Observations and rationale


When the Fox brothers published their classification of the Edwardian coinage, they wrote: "On Plate VIII are figured eight halfpennies and a like number of farthings - all we have been able to gather together for groups 4-9." The statement highlights the scarcity of material available at the time, a factor that undoubtedly hampered their classification of the smaller denominations. The situation is now much improved, thanks very largely to the metal-detecting hobby and the Internet, and particularly to the online databases on which detectorists' finds are recorded. Even with access to this larger body of material, however, the classification of Edwardian farthings cannot yet be regarded as truly definitive. It is likely that our present views will be modified, and our understanding enhanced, as new material becomes available.

As indicated elsewhere in this article, the farthings under consideration can be divided into five broad chronological groups, each of which contains several distinct types. The first four of these broad groups (here designated Farthing Groups A-D) collectively cover the same time span as the fifteen main groups of Edward I and Edward II pennies (Fox/North Groups 1-15). The last group consists of the star-marked coins of Edward III. It is the chronology, both relative and absolute, of individual types within some of these groups that is more difficult to ascertain. The approach usually taken has been to sub-divide the coins on the basis of shared characteristics, like the form of the initial cross and the crown, and the style of lettering, and then to attempt to relate each of the resultant types to a particular class (or classes) of penny. Where this can be done, the farthings concerned can be closely dated, but in several cases the relationships between the two denominations are very tenuous. The five groups and their constituent types are discussed below. 

Farthing Group A

Farthing Group A consists of North Types 1a, 1c, 2 and 3c, that is all those farthings struck from debased silver, with obverse inner circle and legend EDWARDVS REX. The reverse legend on London coins is LONDONIENSIS. Farthings of this group can be linked to the equivalent penny types by similarities of lettering (e.g. the A with 'drooping' top bar of Type 1a), and also by the brief period of operation (1280-81) of the provincial mints. The crown on farthings of Type 3c (Crown D) is even from the same punch as that used for the halfpennies of Type 3c-e, as is also the case with Types 3d and 3e (see below). On these bases, Types 1a and 1c are dateable to 1279, and Types 2 and 3c to 1280, before the silver was restored to its sterling standard in that year.

Type 1c
All farthings of Type 1c have Crown B, but the outer leaf of the right fleur breaks off the punch during the issue. The undamaged and damaged states of the crown are designated B1 and B2 respectively in the present article. Withers assigns a separate type number to coins with the broken crown, which is described as having a trifoliate fleur on the left and a bifoliate fleur on the right.

Farthing Group B

Farthing Group B consists of North Types 3d, 3e, 3g, 4de, 5 and 6-7, that is all those farthings with obverse legend E R ANGLIE. The coins were struck from sterling silver, a measure taken in 1280, which coincides with the removal of the inner circle from the obverse design. The early coins of this group, i.e. Types 3d, 3e and 3g, can be linked to the equivalent penny types by the continued operation (until the end of 1281) of the provincial mints, and by the similarity of their crowns. In fact, the usual crown (Crown D) of Types 3d and 3e is from the same punch as the crown of the Type 3c-e halfpenny (see Fig.1 below), and the wide spread crown of 3g reflects the crowns of similar form used on both the penny and the halfpenny of that type. No farthings were struck between October 1281 and May 1285, and when striking recommenced it was at London alone. Farthings with the same obverse as Types 3d and 3e, but with CIVITAS LONDON replacing LONDONIENSIS on the reverse are assigned by North to 4de (1285-89). Others that combine the 3g obverse with the new reverse (Withers Type 15) were probably struck during the same period and are included under the same label in the present article. Up to this point, the relative chronology is reasonably certain, even if the exact dating is a little speculative. However, even the order of the remaining two types is uncertain. Withers places coins that would be designated North Type 6-7 before those that would be designated Type 5. This is on the basis that the face punch used for both types appears to be less worn on coins of the former type than the latter. Within this group, therefore, Types 3d, 3e and 3g can be dated to the period 1280-81, Type 4de can be tentatively dated to the period 1285-1289, but Types 5 and 6-7 can only be approximately dated to the period c.1289-c.1296.

The crown herein designated Crown E is occasionally found on farthings that bear the LONDONIENSIS reverse, but its exact chronological and typological status is uncertain. At least some of the dies that bear it were corroded when the coins were struck, as is evident from the examples illustrated below (Figs. 2 and 3). The two coins are from the same obverse and reverse dies, and it can be seen that the corrosion 'pitting' is in fact in relief, and occurs in the same places on both of them (i.e. it is the dies, not the coins, that are corroded). The corrosion would seem to suggest that the dies - which could not have been made before 1280 - were lying around for some considerable time in damp conditions before being used. In this context, the hiatus between 1281 and 1285, when no farthings (or halfpennies) were struck, might be relevant. The dies were perhaps made shortly before the cessation of striking in October 1281, but only used (or at least mainly used) after the resumption of coining in May 1285. This hypothesis would imply that Crown E either slightly pre-dates, or is more or less contemporaneous with, Crown F, as first used on coins designated 3g. Under the Withers classification, the type (W12) is described as having the same crown as North Types 6-7 (W16) and later coins up to and including North Type 9a (W21 and W23). It certainly has large pointed arrowhead ornaments in common with early stages of the Crown H punch, but the side fleurs are more like those of Crown D. The basic geometry of Crowns D, E and H is quite similar, and it is plausible that H is a recut punch of D, possibly with E representing an intermediate stage.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2 Fig. 3  

Type 3g
It should be noted that some confusion can arise with the 3g designation, as the Foxes and HPW assigned it to those farthings that are now designated 3d and 3e, as well as those that are now regarded as the true 3g type. It was only with the discovery of a farthing struck at Newcastle that the designation was changed (J J North, BNJ 52: An Unpublished Farthing of Edward I, 1982). The coins with very spread side-fleurs retain their 3g label, but those with straighter side fleurs are now designated 3d (southern mints) or 3e (northern mints) to correspond with pennies of the respective types. The existence of a Bristol farthing of North Type 3g was unknown until 2010, when one (herein used to illustrate the type) was published on the UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD 27997). 

Farthing Group C

Farthing Group C consists of North Types 8, 9a and 9b, that is those farthings with obverse legend E R ANGL DN. As with the later coins of the previous farthing group, many of those within the present group are extremely difficult to link to the equivalent types of penny. Within the group there are four crown types (Crowns H, J, K and L), which are used in conjunction with several different face punches. The earliest coins would appear to be those with a combination of Crown H in a relatively undamaged state (i.e. H1), and a large face with a swollen right cheek (see Fig.4 below). The same combination, but with an earlier legend, occurs on Type 6-7 coins of the previous group. However, under the North classification, coins with Crown H are designated Type 9a, the earlier label of Type 8 being assigned to those with Crown J. At the opposite end of the group, the situation is a little clearer, thanks to the fact that some coins with Crown L are muled with reverses of the earliest coins of the following group (see Fig.6 below). These reverses have the distinctive narrow N with incurved sides that was introduced with pence of Type 10, thus suggesting that true coins with Crown L were struck at about the same time as pennies of Type 9b (c.1299-c.1301). Under the North classification system, they are accordingly designated Type 9b. The connection with this relatively short period is further supported by the fact that Crown L is from the same punch as the crown on halfpennies of Type 10ab, which were struck from 1301 (see Fig.8 below). All known farthings with Crown L have a small face with a pointed chin (see Fig.5 below), the same face that is used on (all?) farthings with Crown K and a small proportion of those with Crown H. Where the face is used with Crown H, the crown is found in its most damaged state (i.e. H2), so it seems likely that the chronological order of the crowns is H, K, L, with the position of J very uncertain. North does not identify or classify farthings with Crown K, but the crown is from the same punch used on halfpennies of Type 8 (North 1049), Type 10-11(3) (North 1069/3) and Class 3 of the star-marked issue (North 1100/3) (see Fig.7 below). For convenience in the present article, I have included them under the 9b label, although clearly they could be earlier. Within this group, coins with Crown L can be dated to the period c.1299-c.1301, but those with Crowns H, J and K can only be dated approximately to the period c.1294-c.1301. In fact, it is possible that some of the coins are even a little earlier, as all have the closed E that was introduced on pennies from Type 6 (between 1292 and 1296). 

Fig. 4 Fig. 5

Fig. 6 

Type 9b
As indicated above, farthings designated 9b under the North classification system are those with Crown L and the small face with pointed chin, illustrated above as Fig.5. The crown is, as North indicates, from the same punch used on halfpennies of Type 10ab (North 1050, trifoliate variety), Type 10-11(1) (North 1069/1) and Class 1 of the star-marked issue of Edward III (North 1100/1). In the present article, I have also included under the 9b label those farthings with the same small face, but with Crown K. This crown is from the same punch used on halfpennies of Type 8 (North 1049), Type 10-11(3) (North 1069/3) and Class 3 of the star-marked issue (North 1100/3). Withers lists and illustrates another coin (W27) with the same small face and a crown that is described as being 'an even wider crown (than Crown L) with quadrilobed fleur on left'. However, the crown appears to be from the same punch as Crown K, either in an earlier state, before the upper part of the left fleur was lost due to damage, or the extended left fleur is a manual addition to the die. In view of the irregularity of a quadrilobed side fleur, and the lack of symmetry of the crown, the latter possibility seems more likely.  

Fig. 7 Fig.8  

Farthing Group D

Farthing Group D consists of Types 10, 10-11, 13 and 15d, that is those farthings with the inner circle restored to the obverse, but now struck in sterling silver. The earliest coins of the group, those with Crown M, are linked to Group 10 pennies by their lettering, particularly the narrow N with incurved sides. For those with Crown N, there is another valuable indicator. London-made dies for the farthing designated Type 10-11 were supplied to Berwick, along with dies for the Type 11a3 penny and the Type 10-11 halfpenny. These were the only non-local dies used for the entire Berwick coinage, and as the penny die can be dated to circa 1312, the dies for the smaller denominations can be regarded as contemporaneous. However, the Type 10-11 farthing is by far the most common in the group, and must have been struck over a significant part of the thirty-five year period it covers. Between September 2005 and March 2013, one hundred and three Type 10-11 farthings were recorded on the UKDFD, compared with twenty Type 10, thirteen Type 13 and one Type 15d. On the basis of this admittedly very small sample, and assuming that the four types were struck sequentially, their distribution would be as shown on the farthing output chart illustrated below (Fig.9). As approximately half of all the farthings in Group D were struck between 1301 and 1310 (i.e. the period of Class 10 pennies), it is clear that many of them must have been of Type 10-11, as Type 10 only accounts for about 15% of the total, or 30% of those struck between 1301 and 1310. The Type 13 farthing is linked to the penny of that type principally by (usually) having a similar initial cross consisting of four wedges. However, as the period of issue of the Type 13 penny is circa 1315-1317, the chart casts doubt on whether the farthing of that designation is correctly attributed. The final type of this group was not known at the time of the North classification, and appears to be quite scarce. Under the Withers classification it is W32, and is associated with the period of the Fox/North 15d penny in their chronological table (Withers, P and B R, Farthings and Halfpennies - Edward I and Edward II, p.11). For convenience I have also designated it Type 15d, but its true position within the group is uncertain. It should be noted that North tentatively suggests that another type of coin might belong to this period. It is a farthing with Crown P, a neat oval face from an otherwise unknown punch, and reading EOWARDVS REX (North, J J, BNJ 62, Some Unpublished Varieties of Edward I, II and III).                    

Fig. 9

Type 10
Withers lists and illustrates a coin of this type with a crown that has a tall pointed central fleur (W29), but is otherwise as the normal type. It is possible that the crown is from the same punch, i.e. Crown M, either in an early state before the tall central fleur broke off, or the 'extension' to the fleur was a manual addition to the die.

Star-marked issue

The Fox brothers coverage of these star-marked coins is very limited, and their references to illustrated examples bear no resemblance to the actual numbers on the plate. They divide the coins into two groups, the second of which is attributed to the debasement period of 1335-43, and the first to a period immediately preceding it. In their 1964 paper, HPW treated the coins similarly, but P Woodhead subsequently re-examined the classification and reattributed all the star-marked coins to the 1335-43 period. This is now the generally accepted view.

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