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Early Edwardian Halfpennies




When the Fox brothers published their classification of the Edwardian coinage, they wrote: “On Plate VIII are figured eight halfpennies and a like number of farthings – all we have been able to gather together for groups 4-9.” The statement highlights the scarcity of material available at the time, a factor that undoubtedly hampered their classification of the smaller denominations. The situation is now much improved, thanks very largely to the metal-detecting hobby and the Internet, and particularly to the online databases on which detectorists' finds are recorded. Even with access to this larger body of material, however, the classification of Edwardian halfpennies cannot yet be regarded as truly definitive. It is likely that our present views will be modified, and our understanding enhanced, as new material becomes available.

Regarding crown types

Crowns A and B

Crown A occurs on halfpennies of the southern mints of London, Bristol and Lincoln, and Crown B on the halfpennies of Newcastle and York. The crowns appear to be from the same punch, but whereas Crown B has two arrowhead ornaments, the left-hand ornament of Crown A has the appearance of an irregular 'blob'. It seems likely that the blob is in fact the remains of an arrowhead, resulting from the use of a damaged punch. If the foregoing observations are correct, they suggest that the punch was used to make obverse dies for the northern mints before making those for the southern mints. The exact circumstances in which such a situation could have occurred, however, are something of a mystery, as it is generally believed that the northern dies were cut at York, rather than at London. It could, of course, be argued that two closely similar punches were made, one of which was retained at London and the other sent to York. If this is the case, however, the southern punch must have become damaged very early in its life, as it has not been possible to trace any southern coins of Type 3b or 3c-e with an undamaged arrowhead. Another plausible argument is that the damaged punch was recut before being used to make the northern dies, but again the apparent absence of any southern coins with an undamaged arrowhead weakens the case. On some coins of the northern mints, the tip of the left-hand arrowhead is slightly blunted or missing altogether, indicating early stages of wear and damage. The apparent progression of damage is illustrated below.

Crowns C and D

The narrow splayed crown punch designated D in the present article may pre-date the wide splayed crown punch designated C. Crown D occurs on obverse dies that have either the early form of composite S or the later wide-waisted S. Dies with Crown C, however, invariably have the later wide-waisted S (at least until the later and smaller composite S, used on obverse dies of 4e). As some of the coins designated 4c are now known to have been struck during the Group 3 period (see details below under Type 4c), the converse argument - i.e. that some of the coins designated 3g were struck during the Group 4 period - probably also applies. Although there are possibly clues in the lettering and contractive marks, etc., it is not yet possible to say which dies of the two respective types were made/used during the earlier period, and which were made/used during the later period. It is for this reason that I have grouped the two types (3g and 4c) together under the heading Group 3 (1280 - 1281) and Group 4 (1285 - 1289).


Regarding classification

Type 3b

The Foxes and HPW associated these halfpennies with pennies of Type 3b and designated them accordingly. North (SCBI 39, p.31) expressed reservations about the attribution, but retained the label for coins of London only (HPW assigned the designation to coins of both London and York). For the following reasons it seems unlikely that any halfpennies were struck as early as pennies of Type 3b. 
(a) The crown, unlike that on the pennies of 3b, doesn't have pearl ornaments, a fact that was also noted by the Foxes. 
(b) The sole remaining basis of the attribution is the form of drapery, but the same form, an arc of a circle below two wedges, also occurs later on some of the halfpennies of 3g (Withers Type 2).
In view of the above, it seems likely that halfpence of this type are merely a minor variety of the 3c-e (southern) type.

Types 3c-e and 3e

North associates the York halfpennies with southern coins of 3c and 3d and lists them together under the combined label 3c-e. Newcastle halfpennies alone are designated 3e. However, the York coins and those of Newcastle share the same undamaged (or less damaged) form of crown and the same form of drapery, neither of which seem to occur on the southern coins. For this reason I have grouped the York and Newcastle coins together. Under this arrangement it would be more accurate to designate the southern coins 3cd and the York coins 3ce. These slightly revised designations do not imply that the halfpennies of York were struck any later than some of their southern counterparts, as coins (i.e. the associated pennies) of 3d and 3e are geographically rather than chronologically differentiated (see note below). In fact, if the above observations regarding Crown A and Crown B are correct, the Newcastle and York dies are the earliest in the series. It is possibly coincidental, but the drapery on the northern coins might also point to an early date, as, of the three or four forms found on the early halfpennies, it is the one that most closely resembles the drapery on 3b pennies. The earliest pennies of Newcastle are assigned to 3e and it is reasonable to assume that the first halfpennies were struck at the same time. This does not, of course, preclude the possibility that the halfpenny dies were made some time in advance of being used.


Note: In a 1917 résumé of their paper, the Foxes reversed the order of their original designations for coins of type 3d and 3e. The later designations, in which the southern variety was labelled 3d, and the northern variety 3e, are the ones that are in general use today. The reversal was apparently unintentional, and attention was only drawn to it in 1941.


Type 3g

The Foxes state “The mint accounts show that no halfpence are to be looked for in group 3 except during the earlier part of the issue…” However, the mint accounts actually show that halfpence were struck in 1281 up to Michaelmas (29 September), and the Foxes date the commencement of 3g (the final type of Group 3) to early 1281. It is now generally accepted that the earliest halfpennies with the wide splayed crown (here designated Crown C), are of this issue.

Type 4c

Based on the mint accounts, the Foxes expressed the view that it was “useless to search for halfpennies belonging to the earlier divisions of group 4”. The statement is correct, as no halfpence were struck between late 1281 and mid 1285, but in their tabulation of the coins illustrated on Plate VIII, the first three halfpennies are described as 3/early 4, early 4 and early 4/4e. Adding to the confusion, the accompanying text describes the first coin as an early 4/3 mule, thus reversing the muling. The latter description is probably the intended version, but today – under the North classification – the same coins would be labelled 3g/3c-e, 3g and 4d respectively.

It would seem from their account of the halfpennies that the Foxes were unaware of the narrow splayed crown designated D in the present article. This is not particularly surprising, as very little material of this period was available to them (see General above). The first description of this crown as a distinct and separate type is to be found in HPW, and the earliest coins on which it occurs were attributed by the authors to 4c. However, at least some of these halfpennies belong to Group 3 rather than Group 4. This is certain, as coins of this type were struck at Bristol, which closed in 1281 at the end of the recoinage period (i.e. before the commencement of Group 4 in 1282, and almost four years before the minting of halfpence resumed in 1285). It is possible that new dies were made with the same crown punch during the period of Group 4, but if so, they are not distinguishable at the present time. The coins might even be earlier than those that are currently labelled 3g (see Crowns C and D above).


Type 4d

Coins designated 4d by HPW and North have an obverse of either 3g or 4c, and a reverse of 4e. The coins are technically 3g/4e and 4c/4e mules and, particularly in view of the questionable 4c designation (see above), they are better regarded as such. The 3g/4e variety is not included in the Withers classification, but is illustrated as No. 24 on Fox Plate VIII. The 4c/4e variety is Withers Type 3(i).

Types 6 and 7

It should be noted - as with the associated pennies - that halfpennies of Group 7 precede those of Group 6. In the case of halfpennies the evidence is to be found in the progressive deterioration of the crown punch. The earliest halfpennies of Group 7 have a virtually undamaged crown, while on late coins of Group 6 almost every element of the crown is damaged or missing.

Of the last of the eight halfpennies illustrated on their Plate VIII, the Foxes say "... it is impossible not to recognise in No. 29 the distinctive style of group 9." Today, the coin would be assigned to Group 6.

HPW doesn't illustrate a halfpenny labelled Group 6, but the illustration labelled Group 8 actually shows a 6/7 mule.

Type 10-11

It should be noted that this designation is a 'label of convenience' applied to halfpennies that were struck after Type 10ab and before the star-marked issue of Edward III, i.e. circa 1305-1335. It is likely that they were struck throughout the reign of Edward II and the early years of Edward III, but they cannot at present be related to pennies of any of the specific types that were struck during this period. A label of Type 10-15 would better reflect their general relationship to pennies of the same overall period.

Star-marked types

The Fox brothers coverage of these coins is very limited and their references to illustrated examples bear no resemblance to the actual numbers on the plate. They divide the coins into two groups, the second of which is attributed to the debasement period of 1335-43, and the first to a period immediately preceding it. In their 1964 paper, HPW treated the coins similarly, but P Woodhead subsequently re-examined the classification and reattributed all the star-marked coins to the 1335-43 period. This is now the generally accepted view.

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