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Although many think of the farthing as being a copper coin, the first farthings were incredibly small coins made from silver. For a long time it was though that the first silver farthings were made by the moneyers of Edward I (1272-1307), however five farthings from the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) have now been discovered. [1] These coins would appear to be those authorized in the Patent Rolls (a record of the King of England's 'letters patent' i.e. official correspondence) of the year 1222. [2]

Prior to that time, small denominations were created simply by cutting pennies into halves and quarters. This was made easy by the cross typically found on the reverse of the silver pennies.

Silver farthings are relatively rare nowadays, especially older coins in collectable condition. One of the reasons for the rarity is that they are so small that they were easily lost in their day. They are also very difficult for metal detectors to find. Another reason is that because they were such a small denomination, it is thought that they were not hoarded as much as silver pennies [3] and no large farthing hoards have yet been found. [4]

Old silver farthings are renowned for being difficult to identify accurately. This is generally because the coins are very often either worn, clipped, weakly struck or have been unearthed after centuries underground!

The silver farthing was last produced by the moneyers of Edward VI (1547-1553). Copper farthings were introduced by James I (1603-1625)

Henry III Farthing

The first Farthing to be made was that of Henry III (1216-1272). Only two of these coins have been discovered and they are considered to be trial / experimental pieces. No documentary evidence survives and it is not known to what extent these coins entered circulation. [3]

Edward I Farthing

Edward I's farthing was produced in astonishingly large numbers: Records indicate that over four million were minted! Most of the farthings were issued from the London mint, however they were also minted in Bristol, Berwick, Lincoln, Newcastle and York. Few of these coins have survived, and farthings from the provicinal mints are much less commonplace. As the coins are so small, they are not as highly priced as other denominations and even the rarer varieties are therefore within reach of many collectors.

As with the halfpennies of Edward, the name of the mint is inscribed on the legend of the coins reverse: CIVITAS LONDON or LONDONIENSIS = London Mint; VILLA BRISTOLLIE = Bristol; CIVITAS LINCOL = Lincoln; NOVICASTRI = Newcastle; CIVITAS EBORACI = York; VILLA BEREVVICI = Berwick. Sometimes these reverse legends contain errors or may be otherwise illegible.

Edward II Farthing

Edward II produced farthings from Berwick and London mints. Both these coins are rare, and are often found in poor condition, therefore being difficult or perhaps even impossible to identify exactly. One of the distinguishing features of the Edward II coins from the Edward I coins is that the "N's" of London are "unbarred" in the Edward II coins. [3]

Later Silver Farthings

Silver farthings continued to be made throughout the late medieval period, varying little in size or essential nature. The last silver farthings were made during the "third period" coinage of Edward VI and these coins, like many of his other coins, were base metal. Owing to reductions in the amount of metal in coins, by the time of Elizabeth the silver farthing was simply too small to be struck and far too easy to lose.

Many of the old farthings are very rare and difficult to obtain nowadays - notably those of Richard II (1377-1399), Henry IV (1399-1413), Henry V (1413-1422), Edward IV (1461-1470), Richard III (1483-1485),Henry VII (1485-1509), Henry VIII (1509-1547) and Edward VI. Most of them, in other words!

Farthing - References:

[1] http://www.coins-of-the-uk.co.uk/farth.html
[3] Coincraft's Standard Catalogue of English and UK coins
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farthing_(British_coin)

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