Base Metal Farthings

It was during the reign of King James I (1603–1625) that copper coinage was introduced. From his previous experience as King of Scotland James realised that small denomination copper coins would be acceptable, as they had been in use in Scotland and on the European mainland for some time. However the English seemed to have an obsession with gold and silver, requiring that coins had their proper values' worth of metal. James decided not to have the copper coinage produced by the Royal Mint, but instead put the production of farthings into the hands of John Harington, 1st Baron Harington of Exton.

Licenced farthings

The Haringtons
Harington was heavily charged for the privilege of minting the farthings, but also made a healthy profit on the deal. Unlike the larger coins, farthings did not contain their value in metal. He died in 1613 and the right to produce farthings passed to his son, who also died a few months later, then back to Harington's wife Anne. The Harington issues originally had a surface of tin which served to make counterfeiting more difficult and to make the coins look more like silver and therefore more acceptable. The coins were produced on blanks of 12.25 millimetres diameter. The obverse shows two sceptres through a crown, and the legend IACO DG MAG BRIT — James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain — while the reverse shows a crowned harp and the continuing inscription FRA ET HIB REX — France and Ireland, King.

The Lennoxes
Lady Harington either sold or gave the privilege of minting farthings to Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox. The Lennox issues are larger than the Haringtons. The Lennox issues were all produced on 15 millimetre diameter blanks, with no tin surface. They can be distinguished from the Haringtons by looking at the inscription on the obverse — on the Lennoxes the inscription starts at the top or bottom of the coin, while on the Haringtons it starts before the top of the coin.

Richmonds
During the reign of Charles I, (1625–1649), farthings continued to be produced under the king's licence. In 1623 the Duke of Lennox had also become Duke of Richmond, but died a few months later. The farthing patent passed to his widow, Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox and Sir Francis Crane. The first issues of Charles I are consequently called Richmonds. The obverse shows two sceptres through a crown, and the legend CARO DG MAG BRIT — Charles, by the grace of God, of Great Britain — while the reverse shows a crowned harp and the continuing inscription FRA ET HIB REX — France and Ireland, King.

Maltravers
In 1634 another farthing patent was issued, to Lord Maltravers (Henry Howard),[3] and Sir Francis Crane, their issues being known as Maltravers. During this time there were vast numbers of forged farthings in circulation and the situation became unacceptable as the poor felt conned and unfairly treated by the authorities. The obverse shows two sceptres through a crown, and the legend CAROLVS DG MAG BR — Charles, by the grace of God, of Great Britain — while the reverse shows a crowned harp and the continuing inscription FRAN ET HIB REX — France and Ireland, King. These issues have inner circles on both sides of the coin, between the legend and the design element.

Rose farthing
Consequently, Lord Maltravers was asked to introduce a new style denomination which came to be called the Rose farthing — it was much smaller and thicker than the Maltravers, but the revolutionary development was the metal and construction of the coin; most of the coin was copper, but a small "plug" of brass was inserted into part of the coin. This made the Rose farthing an early example of a bimetallic coin and also almost impossible to counterfeit, and the production of forgeries soon ended. The obverse shows two sceptres through a crown, and the legend CAROLVS DG MAG BRIT — Charles, by the grace of God, of Great Britain— while the reverse shows a double rose and the continuing inscription FRAN ET HIB REX — France and Ireland, King. These issues have inner circles on both sides of the coin, between the legend and the design element.

Post Commonwealth

Under the Commonwealth no farthings were issued by the government, although huge quantities of private tokens were issued in this period by small traders or towns to satisfy demand.

In the early years of the reign of King Charles II (1660–1685) there was a clear need for low denomination coins to fund day-to-day purchases, witnessed by the large number of farthing tokens in circulation in the 1660s. The Mint was not ready to produce copper coins using the new machine presses until 1672, when a Royal Proclamation in August 1672 decreed that halfpennies and farthings would be issued, and that they would have a face value equal to the value of the metal less the cost of producing them. The new coins were legal tender up to a total value of six pence, and depicted Britannia (modelled by the Duchess of Richmond) on the reverse. It was soon discovered that the Mint was incapable of producing the copper blanks needed for the new coins, and these eventually were imported from Sweden.

The copper farthings were produced in 1672–1675 and 1679, weighed 5.2 - 6.4 grams, and had a diameter of 22–23 millimetres. The obverse had a left-facing bust of the king, with the inscription CAROLVS A CAROLO —Charles, son of Charles — while the reverse showed the left-facing seated Britannia, with the inscription BRITANNIA and the date in the exergue beneath Britannia.