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Royal Farthings

The Royal or State farthings are the ones that were issued by the reigning authority. The 'Official' currency, if you will. For most of the history of Britain, this authority was the monarch, thus the term Royal. There were, however, several pattern farthings struck during the time of the Commonwealth and Protectorate (14 Feb 1649 - 24 May 1659) for which the term Royal would not apply! Because of this, the term State is also used. For privately issued farthing tokens see the Tokens Section.

The Royal Farthings are broken into three main categories or Groups:

  1. Henry III - Edward VI (small silver)
  2. James I, Charles I, and the Commonwealth/Protectorate (small copper, many patterns in pewter)
  3. Charles II - Elizabeth II (larger copper and bronze pieces, the more recognizable farthing)
Group 1 - The first farthings were small silver pieces dating from 1222. These first farthings were struck under Henry III in about 1222 with only a few examples known, all struck in London. After a hiatus, farthings were once again struck, these being the more common long cross types, weighing 6.65 grains and first struck in 1279 during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) at the time of his second coinage. Prior to these, silver pennies were cut into halves or quarters to make necessary change. The farthing of Henry III, though, was the first that was struck with the intent of being of the value of a quarter-penny. The silver weight of the first issues was 0.0130 troy ounce, but by the time the last of these silver farthings was issued in the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) the weight had decreased to only 0.0021 troy ounce. Because of the light silver weight, the size was necessarily small and the coins range about 8 to 11 millimeters.

Group 2 - The farthing ceased to be struck for many years and tokens and counters were used to fill the need of small-value coins. Experiments were made under Elizabeth I (1558-1603) but no official coins issued. Finally under James I (1603-1625) farthings struck in base metal were first issued, and these, along with those of his successor, Charles I (1625-1649), and the Commonwealth, make up the second type or category.

Group 3 - Including several trials and patterns, the final category was first issued under Charles II and came to feature the familiar Britannia seated reverse which was on most current farthings until the time of George VI, when she was replaced with a wren. This Group was struck until 1956, during the reign of Elizabeth II, when the farthing had become of such little value that it was no longer issued.

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