the same, so it may be that in top grades 1953-S coins are ones to watch.

2010 U.S. Coin Digest: Nickels
Straight from the pages of the premiere U.S. coin reference, this downloadable pdf U.S. Coin Digest: Nickles, contains listings, color photos and current pricing.

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