The year 1992 marked an important milestone for coin collectors who longed for the return of 90% Silver Roosevelt Dimes, Washington Quarters, and Kennedy Half Dollars. For the first time since 1964, those three series were produced in 90% silver compositions and included in special proof sets. Numismatic historians see at least two milestones with the release of the 1992 Silver Proof Sets. Not only do they mark the return of 90% Silver Roosevelt Dimes, Washington Quarters, and Kennedy Half Dollars following a 28-year hiatus, but these sets also ushered in a new era of high-content numismatic silver coinage – something many younger numismatists and modern coin collectors simply can’t fathom going without.
United States Silver Coins Struck From 1965 Through 1991
To be sure, the 1992 Silver Proof Sets were not the first silver products released by the United States Mint since 1964; to reiterate they marked the release of the first 90% Silver Roosevelt Dimes, Washington Quarters, and Kennedy Half Dollars in nearly three decades. A quick glance through the annals of modern numismatic history reveals several other types of silver coins were produced by the United States Mint between 1964 and 1992.
These include the 40% Silver Kennedy Half Dollars struck with a special mint set finish from 1965 through 1967, business strikes of 1965 through 1970, and proofs produced from 1968 through 1970. Meanwhile, Proof and Uncirculated Eisenhower Dollars were offered in 40% silver clad compositions from 1971 through 1974, followed by the 40% Silver 1776-1976 Bicentennial Quarters, Half Dollars, and Dollars struck in 1975 and 1976.
The first 90% silver coins made in 18 years were offered in 1982 with the George Washington 250th Anniversary Half Dollar, the first United States commemorative coin made since 1954. This first modern-era 90% silver commemorative launched a series of many other commemoratives, including dollar coins and gold coinage that continues today.
The Opening of a New Silver Era
The new 1992 Silver Proof Sets were made possible by way of Public Law 101-585, which was signed by President George Herbert Walker Bush on November 15, 1990 and authorizes the United States Mint to issue 90% Silver Proof Sets. The U.S. Mint capitalized on its 200th anniversary in 1992 as an opportunity to release these first new silver proof sets and did so in gala fashion.
“Reintroducing An Old Favorite” reads the header of the glossy brochure released by the U.S. Mint in 1992 to advertise the first new silver proof sets since 1964. The new 1992 Silver Proof Sets were offered in two options – a simple five-coin lens housed in cardboard sleeve or a more deluxe offering with the same five-coin lens in a special display case. The 1992 Silver Proof Set with the basic cardboard sleeve was issued at an introductory price of $18, while the 1992 Premier Silver Proof Set was originally offered for $29.50. Introductory pricing ended on June 30, 1992, with prices going up to $21 for the basic proof set and $37 for Premier option.
Either way, both 1992 Silver Proof Set options provide collectors with the same five coins, including a 1992-S Proof Lincoln Cent, 1992-S Proof Jefferson Nickel, 1992-S 90% Silver Proof Roosevelt Dime, 1992-S 90% Silver Proof Washington Quarter, and 1992-S 90% Silver Proof Kennedy Half Dollar. Even with silver prices hovering around $4 per ounce in 1992, collectors still clamored to spend $20 or more on buying these special proof sets – the first of their kind in a generation. The U.S. Mint sold 1,009,586 of the basic 1992 Silver Proof Sets, while 308,055 of the 1992 Premier Silver Proof Sets were distributed.
Silver Proof Sets Became A Modern-Day Staple
The Bicentennial of the United States Mint in 1992 was a major occasion that was widely celebrated in the numismatic hobby. One of the lasting legacies from that jubilant period that we still enjoy today are the many wonderful silver numismatic products that have since been issued. In the years after 1992, the U.S. Mint catalog – the printed booklet and eventually the online version – became filled with a variety of silver options appealing to a wide variety of collectors.
Since 1992, countless new United States Mint products have been released containing at least one example of a regular-issue, circulating United States coin in a beautiful silver format of 90% fineness or purer. Given the incredible success of the silver coin programs since the early 1990s, the 1992 Silver Proof Set and its coinage serves an important place in the cabinets of the modern collector if not as a rarity (which it is not) then as a symbolic opening chapter for the diverse United States Mint product offerings with which collectors today have become fondly familiar.
- “Silver Price History.” SilverPrice. March 18, 2020.
- “The 1992 Silver Proof Set” (Brochure). The United States Mint. United States Government, 1992.
- Yeoman, R.S. and Kenneth Bressett. A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing, 2019.