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No, Not the Initials
June 19, 2008

The job of education is never finished. I had another example of the truth of this statement yesterday from a phone call.

Now, when I receive a phone call, I do not know whether the caller has some numismatic knowledge or no numismatic knowledge. I don't know if he asked for me by name or just somehow got to me because an operator decided I was close enough.

Yesterday's call started out with a fellow talking about Jefferson nickels and wondering if he could find "FS" on "65" nickels.

OK, my brain kicks in. This guy is a collector who has some knowledge and he just misspoke. The designer initials for Felix Schlag were first put on a the Jefferson nickel in 1966 and you could indeed find "FS" at the base of the bust.

I replied that yes indeed you could find "FS" below the bust on nickels from 1966 going forward. Wrong answer.

That wasn't his question. We had begun an Abbott and Costello "Who's on first?" routine.

He continued to seem puzzled and continued to speak.

I asked him what book he was using and what edition. He was using the 2008 Coin Digest. He was on Page 83.

So I went there. It came to be that the "FS" he was referring to was part of the grade head "-65FS." So then we get into a discussion that it stands for Full Steps.

He didn't know Monticello had six steps. But still we conversed in puzzlement. He saw all the high prices that "-65FS" coins commanded and he asked how you could tell if the coins were "-65FS" or not.

That got into a grading discussion. I began speaking of the 70-point scale and MS-65 coins.

He asked if "MS" appeared on the coins anywhere. He also wondered why nickels from 1959 and later had no prices below MS-65 listed in the book.

I replied that they basically do not trade for more than face value and so are not priced.

He responded that the earlier listings had more prices. I said that was true but the prices were for the scarcer dates. He wondered why some dates had prices and others simply had dashes.

The coins with dashes don't have collector values in those grades.

We never reached a satisfactory meeting of the minds. He was trying to determine the value of 20 sets that he said his neighbor, who is now ill, had put together.

I suggested that it might help if he read Chapter 4 on Page 37, which explains how grading works. He said he would take a look at it.

I hope he does, but I came away from the conversation knowing that we had not reached any common reference points in the conversation let alone any understanding.

There is definitely more work ahead for me and for the hobby.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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