Farthings of Anne and of the kings of the House of Hanover

Thanks to the glut of the previous reign, there was no need to produce any copper farthings in the reign of Queen Anne (1701–1714) until the very last year of her reign. If the queen had not died in that year, there is no doubt that the 1714 farthing, weighing 4.8–5.8 grams and of 21–22 millimetres diameter, would have entered circulation in quantity, but its actual status is in some doubt as it may be considered a pattern. Sir Isaac Newton was Master of the Mint, and he had high ideals about the quality of the coinage, and the Anne farthing is certainly vastly superior in striking and design to the pieces of William III. The old figure of Britannia used since Charles II's time was discarded in favour of a sharper high relief design in which the bare leg on the former figure of Britannia is covered up, reportedly on the orders of the Queen. Around 1802 a curious rumour swept Britain to the effect that the Queen Anne farthing was worth a fortune, no less than £500, and advertisements appeared in many newspapers offering specimens for sale; in March 1802 one specimen was sold at auction in London for no less than 750 guineas (£787/10/-).

The death of Queen Anne thwarted attempts to issue her farthing, but the need for a copper coinage was no less after the accession of King George I (1714–1727). The price of copper had risen, so the new farthings were lighter than the previous issue, at 4.5–5.3 grams. The farthings struck in 1717 looked slightly odd as they were smaller, and thicker than the previous issues, with a diameter of 20–21 millimetres, and they are known as dump farthings. Farthings of 1719–1724 are slightly larger, at 22–23 millimetres, but are of the same weight. Unfortunately both issues suffered somewhat from manufacturing problems, as the dies were in bold relief and it was difficult to apply enough pressure to the blanks to make a good impression. The coin features the right-facing head of King George and the inscription GEORGIVS REX on the obverse, and Britannia with the inscription BRITANNIA and the date in the exergue beneath Britannia.

George II's (1727–1760) farthings were minted in quantity in 1730–1737, 1739, 1741, 1744, 1746, 1749, 1750, and 1754 (though the 1754 coin is known to have still been being minted at least until 1763), but to them must be added a huge range of counterfeits (and pieces similar to counterfeits but with markedly different legends from the real coins, so that the manufacturers could avoid accusations of counterfeiting). Many genuine coins were melted down and underweight fabrications produced from the molten metal. The farthings weighed 4.5–5.3 grams and had a diameter of 22–23 millimetres. The obverse showed the left-facing head of King George and the inscription GEORGIVS II REX on the obverse, and Britannia with the inscription BRITANNIA and the date in the exergue beneath Britannia.

In the reign of King George III (1760–1820) apart from the "posthumous" George II coins previously mentioned, the first issue of farthings did not come until 1771. Counterfeiting was rampant, and making the production of counterfeit copper coins a felony in 1771 had little effect and for the next twenty years or so the majority of copper so-called coins in circulation were forgeries. Matthew Boulton's contract in 1797 to produce the Cartwheel pennies and twopences, thwarting the counterfeiters, did not extend to producing the farthing, though Boulton had expected that it would and had prepared several patterns of the appropriate size and weight in accordance with his ideas on the intrinsic value of copper coins. However Boulton was given a licence to produce farthings in 1799. In the meantime the price of copper had risen, and consequently the weight of the coins was reduced slightly compared to the cartwheel design, and the 1799 farthing had a more conventional appearance, although two aspects of the coin were far from conventional: the reverse bore the legend 1 FARTHING, the first time the name of a denomination had ever appeared on an English coin, and it was also the first British coin to have the date on the same side as the king's head. In 1806–1807 a further 22.5 tons of copper was struck into farthings by Boulton, but the price of copper had risen again and the weight was even less than the 1799 issue.

George III farthings were produced in three distinct phases:-

  • 1771, 1773–1775 (all years). Weight 4.3–5.3 grams, diameter 23–24 millimetres. Obverse shows a right-facing bust of the king, with the inscription GEORGIVS III REX, reverse shows a left-facing seated Britannia holding a spray and spear, with the inscription BRITANNIA and the date in the exergue beneath Britannia.
  • 1799. Weight 5.8–6.6 grams, diameter 23–24 millimetres. Obverse shows a right-facing bust of the king, with the inscription GEORGIVS III DEI GRATIA REX 1799, reverse shows a redesigned left-facing seated Britannia holding a spray and spear, with the inscription BRITANNIA 1 FARTHING.
  • 1806–1807. Weight 4.7–4.8 grams, diameter 21–22 millimetres. Obverse shows a right-facing bust of the king, with the inscription GEORGIVS III D G REX date, reverse shows a slightly different left-facing seated Britannia holding a spray and spear, with the inscription BRITANNIA.

After the mint moved from the Tower of London to Tower Hill the production of gold and silver coins took precedence over copper in the Great Recoinage of 1816. The production of copper coins did not resume until the reign of King George IV (1820–1830), when farthings were produced in 1821. Benedetto Pistrucci was employed as a designer and engraver at the mint, and unfortunately for the farthing it was his job to engrave the designs for the new coinage, and he produced a spectacularly ugly portrait of the king, with a bulging face and neck. It is not difficult to see why the king was displeased with his portrait, and Pistrucci's treatment of Britannia on the obverse was not much better, with Britannia now facing right for the first time ever. Pistrucci was downgraded for refusing to copy another artist's work, and William Wyon was given the task of producing a better farthing, with the more flattering "bare head" type of 1826; however Wyon did not discard all Pistrucci's ideas, Britannia still faced right on the reverse. The George IV farthing was produced in two types, between 1821 and 1823, 1825, and 1826 it weighed 4.5–4.8 grams, with a diameter of 22 millimetres, and from 1826–1830 it weighed 4.6–4.9 grams with a diameter of 22 millimetres. Both Pistrucci's and Wyon's designs were produced in 1826. The Pistrucci obverse shows a left-facing bust of King George IV with the inscription GEORGIUS IIII DEI GRATIA, while the reverse shows a right-facing helmeted Britannia seated to the left of the coin, with a shield and trident, with the inscription BRITANNIAR REX FID DEF and the date in the exergue underneath Britannia. The Wyon obverse shows a left-facing laureated bust of King George IV with the inscription GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA date, while the reverse shows a right-facing centrally-seated helmeted Britannia with a shield and trident, with the inscription BRITANNIAR REX FID DEF. Wyon's preference was to put the date under the king's bust, and to put the rose, thistle, and shamrock in the exergue underneath Britannia.

The William IV (1830–1837) farthing, produced in 1831, and 1834–1837, continues the George IV design but with a right-facing bust of the new king, with the inscription GULIELMUS IIII DEI GRATIA date, while the reverse is identical to the previous reigns' Wyon design.