Farthing (British coin)

Last updated

One farthing
United Kingdom
Value1/4d sterling
Mass2.83 g
Diameter20.19 mm
Thickness666 mm
Years of minting1860–1956
Design Elizabeth II
Designer Mary Gillick
Design date1953
British farthing 1951 reverse.png
Design Wren (Britannia on earlier mintages)
Designer Harold Wilson Parker
Design date1937

The British farthing (1/4d) (from Old English fēorðing, from fēorða, a fourth) historically abbreviated qua. (from the Latin quadrans ), [1] was a coin worth 1/960 of one pound, 1/48 of one shilling, or 1/4 of one penny sterling. It was minted in copper and later in bronze, and replaced the earlier English farthings.


The coin was in use during the reigns of eleven monarchs: George I, George II, George III, George IV, William IV, Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II, and in Britain and Northern Ireland ceased to be legal tender on 1 January 1961. [2] However, in the Falkland Islands, the Falkland Islands Dependencies, and the British Antarctic Territory, the farthing remained legal tender until 31 October 1970. [3]

The coin featured two main designs on its reverse during its 250 years in circulation: from the 18th century until 1936, the figure of Britannia; and from 1937 onwards, the image of a wren. Like all British coinage, it bore the portrait of the monarch on the obverse. [4]

Before Decimal Day in 1971, sterling used the Carolingian monetary system, under which the largest unit was a pound divided into 20 shillings, each of 12 pence. Each penny was further divided into 4 farthings, thus a pound contained 960 farthings and a shilling contained 48 farthings.

The purchasing power of a farthing from 1860 to its demise at the beginning of 1961 ranged between 12p and 0.2p in 2017 values. [5]


A British copper farthing succeeded the English farthing after England and Scotland were united into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, although not immediately. Under Queen Anne, a small number of pattern farthings were struck, but none for circulation, as so many English farthings from previous reigns were still available. Some British copper farthings were struck in the reigns of George I and George II. By the accession of George III, in 1760, many counterfeits were in circulation, and the Royal Mint stopped minting copper coins in 1775. The next farthings were the first struck by steam power, in 1799 by Matthew Boulton at his Soho Mint, under licence. Boulton coined more in 1806, and the Royal Mint resumed production in 1821. The farthing was struck regularly under George IV and William IV, by then with a design very like a smaller version of the penny.

Britannia reverse, 1746 GREAT BRITAIN, GEORGE II, 1746 -FARTHING a - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg
Britannia reverse, 1746

Values less than a pound were usually written in terms of shillings and pence, e.g. three shillings and six pence (3/6), pronounced "three and six" or "three and sixpence". Values of less than a shilling were simply written in pence, e.g. (8d), pronounced "eightpence". A price with a farthing in it would be written like this: (2+1/4d), pronounced "twopence [or tuppence] farthing", or (1/3+1/4), pronounced "one and threepence [or thruppence] farthing" or (19/11+3/4), pronounced "nineteen and eleven three farthing(s)". 19/11+3/4 was a value used to make goods seem "significantly" cheaper than £1, usage similar to the modern £19.99, which is also the approximate value in 2021 of 19/11+3/4 in 1961, the year when the farthing was withdrawn from circulation.

The first bronze farthings were struck in 1860, in the reign of Queen Victoria, with a new reverse designed by Leonard Charles Wyon. This shows a seated Britannia, holding a trident, with the word FARTHING above. Between 1860 and 1895 there is a lighthouse to Britannia's left and a ship to her right. Various minor adjustments were made over the years to the level of the sea around Britannia and the angle of her trident. Some issues feature toothed edges to the coin, while others feature beading.

Britannia reverse, 1895-1936 1919farthingrev.jpg
Britannia reverse, 1895–1936

After 1860, seven different obverses were used. Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II each had a single obverse for the farthings produced during their respective reigns. Over the long reign of Queen Victoria, two different obverses were used. The farthing of 1860 carried the so-called "bun head", or "draped bust" of Queen Victoria on the obverse. The inscription around the bust read VICTORIA D G BRITT REG F D (abbreviated Latin: Victoria by the grace of God queen of Britain defender of the faith). This was replaced in 1895 by the "old head", or "veiled bust". The inscription on these coins read VICTORIA DEI GRA BRITT REGINA FID DEF IND IMP (Victoria by the grace of God queen of Britain defender of the faith empress of India).

Farthings issued during the reign of Edward VII feature his likeness and bear the inscription EDWARDVS VII DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP (Edward VII by the grace of God king of all Britons defender of the faith emperor of India). Similarly, those issued during the reign of George V feature his likeness and bear the inscription GEORGIVS V DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP (George V by the grace of God king of all Britons defender of the faith emperor of India).

A farthing of King Edward VIII (reigned 1936) does exist, dated 1937, but technically it is a pattern coin, one produced for official approval, which it was due to receive at about the time that the King abdicated, and in the event no farthings bearing his likeness were ever issued. The pattern has a left-facing portrait of the king, who considered this to be his best side, and consequently broke the tradition of alternating the direction in which the monarch faces on coins — some viewed this as indicating bad luck for the reign; the inscription on the obverse is EDWARDVS VIII D G BR OMN REX F D IND IMP (Edward VIII by the grace of God king of all Britons defender of the faith emperor of India).

One feature of the pattern farthing of Edward VIII was a redesigned reverse displaying the wren, one of Britain's smallest birds. From 1937 this appeared on the regular-issue farthings of George VI and was continued in the 1950s on the farthings of Elizabeth II.

George VI coins feature the inscription GEORGIVS VI D G BR OMN REX F D IND IMP (George VI by the grace of God king of all Britons defender of the faith emperor of India) before 1949, and GEORGIVS VI D G BR OMN REX FIDEI DEF (George VI by the grace of God king of all Britons defender of the faith) thereafter. Unlike the penny, farthings were minted throughout the early reign of Elizabeth II, bearing the inscription ELIZABETH II DEI GRA BRITT OMN REGINA F D (Elizabeth II by the grace of God queen of all Britons defender of the faith) in 1953, and ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA F D (Elizabeth II by the grace of God queen defender of the faith) thereafter.

Obverse designs


See also

Related Research Articles

Third farthing Former piece of sterling coinage

The British third farthing was a coin worth 1/2880 of a pound, 1/144 of a shilling, or 1/12 of a penny sterling. It was produced in various years between 1827 and 1913.

History of the English penny (1603–1707)

The history of the English penny from 1603 to 1707 covers the period of the House of Stuart, up to the Acts of Union of 1707 which brought about the Union of the Kingdom of England with the Kingdom of Scotland.

History of the British penny (1714–1901) History of the British penny during the Hanoverian era

The penny of Great Britain and the United Kingdom from 1714 to 1901, the period in which the House of Hanover reigned, saw the transformation of the penny from a little-used small silver coin to the bronze piece recognisable to modern-day Britons. All bear the portrait of the monarch on the obverse; copper and bronze pennies have a depiction of Britannia, the female personification of Britain, on the reverse.

History of the British penny (1901–1970) History of the pre-decimal British penny during the 20th century

The British penny, a large, pre-decimal coin which continued the series of pennies which began in about the year 700, was struck intermittently during the 20th century until its withdrawal from circulation after 1970. From 1901 to 1970, the obverse of the bronze coin depicted the monarch who was reigning at the start of the year. The reverse, which featured an image of Britannia seated with shield, trident, and helm, was created by Leonard Charles Wyon based on an earlier design by his father, William Wyon. The coins were also used in British colonies and dominions that had not issued their own coins.

Florin (British coin) Former coin of the United Kingdom and other territories

The British florin, or two-shilling piece was a denomination of sterling coinage worth 1/10 of one pound, or 24 pence. It was issued from 1849 until 1967, with a final issue for collectors dated 1970. It was the last coin circulating immediately prior to decimalisation to be demonetised, in 1993, having for a quarter of a century circulated alongside the ten-pence piece, identical in specifications and value.

Halfpenny (British pre-decimal coin) Former coin of the United Kingdom and other territories

The British pre-decimal halfpenny, , historically also known as the obol and once abbreviated ob., was a coin worth 1/480 of one pound, 1/24 of one shilling, or 1/2 of one penny sterling. Originally the halfpenny was minted in copper, but after 1860 it was minted in bronze. In the run-up to decimalisation it ceased to be legal tender from 31 July 1969. The halfpenny featured two different designs on its reverse during its years in circulation. From 1672 until 1936 the image of Britannia appeared on the reverse, and from 1937 onwards the image of the Golden Hind appeared. Like all British coinage, it bore the portrait of the monarch on the obverse.

Threepence (British coin) Former coin of the United Kingdom and other territories

The British threepence (3d) piece, usually simply known as a threepence, thruppence, or thruppenny bit, was a coin worth 1/80 of one pound or 1/4 of one shilling sterling. It was used in the United Kingdom, and earlier in Great Britain and England. Similar denominations were later used throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth countries, notably in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The five pound gold coin is a British coin with a nominal value of five pounds sterling, produced in several periods since the early 19th century. Since 1990 it is also known as the five-sovereign piece or quintuple sovereign as it is equivalent to five sovereign coins and shares the alloy and design features of the sovereign.

Guinea (coin) British gold coin minted between 1663 and 1814

The guinea was a coin, minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814, that contained approximately one-quarter of an ounce of gold. The name came from the Guinea region in West Africa, from where much of the gold used to make the coins was sourced. It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally worth one pound, equal to twenty shillings, but rises in the price of gold relative to silver caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings. From 1717 to 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings.

Great Seal of the Realm National seal of the Realm

The Great Seal of the Realm or Great Seal of the United Kingdom is a seal that is used to symbolise the Sovereign's approval of state documents.

Dei Gratia Regina is a Latin title meaning By the Grace of God, Queen. The male equivalent is Dei Gratia Rex meaning By the Grace of God, King.

The British farthing was a British coin worth a quarter of an old penny. It ceased to be struck after 1956 and was demonetised from 1 January 1961.

The pound was the currency of the Australian Territory of New Guinea between 1915 and 1966, and replaced the New Guinean mark when Australia occupied the former German colony at the end of World War I. The New Guinean pound was subdivided into 20 shillings, each of 12 pence, and was equal to the Australian pound.

History of the halfpenny

The British halfpenny coin was worth 1/480th of a pound sterling. At first in its 700-year history it was made from silver, but as the value of silver increased the coin was made from base metals. It was finally abandoned in 1969 as part of the process of decimalising the British currency. "Halfpenny", colloquially written ha'penny, was pronounced HAY-pə-nee; "1 ½d" was spoken as a penny ha'penny or three ha'pence.

The threepence or threepenny bit was a denomination of currency used by various jurisdictions in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, valued at 1/80 of a pound or ¼ of a shilling until decimalisation of the pound sterling and Irish pound in 1971. It was also used in some parts of the British Empire, notably Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Imperial Service Medal Award

The Imperial Service Medal (ISM) is a medal affiliated with the Imperial Service Order. The medal was established under the statutes of the Imperial Service Order, on 8 August 1902, by King Edward VII, with the first awards appearing in the London Gazette in May 1903.

Meritorious Service Medal (United Kingdom) British military decoration

The Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) is a British medal awarded to sergeants and warrant officers of the British armed forces for long and meritorious service. From 1916 to 1928, eligibility was extended to cover both valuable services by selected other ranks irrespective of length of service, and for gallantry not in the face of the enemy.

Farthing (English coin)

A farthing was a coin of the Kingdom of England worth one quarter of a penny, 1960 of a pound sterling. Such coins were first minted in England in silver in the 13th century, and continued to be used until the Kingdom of England was merged into the new Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

Double sovereign British gold coin

The double sovereign is a gold coin of the United Kingdom, with a nominal value of 2 pounds or 40 shillings sterling.

Old Head coinage British coins with Queen Victoria

The Old Head coinage or Veiled Head coinage were British coins struck and dated between 1893 and 1901, which featured on the obverse a portrait by Thomas Brock of an aged Queen Victoria wearing a diadem partially hidden by a widow's veil. It replaced the Jubilee coinage, struck since 1887, which had been widely criticised both for the portrait of the Queen, and because the reverses of most of the coins did not state their monetary values. Some denominations continued with their old reverse designs, with Benedetto Pistrucci's design for the sovereign extended to the half sovereign. New designs for some of the silver coinage were inaugurated, created either by Brock or by Edward Poynter, and all denominations less than the crown, or five-shilling piece, stated their values.


  1. "University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections 'Research Guidance' Weights and Measures § Money" . Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  2. Cavendish, Richard (12 December 2010). "The Farthing's Last Day". History Today. Retrieved 21 December 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. London Gazette 9 October 1970.:“Elizabeth R. We, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 11 of the Coinage Act 1870, do hereby, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council, call in, in the Falkland Islands, the Dependencies of the Falkland Islands and the British Antarctic Territory, all farthings, halfpennies and half-crowns by 31st day of October 1970, and direct that after that date those coins shall not be current or legal tender within those territories.”
  4. Michael, Thomas and Cuhaj, George S. Collecting World Coins: Circulating Issues 1901 - Present (Krause Publications, 2001)
  5. "Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1270 to Present". measuringworth.com. Retrieved 17 July 2016.