Fractional Farthings <<-- : -->> The Halfpenny
Values of Farthings
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The silver farthing was a very small coin, and is rarely found as metal detectors cannot usually detect tiny metal items. For many years they were thought to have been minted for the first time in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) but about two examples of this denomination from the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) have been found. No documentary evidence of this coin exists.
Before this farthings were created by cutting a penny into four, thus the name farthing (from fourthing)
The silver farthing was last produced in the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553), having gradually reduced in size until its use became impractical.
This led to a shortage of a denomination which the wealthy producers (the government) did not really need but which the general population did.
Due to a shortage of small coins, James I authorised John Harrington to issue tin coated bronze farthings in 1613, after a number of other proposals had been considered. The initial small issue (12.25 mm diameter), showing two sceptres through a crown on the obverse and a crowned harp on the reverse, was soon superseded by a slightly larger token (15mm diameter) without the tin wash.
Lord Harrington died in 1614, and the title to the patent eventually passed to the Duke of Lennox. The next issues became known as Lennox farthings. They can be distinguished from the Harrington farthings by the fact that in the legend IACO starts at the top (or in one case bottom) rather that just before. Their diameter remained at about 15 mm, although the last issue was oval in shape.
The Duke of Lennox became the Duke of Richmond, but died around 1624. His widow continued to hold the patent, and the first issues of Charles I became known as Richmond farthings. A second patent was issued to Lord Maltravers and others. Maltravers farthings have an inner circle on both sides.
These coins were produced by the interesting technique of rolling a strip of copper between two rollers with the designs set into them, and at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge there is a strip of several of these coins which had not been cut out of the strip.
The problem was that these coins were easy to forge, and before long the public lost trust in them. A new design was introduced with a rose instead of a harp on the reverse, and with a brass plug in the copper which was very difficult to forge. This is known as a Rose farthing.
During the period of the Commonwealth in 1644 issue of these coins was discontinued, and instead this denomination was effected by a large variety of tokens issued by traders or towns.
In the mid-1660's the Royal Mint began to investigate the manufacture of a larger copper farthing - a pattern is known dated 1665 with similarities to the issued coins.
The official copper farthing appeared in 1672, despite difficulties partly overcome by importing blanks from Sweden. It was produced annually until 1675 and again in 1679.
In 1684 the farthing was issued in tin with a copper plug in the centre. This plug is clearly visible in the image of a 1684 Charles II tin farthing. This coin appears not to have a date, but this is because it was inscribed on the edge.
These are scarce coins in as good condition as that illustrated because of tin disease. This is caused by the fact that below 13.2°C the metallic form or allotrope of tin tends to turn into the non-metallic form which appears as a grey powder. Also, tin is soft and wears readily. Tin was chosen to bolster the tin mining industry, and the bimetallic form was intended to discourage forgery (but failed in its purpose as lead copies were made).
Charles II tin farthings dated 1685 are very rare, as the King died on February 6th 1684 (old style) and the new year followed six weeks later.
An illustration of a William and Mary 1690 tin farthing is available. These coins had the date on the edge as well as the reverse, and scarce varieties exist with the two dates differing.
Tin remained in use until 1692, after which copper was used again.
William & Mary reverted to issuing copper farthings for circulation in 1694, although about four 1693 dated coins are known with the old tin farthing obverse. The reason for the change back to copper was that corrosion of the tin was becoming very evident, and they had also proved easy to counterfeit despite the central copper plug.
William III struck farthings up until 1700, but Queen Anne only struck them in the year of her death, 1714. They did not circulate widely, to the extent that rumours started saying that they were of great rarity. Indeed Peck states that they were never officially issued. The 'issued' coins had the reverse in 'coin' orientation, where it is inverted relative to the front, but proofs in 'medal' orientation are known (image courtesy of Spink).
George I struck farthings in 1717 (on a small flan the so-called Dump issue) and annually on a larger flan from 1719 to 1724. A range of varieties exist, and examples of 1719 and 1720 are illustrated, courtesy of Spink. The style of the date numerals can be unfamiliar, and result in an apparently unknown date. Both large and small obverse lettering is known for 1719, 1720 and 1722.
George II struck farthings in most years from 1730 to 1750, and also in 1754. The latter coin continued to be struck until 1763. A young head design was used until 1739, after which an older portrait was used. In 1741 and 1744 GEORGIUS was used rather than GEORGIVS.
Farthings issued from this period up to 1936 all have Britannia on the reverse, although the style varied significantly from time to time. The denomination does not appear until the bronze issues of 1860, and for these early copper coins their face value can only be inferred from their size.
George III came to the throne in 1760. Farthings were struck again in 1771 and 1773-5. Then in 1799 Boulton minted a new design which showed the denomination for the first time for a British coin. Another design, without the denomination, was issued for 1806 and 1807.
A pattern of 1798 is known in 'cartwheel' style.
In 1816 the great British Recoinage started, and initially production was only of gold and silver. In 1821 the farthing was issued once more, and continued every year except 1824, 1832 and 1833 until Victoria came to the throne in 1837. From 1821 until 1860 farthings had a diameter of 22 mm and a weight of 72.9 grains (4.72g)
During the period 1787 to 1797, and again between 1811 and 1812, many private trade tokens were manufactured to fill the gap left by the absence of official small change.
A discussion of these pieces is beyond the scope of this web site, but worn tokens are so common that they have little value.
The following references may be of help if readers wish to pursue the interest further:
The farthings of George IV have two types of obverse differing in the markings on the three lower leaves on the wreath on the bust. Type 1 has single raised lines for the leaf mid-ribs, while Type 2 has incuse midribs. The former is found for issues of 1821, 1822, 1825 and 1826, while the latter was used in 1822, 1823 and 1825. Peck lists the 1825 Type 2 as very scarce. The illustrated 1823 coin has a scarce Roman I rather than a numeral 1, which is actually a 1 over an inverted 1.
During 1826 a new design by William Wyon was introduced, with the date under the King's head. At the same time the orientation of the reverse changed from 'coin' orientation to 'medal' orientation, and all future farthings, other than some proofs, conform to this new arrangement.
The farthings of William IV have two types of reverse differing in the markings on the arms of the saltire. Type A has an incuse line down the arms (1831-1835), while Type B has a thin raised line (1834-1837). Both reverses are found for 1834 and 1835.
Victorian copper farthings were produced every year from 1838 to 1860.
All have the following design:
Obverse: Young head left, VICTORIA DEI GRATIA
around, date below.
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, BRITANNIAR: REG: FID: DEF: around, shamrock rose and thistle below.
There are three obverse types:
Types 2 and 3 both occur in 1853 (Type 3 rare) and 1855. An interesting variety is found in 1851, with the D of DEI over a sideways D. Another in 1856 has the R of VICTORIA over E. There are few overdates, presumably because the obverse dies match those of the sovereign, and it is certain that the obverse dies were switched to farthing production when they started to wear.
In 1860 a switch was made to bronze. Copper farthings dated 1860 are rare, but can easily be distinguished from the much more common bronze farthings of that date as the former have no denomination and the date under the portrait on the obverse rather than below Britannia on the reverse.
Copper farthings were demonetised on 31 December 1869.
In 1860 the metal was changed to bronze and the size reduced from 22 mm to 20 mm diameter, along with a reduction in thickness. The weight was reduced to 43.75 grains (0.1 oz or 2.83g). These dimensions remained the same up to the last issue dated 1956.
All have the following basic design:
Obverse: Young bust left, VICTORIA D: G:
BRITT: REG: F: D: around
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, ship on sea in front, lighthouse behind, FARTHING around, date below.
If present, the mint-mark (H) is below the date.
The following obverse dies are known, according to Peck (Freeman numbers given in brackets e.g. F1):
The following reverse dies are known (Freeman and Peck agree):
The above information is given as a guide only. For more detailed information, along with illustrations, consult a copy of Peck.
Most years are available, the exceptions being 1870, 1871 and 1889. 1877 was only issued as a Proof coin and was struck after that date.
In 1874 to 1876, 1881 and 1882 farthings were also minted at the Heaton Mint in Birmingham, and can be distinguished by a small H below the date. Of these years, the Royal Mint only produced H-less farthings in 1875 and 1881. None were minted in London in 1876 due to a breakdown in the Mint's machinery.
Issued from 1895 to 1901, all have the following basic design:
Obverse: Veiled head left, VICTORIA DEI GRA
BRITT REGINA FID DEF IND IMP around.
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, FARTHING around, date below.
Starting in 1897 it became the practice to darken farthings artificially as they were possible to confuse with the half-sovereign if they had a full fresh bronze lustre. This practice ceased during 1918. A consequence is that it is occasionally possible to pick up almost uncirculated coins of this period at a price associated with a worn coin, as they look like other worn farthings at a casual glance.
Also in 1897 the farthing comes in two versions, with the sea level higher than usual on one, and the same as in other years on the other. The high sea level version is marginally more common. Both exist with bright and darkened finishes.
Issued from 1902 to 1910, all have the following basic design:
Obverse: Head right, EDWARDVS DEI GRA
BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP around.
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, FARTHING around, date below, as for Victoria Old Head design.
The reverse of the 1903 farthing differs from those for other years of Edward VII's reign in that it has a low-tide style matching the Victorian old-head farthings.
Issued from 1911 to 1936, all have the following basic design:
Obverse: Head left, GEORGIVS V DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP around.
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, FARTHING around, date below, initially as for Edward VII.
A change in the obverse of George V farthings took place in 1914, with the words GRA BRITT closer together and the T's further apart. Both varieties are available for 1914.
During 1918 the practice of darkening farthings ceased as gold coins went out of use.
A further change in the obverse took place in 1926, with a modification to the reverse as well.
The Britannia reverse gave way to a picture of a wren designed by Harold Wilson Parker on the accession of Edward VIII in 1936, although examples of these farthings dated 1937 are exceedingly rare.
It was with the accession of George VI that the Wren reverse came into circulation.
Issued from 1937 to 1948:
Obverse: Head left, GEORGIVS VI D: G: BR: OMN: REX F: D: IND IMP around.
Reverse: Wren facing left, date above, FARTHING below.
Issued from 1949 to 1952:
Obverse: Head left, GEORGIVS VI D: G: BR: OMN: REX FIDEI DEF around.
Reverse: Wren facing left, date above, FARTHING below.
There are four varieties of the 1953 farthing, with two obverses and two reverses.
For 1953 only the obverse inscription was ELIZABETH II DEI GRA: BRITT: OMN: REGINA F: D:. However, from 1954 it was changed to ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA F: D:
In its later years the farthing became increasingly little used. At one time the main use was in the purchase of bread, where the price of bread was determined by law after the Second World War. The pound loaf cost an amount involving an odd halfpenny, so the half pound loaf required an amount with an odd farthing!
The last farthing was minted in 1956, and the coin was finally demonetized at the end of 1960.
See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements.
My thanks to Pete Day for the images of the George IV 1821 proof farthing and the two tin farthings.
Fractional Farthings <<-- :
-->> The Halfpenny
Main History Index.
Values of Farthings.
Pictures of Farthings.
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Coins of the UK - 2 - Farthings
Copyright reserved by the author, Tony Clayton
v48 19th January 2013