Early Farthings

Little is known of the medieval silver farthing, for few remain. As the smallest denomination, it was rarely hoarded — in fact silver farthings have never been found in large hoards — and since it contained a quarter-penny's worth of silver it was also extremely small, therefore easily lost. Besides, farthings were not produced in anything like the quantities of the penny and halfpenny because, although they were useful to ordinary people, they were not so much used by the wealthy and powerful; and because, for the moneyers, they yielded the least profit of any denomination. Furthermore, the coins are so small that few metal detectors can find them. Consequently they are rare today.

Prior to the 13th century, requirements for small change were often met by "cut coinage" i.e. pennies cut into halves or quarters, usually along the cross which formed a prominent part of the reverse of the coin. It was long considered that the first silver farthing coins were produced in the reign of King Edward I (1272–1307). However in recent years five examples have been discovered dating from the reign of King Henry III (1216–1272). All are in the short-cross style of that period, produced between 1216 and 1247, and are similar in design to the pennies, but only a quarter the size. Due to the lack of known examples and documentary evidence, these coins are thought to be trials rather than circulating coins. The production of farthings was authorised by the Patent Rolls of 1222, but actual examples have only recently been discovered. The obverse shows a bust of the king holding a sceptre, with the inscription HENRICUS REX, while the reverse shows a small cross with three pellets in each quarter with the moneyer's inscription TERRI (or ILGER or (?)ADAM) ON LUND — Terry (or Ilger or Adam) of London — only two examples of Terri's and Ilger's work have been discovered, and the identification of Adam is uncertain because only part of his coin has survived.