This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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When it comes to mintage, the 1931-D Mercury dime was the best Mercury dime of what was actually a very good year for the denomination. In fact it stands to reason, as the Great Depression was beginning to have a serious impact on the American economy. When that happens, the mintages of coins frequently go down.
The impact of the Great Depression could be seen very clearly in the Mercury dime totals of 1931. The 1931-D had a very low mintage. The 1931-S was also below 2 million at 1,800,000, and it had been a decade since two Mercury dimes both had mintages below 2 million. That was 1921 and there was a slow economy then as well, leaving the mints to produce Morgan and Peace silver dollars. The rest of the 1931 dimes were produced at Philadelphia and, by the standards of Philadelphia, it too was low mintage at 3,150,000. This made 1931 a very unusual year for dimes with the three facilities combining to produce just over 6 million coins.
Under the circumstances with people having tough financial times, the natural thought would be that the 1931-D would not be heavily saved. In reality, the 1931-D was saved in greater numbers than would be expected. This is seen in today’s Mint State prices of $100 in MS-60, $285 in MS-65 and $375 in MS-65 with full split bands. These prices are not high, especially when you consider the low mintage.
There were a couple of factors that helped produce the greater than average savings of the 1931-D. The first was that there were more collectors, and that meant more dealers interested in saving some extra examples of better dates. That was seen more clearly in the case of the 1931-S Lincoln cent, where there were hoards rumored to be as large as 200,000 pieces of the 1931-S basically because it had a mintage of less than 1 million. The 1931-D did not have a mintage as low as the 1931-S, but it was still small enough to be noticed.
In addition, the collectors and dealers had inspiration and help. There was more information available by 1931 than had been the case just a few years earlier, and by the end of the decade there would be holders to house collections. The government kicked in as well by offering examples of coins still in the vaults for face value and, showing increasing awareness of the collector market. In 1936 it would resume proof sets. The important point about the 1931-D is that if it was still sitting in the vaults, the government was happy to sell it for 10 cents.
Simply put, the 1931-D was relatively easy to acquire in Mint State and there was an ever-increasing number of people who wanted to do exactly that despite the economic depression.
Certainly the number of examples saved in Mint State was still modest as is seen today, but it was higher than we would expect. In the case of circulated examples, as the years passed they were pulled from circulation by new generations of collectors. That is why we see a G-4 at just $8.50 today. Considering the mintage, that too is a low price. Regardless, the 1931-D was saved and, unlike other Mercury dimes, not melted, making it in all grades more available than suspected.