The Denver Mint reconfigured its entire production floor in 1953 so that all manufacturing steps occurred in sequence and on the same floor of the facility. The metal was to be brought in as raw ingots on one end and taken out as finished coins on the other.
However, due to a slashing of Mint staff from 3,736 workers in 1945 to 1,272 in 1950, the overall quality of the coins produced during the early ’50s declined sharply. It was certainly not uncommon to have weak strikes on most coins, including the Jefferson nickel.
Continuing along this negative trend line, in 1953 the Mint once again failed to maintain high production standards. As such, it is comparatively rare to find high-grade nickels with Full Steps from the 1950s. Nevertheless, the Denver facility was able to produce coins of comparatively high quality in 1953. When combined with a general scarcity of nickel used to manufacture the blank planchets (which forced a general decline in the number of coins struck in the early 1950s), this lowered the number of high-grade examples available to collectors. In total, the Denver Mint struck just under 60 million nickels, just 51.1% of the next year’s issuance of 117,183,060 pieces.
The 1953-D Jefferson Nickel in Today’s Market
Since these coins are quite common, low-grade examples command no real premium over face value. Even mid to high-grade examples are generally worth only face value. It is in Gem Mint State and higher that the 1953-D becomes valuable. In MS 64, these coins sell for an average of $14, and in MS 65 they sell for an average of $18. Specimens graded MS 66 jump slightly to an average price of $22 and are still relatively easy to locate. In MS 67,the highest recorded grade, these coins skyrocket in value to an average of $400. The true value for this type however comes with the Full Steps designation.
To earn the designation of Full Steps, a Jefferson nickel must meet the following criteria:
In this graphic, you see that the steps, located on the design between the stylobate, a flat pavement section on which rest the four front columns of the design, and the foundation block at the base of the steps. Factors such as die condition, striking pressure, and incidental contact with other coins, play a significant factor in whether a Jefferson nickel will earn the Full Steps designation.
NGC and PCGS report a total combined population of 263 coins with the Full Steps designation. In MS 64, this equates to roughly a 7x premium over coins with a standard grade. Collectors should be ready to spend roughly $100 for a coin in this grade. In MS 65, Full Step coins are worth $160, or a 9x premium over the standard version. One grade higher in MS 66, the premium peaks at 24.5x; these coins cost an average of $540 and are quite rare. Lastly, the top population MS 67 Full Steps coins are worth an average of $4,500. The auction record of $15,275 was set in a 2016 Heritage Auctions sale by an MS 67 FS.
Jefferson Nickel Design
A left-facing bust of President Thomas Jefferson, including a colonial-era pigtail and strikingly similar in detail to the profile of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1789 bust, takes up the majority of the obverse. The top of his head almost touches the rim, and the barest of truncations is visible at the bottom where Jefferson’s left shoulder meets the edge of the coin. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST arcs clockwise along most of the length of the left side of the coin, starting from Jefferson’s chest and extending to his hairline. The inscriptions LIBERTY and the date 1953 run clockwise along the right side behind Jefferson. A small five-pointed star divides the two inscriptions
The reverse features a front view of Monticello, Jefferson’s mansion near Charlottesville, Virginia. The polymath Jefferson designed the neoclassical building himself, based on architectural principles from the Italian Renaissance; the name “Monticello” comes from the Italian for “mound” or “little mountain”. The building loses much of its dimensionality in the flattened rendering, but the octagonal nature of the dome can still be interpreted, and better strikes reveal significant detail in the steps and portico.
Atop the reverse is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (“Out of Many, One”). The name MONTICELLO–the placement of which on the coin was one of the revisions forced upon designer Felix Schlag by the Mint–is found in a straight line immediately under the building; the positions and spacing of the other inscriptions had to be adjusted to make room for it. The denomination FIVE CENTS forms a gently curving line beneath that, and the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA runs counterclockwise along the bottom edge of the coin. A small mint mark “D” is found to the far right of the mansion.
Interestingly, Felix Schlag’s initials did not appear on a Jefferson nickel until 1966.
The edge of the 1953-D Jefferson Nickel is smooth.
Felix Schlag was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1891. After receiving an education at the Munich University of Fine Arts, he moved to the United States in 1929. Schlag died in 1974. Yet while he did win numerous art contests and commissions throughout much of the remainder of his life, the Jefferson Nickel was his only coin design.
|Year Of Issue:||1953|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||75% Copper, 25% Nickel|
|OBV Designer||Felix Schlag|
|REV Designer||Felix Schlag|