Coins Certified as of 11/24

Building a 1956 Mint Set: As Complex As You Make It

Mitch Spivack may have a permanent lock on the number one spot on PCGS Set Registry, but that shouldn't dissuade you from taking a crack at this mid-century modern set, especially since there are so many great coins to choose from. A PQ set with a rating of 67.208 (good enough for fourth place) can be bought for less than fifteen hundred dollars, or built for considerably less than that if you have a keen eye and considerable patience.

But even if a world beating set isn't your goal, putting together a cool set of toned gems at an affordable price makes this year a great choice for those just starting out in modern coins. For this week's eZine, Hubert and I take a look at PCGS 1956 Mint Set Registry Set and help you know what to expect on the way to building an awesome set.

Top 10 (Budget)

Top 5

Number 1

$438 (forgo strike attribution, focus on color and eye appeal)

Less than $1,250 (forgo the 1956-D full step nickel)

$8,275 minimum (requires two four figure coins - 1956 MS67RD and 1956-D in MS67 are the cheapest)

The 1956 Double Mint Set

By today's standards, the 45,475 mint sets manufactured by the U.S. Mint in 1956 is a miniscule amount. Compare that number to 392,000, the last reported mintage numbers for the 2012 Mint Set (which is sure to see strong secondary market demand due to the fact that it had the lowest mintage numbers since 1962), and you get a sense of just how underappreciated this issue can be in today's market.

Coin storage media from this period created a dazzling array of color for many surviving examples, giving collectors who enjoy color equal consideration to those who enjoy blast white silver and original copper and nickel coins. The number of extant original sets has dwindled in recent years, and with many already broken up to farm high-end toners, a majority of the sets that remain likely contain B-grade material. Any set that even hinted at high mint state Franklins or Washington quarters has probably already been taken off the market, but the very few that are left command a healthy premium over the typical milquetoast set.

In theory, it's a simple set to assemble. But the 1956, like most 1950s date sets, does offer some complexity both in terms of color and completeness of strike. These factors provide the collector an array of challenges, especially for those looking to assemble a top three set in original brilliance. For those looking for color, 1956 is awash in it. PCGS Coinfacts shows a gallery of fantastically toned specimens, from rainbow Lincoln cents to fluorescent Full Bell Line Franklins.

Here's a coin-by-coin breakdown of how the 1956 Mint Set plays out.

Lincoln Cent

Wheat cents from the '50s, especially circulated ones, have long been the bane of "unsearched roll" hunters. In Mint State, the coins have only marginal value in the raw and in certified grades below MS-67 (this despite the fact that P-Mint coins are uncommon in grades above MS-65). But, oh! What a difference between 66 and 67. An April 2012 Heritage auction saw a sharply struck 1956 Philly strike sell for $4,300 with the juice. That example had prominent hits on the forehead and immediately to the right of Lincoln's eye line and was starting to mellow, color wise. One of our favorite examples, once owned by Jack Lee, sold in 2008 for $3700. We imagine it would likely leapfrog over the $4,300 price rather easily if it went to market today.

The conditionally-rare grade MS-67 aside, Hubert and I like the idea of building a great set with MS-66+ Red Lincoln cents serving as the anchor. To this date, PCGS has certified three examples in this midgrade. One fantastic example was sold by Heritage in August of last year for $528, an 11x increase over MS-66RD. The law of averages dictates (as does common sense) that a number of already-made 66's would upgrade to 66+, which gives an eagle-eyed Lincoln cent specialist a profitable opportunity to upgrade at a fraction of the cost of a new coin. Expect this meme to persist for the next couple of years as pre-plus material streams into the marketplace.

1956-D cents consistently come nicer than their Philly counterparts. Evidence of this is borne out in the almost 2:1 ratio in which Denver-minted cents have been submitted to PCGS for grading. For this issue, the perception of scarcity of high-end 66s seems to affect PCGS's pricing guidance of $140, which is effected in part by the population of 15 coins at this grade. We feel this is low and that there's still plenty of opportunity at the 66+ level for collectors to not only improve their registry set rankings (if that's your goal) but to also have a coin with slightly more upside than the now common example in a PCGS 66RD holder.

We also like attractively-toned cents from both mints in 66RB. It seems that the descriptor is really a misnomer for what's going on with the coin's surface. Coinfacts shows a number of exceptionally colored pieces, most of which grade MS-65. If you want to build a set based on the appearance of a premium-conditioned set pulled out of double mint set paper packaging, this grade is ideal for staying true to the concept.

Jefferson Nickel

If you seek out a Full Step example from 1956, you'll likely choose to go for the Philly strike, which is more common in MS-66 than the 1956-D Five Full Step Jeff is in all grades combined. Bernard Nagengast estimates that in every roll of 1956-P nickels, up to four of them will have five full steps.[1] Of course, who knows how many rolls you'd have to go through to find a second example to put in a PCGS MS-67FS holder? You'd be better off trying to cherry a top-tier 66 and upgrading it. PCGS' pop reports suggest that 45 66's exist. We believe this is an inflated number based on resubmits, since the price jumps from about $400 at 66 to $10,000 (suggested) for the 67. If the actual number of 66s were known to be substantially less than the posted 45, we think the price of the 66 could hit $600, with the hypothetical 66+ being a $1,000 to $1,500 coin at auction.

The 1956-D in Full Steps is a coin for series specialists only. In gem, a five-stepper is downright elusive, with PCGS certifying fewer than 40 in all grades. The coin jumps at multiples of three from 64 to 65 and then by another multiple of three by the time you get to the population of six graded MS-66 FS. Non-Full Step coins in PCGS holders are clustered around MS-65, with slightly more pieces grading 66 than 64. These pieces, no doubt, have been cherry picked for quality and are not representative of the overall quality of the issue, which has characteristic 1950s mushiness and typically come in MS-63 to MS-64.

Roosevelt Dime

The 1956 Roosevelt dime is another issue where Denver outperforms Philly in terms of the strength and clarity of strike. The quality of Philadelphia issues was a consistent problem throughout the fifties. Only one branch mint dime is tougher to find in MS-67FB, that being the 1953-S. Meanwhile, the 1953, 1955, 1957 and 1958 Phillies are even tougher to find in superb gem with full bands (one wonders how this series would shape up if the Roosevelt dime garnered the attention it deserves).

The diminutive Roosevelt dime is particularly susceptible to dark rim toning, but colorful pieces, especially those in blue and green hues, are available. The 1956-D in MS-66FB is a common coin that sells for under $20 unless it has great color. The 1956-P, on the other hand, will sell for between $110 and $200 at this grade. 67FB coins for both are offered once or twice a year, with the Philly strike commanding a sharper premium despite its similar population, due in large part to the oversaturation of certified coins in 66FB.

Washington Quarter

The 1956-D quarter is the one piece in this set that will give color connoisseurs the most problems. There are a number of great toners in this issue, mostly from mint sets, but by and large a majority of the high-end coins from this issue have splotchy toning. The few great toners that exist can command a premium over the soft price of $30 to $40 for MS-66. MS-67 coins are considerably tougher, with only 16 graded to date. If you buy in at this grade, be patient and use good judgment. You should be able to gauge the strength of the coin based on the way bidding is going. There are no discounts for top-tier '56-Ds.

The population of certified coins from this issue is lower than you'd expect, considering that the 56-D isn't rare. We chalk it up to a general haziness and blandness characteristic of the issue. A similar thing happens to the 58-D as well.

The 1956, on the other hand, tends to be a much better coin. PCGS has graded a few brilliant pieces and dozens of beautifully toned examples in MS-67. Quarters from '56 are known for fantastic color. Unlike their Denver counterparts, you have plenty to choose from. It's our opinion that MS-67 pieces are undervalued in the current market (they can be had for a $100 premium over MS-66). Even with fantastic color, you can generally win an MS-66 for under $50 at auction (some dealers expect much more, but will back off if you are a sound negotiator).

Franklin Half Dollar

The 1956 Franklin half dollar is one of the more accessible dates for well-struck and colorful pieces. PCGS has graded more high-end pieces from this date with full bell lines than lack them; the total non-FB population barely edges out the population of coins PCGS has certified FB.

While PCGS has graded a baker's dozen 1956 Franklins in MS-67FB, we like MS66FB as a coin with great resale value and eye appeal. You probably won' t dethrone five-time PCGS award winner Mitch Spivack from his number one spot without a 67, but our experience mirrors that of Rick Tomaska, who says that most of the '56 66FB's he's handled actually have better eye-appeal AND color than the 67FBs. We chalk this up to the luck of the draw. With more than 660 examples in 66FB to choose from compared to a select few 67s, you have a better shot of finding a 66FB to suit your taste. Not to mention that you might save four thousand dollars.

Blue, gold, and red toning is common, but we've seen amazing toners bathed in tangerine, sun yellow, galaxies of aubergine and merlot, as well as gallimaufry russet toning. Most undipped examples are speckled with some color, but expect most brilliant pieces to have been dipped. Obviously it's not always the case, but we're hesitant to overpay for a high-end white example without seeing the piece in hand first.

Pricing Guidance: MS-66FB with fantastic color: $250 and up. A nice MS-67 will command more than $4,000.

[1] Nagengast, Bernard A. The Jefferson Nickel Analyst – 2nd Edition. E & K Cointainer Co., 2002. Print.

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