As the Great Depression dug further into the American economy, the need for new coinage plummeted. As a result, the United States stepped back on producing the large amounts of coinage that had been made during the teens and twenties. Only one-cent coins, nickels, and dimes were made in 1931, and there is at least one 1931 issue from each of those denominations that serves as a semi-key or key coin for its respective series.
In the case of 1931 Buffalo nickels, production was indeed way down over the previous year. First, only the San Francisco mint struck any Buffaloes in 1931. Second, that mint made only 1,200,000 nickels in 1931. In fact, only 194,000 were made early in the year, as that was all that was determined necessary to meet commerce demands. However, the Mint Director Mary M. O’Reilly was concerned that people would hoard that year’s crop of Buffalo nickels, so the final mintage for the year was bumped up to 1,200,000.
While the 1931-S Buffalo nickel is among the scarcest in the series as far as mintage, values for the coin aren’t as high as one might think; indeed, many of these coins were preserved in higher grades early on. In Good-4, a 1931-S Buffalo nickel can be bought for around $15. Even in Mint State 60, the value of a 1931-S is only around $65. One can only imagine how valuable 1931-S Buffalo nickels would be today if their early original mintage of 194,000 had been actualized as the final count for that year! With the economy in a tailspin, 1931 would be the last year of Buffalo nickel production until 1934.