So-called ‘expired’ coins (those that are no longer considered as legal tender) have become popular within the coin collecting community thanks to their rarity. In the UK, coins that were rolled out before decimalisation such as the half-crown and shilling are often highly sought after, and listings can regularly be found on eBay. Not least of these coins is the farthing, which was in its day worth ¼ of a penny. The unique size and design of the farthing has made it a hot topic for coin collectors, but just how much is a farthing worth? We’ve got the breakdown of everything you need to know.
The history of the farthing
The history of the farthing is long and complex. Spanning over hundreds of years, the farthing has been brought in and out of mintage several times. The farthing was officially made a denomination in 1272 under the rule of Edward I during a reform of the coinage at the time. The coin was struck in a mixture of silver and copper and was very small at only 10mm in diameter.
The farthing remained relatively unchanged through the years with the size slightly increasing and the coin becoming mostly struck in copper. This was until the modern farthing was introduced into the UK currency system during the reign of Queen Victoria in 1860. The coins would now be minted in bronze and the reverse design depicted the iconic Britannia which can still be found on 50p coins to this day.
The Britannia design remained through the reigns of both King Edward VII and King George V before being finally changed to the much-beloved wren design at the beginning of King George VI’s reign in 1937. The wren remained as the farthing’s reverse design until it was declared to no longer be legal tender in 1961.
Part of what makes the farthing so interesting is that it was phased out of circulation 10 years prior to the decimalisation of the UK currency system in 1971. This was due to inflation in the 1950s that resulted in the farthing’s purchasing power decreasing. In a similar way to how you wouldn’t pay for something nowadays entirely in pennies, stories began to emerge of annoyed vendors that were being paid by customers in farthings.
It was clear that the farthing had lost its popularity and demand for mintage began to dwindle. The production of the farthing was officially discontinued in 1956, and the coin ceased to be legal tender as of January 1st 1961.
How much is the farthing worth?
The value of a farthing is largely dependent on the year it was minted. For the purpose of this article we’ll focus on the modern farthing which was minted from 1860 onwards as these are much more common.
‘Bun Head’ Victoria Farthing, 1860-1879
Estimated Value = £1
The first modern farthings cast in bronze featured a portrait of the original ‘bun head’ design of Queen Victoria on the obverse. The mintage of this particular version of the coin is unknown but they are certainly still sought after. A good quality, circulated farthing from this era fetches around £1 with the those in the very best condition selling for up to £10.
‘Bun Head’ Victoria Farthing, 1880-1895
Estimated Value = £3
Despite still depicting the same ‘bun head’ Victoria on the obverse and the same Britannia design on the reverse, farthings that were minted from 1880 to 1895 have a higher value. Whilst the official mintage figures are also unknown, it is understood that they are less than for the farthings produced in the previous years. This resulted in an increase in selling price and high-quality farthings from this time period routinely fetch up to £3.
‘Old Veiled Head’ Victoria Farthing, 1895-1901
Estimated Value = Up to £1
In 1895, the obverse design of the farthing was revamped to match the new official portrait of Queen Victoria. The design became known as ‘old veiled head’ Victoria, a reference to her prolonged morning of her late husband Prince Albert.
Despite only being minted for 7 years, the coins from this era are among the cheapest farthings available. Between 2-5 million farthings were minted each year between 1895-1900, with a whopping 8 million being created in the year of Victoria’s death in 1901. These farthings fetch up to £1 although they are usually sold as part of a bundle with other similar coins.
Edward VII Farthing, 1902-1910
Estimated Value = £2.50
The death of Queen Victoria finally led to a change in portrait on the obverse of the farthing, with Edward VII’s bare head now proudly displayed. The coins show his portrait facing to the right, the opposite of Queen Victoria’s portrait in line with the official monarch rules for appearing on coins. Approximately 5 million farthings were printed for each year of his reign and good quality versions of the coin sell for around £2.50. Farthings from the year of Edward’s death in 1910 are particularly sought after by collectors and can sell for up to £10.
George V Farthing, 1911-1936
Estimated Value = 50p
The introduction of the George V farthing in 1911 saw the mintage figures rapidly increase. Around 9 million farthings were minted for each year of his reign with a record 21 million being printed in 1917. It should be unsurprising that these increased mintage figures led to a decrease in the value of the farthing from this era. This particular version fetches around 50p although the demand for them is definitely still there from avid collectors.
George VI Farthing, 1937-1952
Estimated Value = Up to £1
The year 1937 finally saw the arrival of the beloved wren design along with the portrait of George VI on the obverse. Despite the iconic design, these farthings are far from rare with mintage figures being as high as 33 million in a single year. Good quality versions of these farthings usually fetch up to a pound with some of the later years fetching slightly more.
Elizabeth II Farthing, 1953-1956
Estimated Value = £2
The reign of Elizabeth II saw the final versions of the farthing created which retained the much-loved wren design. Due to the decreasing value and popularity of the farthing at the time, the mintage of the farthing dropped to around 5 million a year.
In its final year of production, only 2 million farthings were produced and these are unsurprisingly the most sought after of this particular era. High-quality farthings produced in 1956 can fetch up to £2 on eBay with coins from the previous years averaging around £1.
The farthing is a classic coin that has undergone many changes during its active years as part of the UK currency system. If you’re lucky enough to have any, it’s worth checking the dates as you could be in with a small profit.
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