A History of the Farthing
The farthing coin has played a significant role in the history of British currency and is a coin that dates back as far as the 13th Century. This coin is coveted by many, but what makes it so appealing and why did it go out of circulation? Our guide explores the history of this fascinating coin and offers insight into its value and unfortunate decline.
If you’re interested in learning more about unique coins, our guide on the rarest coins in the world features some fascinating insight for numismatists and collectors alike.
The farthing coin
Known as the smallest denomination of British currency for centuries, the farthing coin can be traced back to the reign of Kind Edward I. During this period, the silver coin was known as a ‘fourthing’ which was symbolic of its worth as one-fourth of a penny.
Over time, the farthing transformed significantly and by the 17th century, it had become a copper coin, instead of silver, and was further reduced in size. Fast forward a couple more centuries and in the 19th century, the farthing was a common denomination used in everyday transactions.
Farthing coin designs
Just as the coin changed significantly in size, throughout history the designs on this special coin have also changed in keeping with the reigning monarchs of the time. Initially, the farthing depicted a figure of Britannia, but this was later changed to an image of a wren, symbolising the smallest British bird placed on the British coin with the smallest value.
Small in size, the farthing coin was only 10 millimetres in diameter and weighed only slightly more than 0.4 grams. It was the smallest coin in circulation until 1960, except for a period of 27 years in the 19th century when a half farthing was created.
Farthings were struck in silver before the first copper farthings were issued during the reign of King James I. In the late 17th century, farthings were also minted in tin.
How much is a farthing worth?
In its time of circulation, the farthing coin was worth one-fourth of a penny and before decimalisation, there were 240 pennies to a pound. In today’s money, this would mean that a farthing would have a value of 0.10 pence.
When did farthings go out of circulation?
The farthing coin ceased to be legal tender in Britain on January 1st, 1961. It was phased out of circulation 10 years prior to the decimalisation of the currency system in the UK in 1971, however, the coin continued to be used overseas until 1970.
There are many reasons why a coin goes out of circulation, and for the farthing, inflation during the 1950s decreased the coin’s value. People no longer accepted payments made up entirely of pennies, therefore its popularity declined alongside its value.
Collecting farthing coins
Due to their fascinating and rich history, farthings are extremely collectable coins, therefore their worth is much higher than their monetary value. Many rare and unique farthings are worth a significant amount of money, selling anywhere between £200 and £2,000.
Rare farthings include:
- James II farthings – 1685 & 1686 are particularly rare, selling upwards of £2,000 when highly graded.
- Richard III farthing – 1483-1485 One farthing coin was minted during the reign of Richard III featuring the inscription RICAR DI GRA REX. This coin is extremely rare.
- Only one rare farthing was minted during the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509) and struck at the London mint. This coin features HENRIC DI GRA REX inscribed around the king’s bust on the design of the coin, distinguishing it from earlier Henries.
- Many farthings minted during the reign of William and Mary are believed to be extremely rare, with 1690 and 1692 editions worth more than £3,000.
Whilst these coins may be difficult to obtain unless you have an extremely large budget and are a keen coin collector, there are other special farthing coins that are easier to add to your collection. Look for coins that are highly graded, or speak to a professional for advice on coin grading.
If you’d like to explore more about coin collecting, discover our guide on how to start your own coin collection and own a curated piece of history.
Farthings as gifts
For many, owning rare and unique coins is a wonderful way to express their personal interests and hobbies. Coins also make special gifts that act as keepsakes and reminders of special occasions, perfect for any occasion and event.
Farthing coins make extraordinary gifts, especially with their fascinating history and significant presence within the British currency system. Our collection of farthing coin gifts, whether set in a farthing coin necklace or a farthing coin keyring make for a practical yet stylish and symbolic gift that friends and family are sure to admire.
Not just gifts for the present day, farthing coin gifts make for extraordinary heirlooms that can be treasured and passed down to future generations. Our collection can be personalised with specific dates and years that hold special meaning to you, turning these coins that are already steeped in history, into pieces to be coveted and admired for years to come.
Whether you’re searching for a sentimental and personalised gift or have a specific occasion in mind, like a wedding, a Christening or even a retirement, our collection of farthing coin jewellery and accessories is suitable for any gifting event.
If you’re interested in learning more about old British coins and understanding their exciting journey through time, explore our guide to the silver sixpence and read about its long and unique history.
The farthing coin may have been small in stature and value, but its historical journey is rich and fascinating. From its humble beginnings as a silver ‘fourthing’ to its diminutive copper form, the farthing played a unique role in British commerce for centuries. Today, it lives on through the passionate collectors who appreciate its charm and historical significance, and for those who covet a unique coin gift, symbolic of their numismatic interests.