Short Cross Pennies
Although small quantities of halfpennies had occasionally been struck since Anglo-Saxon times, the disproportionate cost of producing such small coins seems to have deterred the authorities from making any real effort. The need for small change was nevertheless very acute. A penny, which represented approximately a day’s pay for a skilled labourer, would buy two dozen eggs, two large loaves of bread or at least two gallons of ale. The solution, also adopted from the earliest times, was to cut the penny into halves and quarters. In fact, the voided cross design employed on the reverses of short cross coins (as well as their long cross successors) was chosen to facilitate this measure.
Until the late twentieth cenury, it was thought that all small change during the short cross period was provided by the above means, although a contemporary document was known that suggested otherwise. A writ of 21 February 1222 informed the sheriffs of the English counties that round halfpennies and farthings would be the only coins of those denominations to be permitted from 17 April. Dies to make the new coins were issued to the four moneyers of the London mint (Elias of Worcester, Ilger the Goldsmith, Randulf Frowik and Terri the Changer) in February and March 1222.
The actual striking of the round coins mentioned in the writ was confirmed in the 1980s when the first individual specimens began to be discovered by metal detectorists. Only a very small number of each denomination has subsequently come to light, but all four of the London moneyers named above are represented on them. The discoveries confirm that the coins were struck, but their issue seems to have been very brief, and they did not replace the old cut halfpennies and farthings as planned.
The cut coins on the other hand are frequent metal detecting finds, and it is apparent from them that the cutting was performed both by mint staff and members of the public. The majority of cut coins have cleanly cut edges, which appear to have been made with an accurately positioned and sharp tool. A minority of them, however, show evidence of less skilled performance. Telltale signs include misaligned and multiple attempts at cutting, and irregular edges resulting from breaking the coin by repeated reverse bending. Such action would have been an obvious remedy whenever ‘official’ small change was not to hand.
Round farthing, Class 7a3 (c.1222)
The round halfpennies and farthings are all of class 7a3 and closely resemble their penny counterparts in all respects except the initial mark. On both denominations the cross of the penny is replaced by a crescent enclosing a pellet. The legends may also be slightly abbreviated due to space limitations. For the illustrated coin they are:
Obverse: HENRI REX
Reverse: ILGER ON LVND