Learn Grading: What Are 5FS and 6FS?

Posted on 8/14/2018

NGC’s designations allow collectors to delve deeper into the Jefferson Nickel series.

NGC uses a numeric grade to succinctly describe a problem-free coin's condition. Certain coins, however, require a more nuanced description of their condition and appearance. For these coins, NGC graders follow the numeric grade with a range of designations, often called "Strike Characters."

The NGC grade for this 1949-D Nickel includes the 5FS (5 Full Steps) designation.

The Jefferson Nickel, introduced in 1938, is one of the longest-running series in US history. With the exception of the 2004 and 2005 Westward Journey designs, the reverse has featured Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia estate.

The steps of Monticello on a Jefferson Nickel are often weakly struck on circulation issues (i.e., Mint State issues). Coins that have more sharply struck steps are more desired by collectors, who term these coins “full steps.”

Since 2004, NGC has used the 5-Full Steps (5FS) and 6-Full Steps (6FS) designations for qualifying Jefferson Nickels. These designations are only used with MS (Mint State) Jefferson Nickels. Proof coins are generally expected to have full steps.

Note: 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.

LEFT: Reverse of 1972-D Nickel, graded NGC MS 66 5FS (NGC's 5 Full Steps designation). RIGHT: Reverse of 2000-D Nickel, graded NGC MS 67 6FS (NGC's 6 Full Steps designation).
Click images to enlarge.

The 5FS and 6FS strike characters can also be combined with the other strike characters for "PL" (for Prooflike) and "DPL" (for Deep Prooflike). The full list of strike characters used for Jefferson Nickels is as follows:

CENSUS LABEL DESCRIPTION APPLICABLE COIN TYPES
(how the strike character appears in the NGC Census) (how the strike character appears on the NGC label) (a verbal description of the strike character) (the types of coins to which it applies)
5DP 5FS DPL Five Full Steps, Deep Prooflike Jefferson Nickels Only
5FS 5FS Five Full Steps Jefferson Nickels Only
5PL 5FS PL Five Full Steps, Prooflike Jefferson Nickels Only
6DP 6FS DPL Six Full Steps, Deep Prooflike Jefferson Nickels Only
6FS 6FS Six Full Steps Jefferson Nickels Only Jefferson Nickels Only
6PL 6FS PL Six Full Steps, Prooflike Jefferson Nickels Only

Coins with certain strike characters are often more highly prized by collectors. As a result, strike characters are separated on different lines for each coin in the NGC Census to give a better understanding of its relative rarity. The NGC Price Guide also lists the 5FS and 6FS designations separately. NGC assigns these strike characters automatically as part of its normal grading process for no additional fee.

Interestingly, “full steps” Jefferson Nickels are easier to find early in the series, before the quality of striking dropped significantly starting in 1950. (To learn more from a 2013 column by Jeff Garrett, click here.) By the late 1980s, the coin’s relief was lowered, resulting in consistently sharper strikes.

Since 1966, the letters FS have appeared on the nickel below Jefferson’s portrait on the obverse. These letters have nothing to do with the steps designations; they stand for Felix Schlag, the designer of the Jefferson Nickel.

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