Coins of England and Great Britain

('Coins of the UK')

by Tony Clayton

Fractional Farthings

Royal Mint Sets <<-- : -->> Farthings

Values of Fractional Farthings
Pictures of Fractional Farthings

Go To: Third Farthing; Half Farthing; Quarter Farthing


The present pound is divided into 100 pence, but this has only been so since 1971, when over a thousand years of history was transformed on D-day (Decimalisation Day).

Originally the pound consisted of 20 shillings each of 12 pence, the abbreviation for which, d, came from the denier of Charlemagne, which in turn came from the Roman denarius.

The early pennies were often cut into half (halfpenny) or quarters (farthing, derived from the Anglo-Saxon 'feorthling'), and until 1827 the farthing was the smallest denomination of British coin.

British coins circulated in many parts of the British Empire, where they often used alongside other coinage systems. In addition, the standard of living and the price of food and other goods in some colonies were often much less than in the United Kingdom. Consequently a need for smaller denominations than the farthing became evident.

Another need was to provide coins equivalent to denominations already in use.

The Third Farthing

The first of the fractional farthings to be issued was the third-farthing, which throughout the period of issue from 1827 to 1913 was minted solely for use in Malta. The island used British coins, but the grano, dating from before British rule, was valued at a twelfth of a penny. As a result the decision was made to coin the equivalent in a British denomination.

The Copper Third Farthing

The design of the copper half farthings for George IV, William IV, and Victoria show a standard portrait on the obverse, while the reverse shows Britannia facing right seated with a shield and trident. They weigh about 1.57g and have a diameter of 16mm.

The 1844 copper third-farthing of Victoria comes in two varieties. A few rare versions have RE rather than REG on the reverse, but Peck considers these to be late Mint strikings not issued for circulation.

The Bronze Third Farthing

In common with the other larger denominations, a switch to bronze was made in 1860. The reverse design was changed to show the inscription ONE THIRD FARTHING with the date below, surrounded by a laurel wreath with crown above. The obverse has a portrait of the Queen quite unlike that on any other UK coin.

These small coins weigh about 0.9g and have a diameter of 15mm, and are thus the lightest bronze coins in the British series. Many varieties exist, but Peck does not give a detailed listing of these.

None of the bronze coins are scarce, and those issued by Edward VII in 1902 and George V in 1913 used to be reasonably often found in mint state.

The Half Farthing

This was issued a year later than the third farthing for use exclusively in Ceylon. However, in 1842 it was made legal tender in the UK despite much criticism for being far too small a denomination. The series lasted until 1869 when the coin was demonetized, the last date issued for circulation being 1856. They were generally treated as curiosities, and weigh about 2.4g with a diameter of 18mm. All are copper except for the 1868 proofs.

The design of the half farthings for George IV and William IV show a standard portrait on the obverse, while the reverse shows Britannia facing right seated with a shield and trident (Click here for an image of an 1828 George IV half farthing, courtesy of Spink).

Those issued by Victoria have a reverse which reads HALF FARTHING with a crown above and the date below. Below that there was a rose with three leaves for the issue of 1839, which was changed to a rose, thistle and shamrock thereafter when the coin became valid throughout the UK. The obverse for the Victorian coins is identical to that of the Maundy Fourpence.

Bronze and cupronickel proofs dated 1868 was made in the same design, but none of that date were issued for circulation.

The vast majority of issued coins are dated 1844, and this is certainly reflected in dealers' stocks.

The proof versions issued in 1853 proof sets had coin rather than medal orientation of the reverse, although medal reverse proofs are known.

There is an interesting and very collectable variety of the 1844 coin where the E of REGINA had clearly been mis-stamped N originally (click here for a more detailed image). The 1851 over 5851 and 1851 over 1801 varieties are less popular and much more elusive.

The Quarter Farthing

The quarter farthing was issued for use only in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) between 1839 and 1853, and was never legal tender in the UK. However, they are usually considered to be part of the British coin series, as Ceylon used British currency at that time.

They have the smallest sized diameter of all copper British coins, having a diameter of 13.5mm and weighing just 1.2g. Besides the copper circulation issues of 1839 and 1851-3, bronze and cupronickel proofs dated 1868 are also known.

The design is similar to that of the half farthing, but with a reverse which reads QUARTER FARTHING with the date and rose with three leaves below, and a crown above.

They are difficult coins to find in really top quality condition, as the tropical climate in Ceylon caused copper to corrode readily.


See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements.


Royal Mint Sets <<-- : -->> Farthings
Main History Index.
Values of Fractional Farthings.
Values Index.
Pictures of Fractional Farthings.
Pictures Index.

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Coins of the UK - Fractional Farthings
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v33 4th March 2015
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