The Mercury dime set has been seen by many as basically a one-coin set. There is the key 1916-D, and then there are all the others. Those with a wider view might point out that there are the 1942/41 and 1942/41-D, but these are overdates and don’t have to be included in a regular set. A few might point out that the 1921 and 1921-D are also better as they had typical low mintages from 1921, which was the start of required heavy production of silver dollars that lasted up to about 1924. While the mints were busy with silver dollars, while public demand for other denominations fell. The 1921 and 1921-D are better, but not even close to the 1916-D in terms of rarity.
There have been some changes in the Mercury dime rarity rankings, partially due to grading services. Statistics have shown that, while the 1916-D is key in many grades, the 1919-D is actually tougher in the highest grades.
In fact, there are some other interesting Mercury dimes that are not as rare as the 1916-D but have some interesting stories of their own.
The 1931 is typical of dates that perhaps should get more attention, maybe not as significant keys to the set, but as dimes that tell us a good deal about the collecting patterns of the day.
The 1921 and 1921-D reflected a recessionary period. It didn’t hurt that the secretary of the Treasury had decided that making silver dollars was a priority. That was because the dollars were needed to back a new issue of Silver Certificates in order to retire notes backed by short-term notes paying 2 percent interest. The Treasury wanted to stop paying that interest.
There was no such story in 1931, but there was something bigger. The Great Depression was taking hold. We have learned that tough economic times result in lower mintages. It makes sense: economic activity slows, so fewer coins are demanded by the public.
The economic situation had been getting worse since 1929. The first indication of that in Mercury dime mintages was the lack of 1930 mintage in Denver. In 1931 Denver would return to production of Mercury dimes, but with a mintage of only 1.2 million, while San Francisco minted just 1.8 million. The trend was clear in Philadelphia as well, where the mintage was just 3.15 million. That was higher than the other two, but a low total for Philadelphia. In fact, the only smaller Philadelphia mintage for Mercury dimes was the other product of an emergency situation: the 1921.
It’s interesting that even though it was seemingly the worst time to do so, people were still collecting coins. The 1930s would see major growth in collecting, which is reflected in the relatively low prices of the 1931. In G-4 you might expect the current $3.70 listing, but in MS-60 the 1931 is just $33 while an MS-65 with full split bands is $800.
There are dates with lower totals, but when you consider the potential market for MS-65 with full split bands or even MS-65 Mercury dimes, it is clear that the 1931 is an awfully good deal.
The 1931, in the minds of many, is a coin that accurately reflects its time. It was a low mintage date because of the Great Depression, yet is more available than we might expect because coin collecting was popular. If those collectors failed to find MS-65 with full split band examples, that’s because those grades did not exist. That too is a perfect reflection of the time.