The farthing is a favourite coin among collectors, not least because of the charming picture of a wren on the face. This tiny coin – which was in its day worth 1/4pence – was once ubiquitous, but went the way of other coins in the latter part of the 20th century. Interestingly, the farthing was deemed not to be legal tender long before decimalisation, as we shall see.
The farthing was introduced into UK currency in 1860, during the reign of Queen Victoria, and at first featured a depiction of Britannia on the back. This remained until 1937, when the wren made its first appearance. It would remain with the wren image until it was declared no longer to be legal tender on 1st January 1961. Since then, the farthing – in both this form and the one that preceded the 1860 version – has been collected avidly, and there are many around still.
The latter versions of the farthing, post-1860, were minted from bronze. Prior to this, farthings had been copper-based, which was the norm for most UK coinage. Which are the valuable examples of the farthing that you may have in your collection or, should you be lucky enough, could find when you are looking?
Values of the Farthing Today
For the purpose of this article, we will be talking about the Victoria farthing, from 1860 onwards. An 1860 farthing features the original ‘bun head’ design of Queen Victoria, and has a plain edge. These are sought after, and a very good but used example will be worth around £1 – that’s a decent starting point for a young collector. A very fine example will command around £7.50, while a perfect uncirculated example can be worth upwards of £100.
Moving forward in the Victorian era, and an 1880 farthing – with Britannia on the back still – is somewhat rarer than those issued in the earlier years. A very good example of a used coin will sell for around £2.50, with an uncirculated example fetching as much as £200. This is down to the fact that by now, fewer were being minted, hence their scarcity today.
From 1895 onwards the farthing featured an image of Queen Victoria known as ‘old veiled head’ in deference to her ongoing mourning of her beloved late husband, Albert. A 1901 farthing, the year f her death, is among the cheaper of all, with very good used examples available for 25p, and uncirculated for under £20. These are nevertheless sought after by collectors thanks to the date.
It is interesting that the minting of farthings increased in the early part of the 20th century, hence George V coins are not as collectable as those before them with good examples available for a few pence and uncirculated for less than £10. Once again, a good starting point for younger collectors.
There is a curiosity in the world of the farthing in that, for the 1937 date, a ‘pattern coin’ – that is a proof version in effect – was minted with the head of Edward VIII, who was soon to famously abdicate. It is not known if any went into circulation but it is doubtful, and those that do exist tend to be in official collections. George VI farthings are nevertheless numerous from 1937 until the year of his death in 1952.
The famous ‘wren’ design as introduced in 1937, during the reign of George VI, and the first year of this design, while sought-after, is far from rare and can be bought for very little money. In the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, four slightly different designs of farthing were issued, although to tell the difference one would have to be an expert. For the record, of the four the examples known as ‘obv 2 rev A’ remain hardest to find, yet they command low prices with uncirculated examples selling for around £16.
The final year in which the farthing was minted was 1956 and while you may think examples would be worth a lot of money, many were issued and a very good used example can be yours for around 5p!
The farthing remains a fascinating coin in collectors circles and with even the very rarest available for very small amounts, is a good coin to start with for novice collectors.