Edward III Farthings
Numismatically, the long reign of Edward III is divided into four distinct coinages, the last of which is further subdivided into three periods. The first coinage, dated 1327-1335, is merely a continuation of the latest types struck under Edward II. For the pennies, this has been shown to correspond to the type labelled 15d under the Fox classification (see companion article, Early Edwardian Pennies), but for the halfpennies and farthings such a distinction is not yet possible. This is particularly unfortunate, as type 15d pennies are very rare, whereas farthings of this period are known from mint records to have been struck in considerable quantity. A very rare farthing type (Withers Type 32) has tentatively been correlated with Fox Type 15d and may belong to the same period. However, such a rare type cannot be representative of the large quantity struck during this period, and it seems likely that most were struck from dies of Edward II’s Type 13 (Withers Type 31).
The second coinage, dated 1335-1343, is also known as the ‘star-marked' issue. It consists only of halfpennies and farthings, both denominations of which are readily identifiable by the presence of a star in the legends, usually on both the obverse and reverse of the coin. The star is thought to be an indication of the fact that the coins were struck from 0.833 fine silver, rather than the established sterling standard of 0.925 fine. At the present time, farthings of this coinage are known only of the London mint. However, in 1338 the abbatial mint of Reading was granted minting rights and dies were ordered for both farthings and halfpennies. Rare star-marked examples of the latter denomination have survived and it is likely that farthings were also struck, as they were for the next coinage.
The classification of coins of the first two coinages of Edward III’s reign formed part of the seminal work of the brothers H B Earle Fox and J S Shirley-Fox, Numismatic History of the Reigns of Edward I, II and III (BNJ 1909-13), but in respect of halfpennies and farthings this work was severely constrained by the lack of material available for study. A series of articles by E J Harris, F Purvey and P Woodhead entitled Notes on English Halfpence and Farthings, 1279-1660, published in Seaby's Coin and Medal Bulletin between April 1964 and March 1986 further developed the classification and extended it to include the third and fourth coinages. P Woodhead subsequently authored a paper entitled The Early Coinages of Edward III (1327-43), which is incorporated in J J North’s volume 39 of the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles, published in 1989. This paper currently provides the most comprehensive account of the first and second coinages, including the halfpennies and farthings.
The third coinage, dated 1344-1351, is also known as the ‘florin’ coinage. This reflects the fact that an attempt was made in 1344 to establish a bi-metallic currency system in which the florin was to be the major gold unit. The fineness of the silver coins was restored to the sterling standard, but their weight was reduced to compensate for the increased cost. London, Canterbury, Durham, Reading and York struck pennies of this coinage, but only London and Reading struck halfpennies and farthings, both denominations of the latter mint being extremely rare.
The classification of the third coinage was undertaken by J Shirley Fox in his paper, The Pennies and Halfpennies of 1344-51, published in the Numismatic Chronicle of 1928. Although the title omits any reference to the farthings of this period, they are in fact covered. As indicated above, they are also addressed in the series of articles published in Seaby's Coin and Medal Bulletin.
The fourth coinage, dated 1351-1377, is the most complex of the reign. It is divided into three periods, designated Pre-Treaty (1351-1361), Treaty (1361-1369) and Post-Treaty (1369-1377). Coins of the Pre-Treaty period are further subdivided into seven groups, Series A to Series G, and those of the Treaty period into two groups, Treaty A (Transitional Series) and Treaty B (Treaty Series). The Treaty of Brétigny, to which these labels refer, was an agreement between Edward III of England and John II of France, which bought about a brief respite in the Hundred Years War, but was ultimately abrogated. The numismatic significance, at least with regard to the larger coins, is that Edward's titles temporarily changed to reflect the fact that he had dropped his claim to the French throne. On halfpennies and farthings, however, only Edward’s English title is used. All farthings of the fourth coinage were struck at London, and all are rare.
The foundation work for the fourth coinage is L A Lawrence’s paper, The Coinage of Edward III from 1351, published as a series of parts in the Numismatic Chronicle between 1926 and 1933. Lawrence’s work is developed and refined by W J W Potter in another Numismatic Chronicle paper, The Silver Coinage of Edward III from 1351, published in two parts in 1960 and 1962.
Notwithstanding the above account, the mint at Berwick-on-Tweed also struck a small number of English pennies, halfpennies and farthings during Edward III's reign, as it had previously done during the reigns of Edward I and II. Their period of issue (c.1333-c.1344) actually spans his first three coinages, but the coins were struck from locally made dies and are separately classified. In the present article the farthings of this mint are described and illustrated in a separate section.
The structure of the classification, as outlined above, is that used in the 1991 (third) edition of North's English Hammered Coinage. More recently, P and B R Withers have formulated a new and very detailed classification of the coins, which is published in the second volume of their Small Change series: Halfpennies and Farthings - Edward III and Richard II (2002). The Withers classification retains the basic structure described, but assigns sequential numbers to coin types within the groups, and lower-case letter suffixes to varieties within the types. The numbering is progressive for the whole reign, as opposed to starting afresh for each coinage.
The images used in this article are derivatives of images from the following sources: private coin owners, records published on the UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) and records published on the website of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). My thanks are due to all of the foregoing for allowing the use of their images, and to the detectorists whose finds constitute the records. The coins illustrated are probably all individual metal-detecting finds made since the 1970s.
The images derived from records published on the PAS website are used under a CC By-SA licence. The use of images under this Creative Commons licence does not imply that the licence holder endorses any of the comments made, or opinions expressed, by the present website owner.
The source of each image is as shown below. The reference number used to identify each image consists of three parts: the type number, the mint initial (Berwick, London or Reading) and the image number. Hence 3L2 means Type 3, London mint, 2nd image in sliding gallery.
Drawing (after North, SNC 93/9, November 1985)
Drawing (after Stewartby/Woodhead, No. 3, SNC 109/4, August 2001)
This issue dated:
23 December 2021