Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2013
Old British coins

Old British coins

December 31, 1960: The farthing ceases to be legal tender in the United Kingdom. The word itself means “fourth part” and the coin itself was worth ¼ of a cent or 1/960 of a pound sterling. The coins were first minted in the 13th century and were made of silver. As the least valuable coin, few were hoarded and so few survive to date. Many of these small change coins were “cut coinage” where pennies were literally cut into smaller pieces. The earliest minted farthings come from the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272) rather than King Edward I (1272-1307) as previously thought.

There is some speculation that Henrician farthings were experimental coinage. By Edward II’s reign, two mints were producing the coin, one in London and a second in Berwick. The coin’s use appeared to have been sporadic and some kings’ mints did not press any farthings: Henry VI, Edward IV, and Edward V. Later monarchs also did not have silver farthings because they had become too small to be struck. King James I (1603-1625) solved the problem by issuing copper coins.

The privilege of minting coins was licensed to various families with the possibility of profit always present. Under the Commonwealth (1649-1660), no farthings were used. King Charles II (1660-1685) saw a need for small value coins and eventually moved from copper to a tin and copper coin. Farthings were imprinted with a picture of the monarch along with a legend written in Latin or English. Queen Elizabeth II only had farthings made with her image from 1953-1956.

With prices rising, more people were less inclined to accept a large number of coins for even small purchases. A push came to end production which took place in 1956. The coins in circulation continued to be used as legal tender until this date. Today, the pound sterling (£) is valued at 100 (new) pence rather than the old system where a pound was worth 20 shillings, each of which was worth 12 (old) pence. The first decimal coins were issued in 1968. The last redesign of British currency took place in 2008.

“The world is an old woman, and mistakes any gilt farthing for a gold coin; whereby being often cheated, she will thenceforth trust nothing but the common copper.” – Thomas Carlyle

“Remuneration! O! That’s the Latin word for three farthings.” – William Shakespeare

“Virtue knows to a farthing what it has lost by not having been vice.” – Horace Walpole

“To see that many penny farthings all lined up is an amazing sight.” – Stuart Warburton

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The British Pound is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isla of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. Guernsey and Jersey both produce their own local issues of sterling. It is the coinage along with one other for various other areas around the world. It is the fourth most traded currency in the foreign exchange market with the US dollar, the euro, and the Japanese yen being the first three. These four currencies together form the basket of currencies which calculate the value of IMF special drawing rights. The Dollar is weighted 41.9%, the Euro as 37.4%, Sterling at 11.3% and the Yen at 9.4%. Sterling is also one of the most held reserve currency in global reserves, coming in third for that designation after the dollar and the euro.

Also on this day: Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.
Granted = In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter.

6 Responses

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  1. hairballexpress said, on January 8, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    The depths of your knowledge amaze me! Wonderful post!! ♥

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