Early British Denominational Silver Coins

Posted by on April 29, 2012
1307-1314 Half Penny London

1307-1314 Half Penny - London

Early British Denominational Silver Coins had not been used on the island since the Romans left around 400 AC when King Edward I addressed the need in 1279 AD.  The mints were already cutting the silver penny in half and into quarters creating the “Half-Penny” and the “Farthing”.  Farthing is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “feorthing” meaning a “fourthling” or “fourth part”.  Recently there had been found a very few half-pennies and farthings that are actual full coins struck during King Henry I’s and King Henry III’s reign, however King Edward I is still credited with establishing  these Early British Denominational Silver Coins in 1279.  King Edward I also introduced the silver “Groat”, from the Dutch “groot” which means “great” or “large”, and worth four pence (pennies). However the groat did not catch on at this time.

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Literally millions of silver pennies were struck, and the mints exchanged; older and underweight, short or long cross silver pennies for coins of the superior 1279 strikes at fee.  The new silver coins of King Edward I became very popular on the continent and often copied, although not to the higher standards of the British mints' silver coins.  The export of the new silver coins grew until 1299 when export of British coins was prohibited.  Also the mints’ location started replacing the moneyer’s names on the reverses’ legend.  By this time the number of mints had been reduced to seven, with the Tower of London producing the bulk of the coins.

1356 Half Groat - London

1356 Half Groat - London

The range of Early British Denominational Silver Coins continued to grown when the 14 year old King Edward III acceded to the throne in 1327.  Besides introducing three denominations of gold coins, King Edward III introduced the silver “Half Groat”, worth two pence.  The silver half groat was minted and used until 1797 when King George II discontinued it, however its use continued in the colonials for some years longer, and they are still used for the Maundy Ceremony.

1356 Groat - London

1356 Groat - London

The Maundy Ceremony started before King Edward II’s reign, however he set it as an annual event.  The Maundy Ceremony is typically preformed the Thursday before Good Friday and symbolic of Jesus Christ washing his disciples feet.  Gifts and a penny were given to the very poor, usually the same number as the age of the monarch.  During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, in 1572, these gifts were replaced with extra silver coins.  Even though silver is no longer being used for circulating coins in the UK, silver; 1d, 2d, 3d, and 4d coins are minted specially for the Maundy Ceremony.

King Edward III also reintroduced a new silver groat which became very popular at this time and eventually became more popular than the silver penny. Beginning in 1544 the fineness of silver began dropping from 92.5% and eventually to 33.3% silver content.  The groat was dropped from production until 1554 and thereafter was minted periodically.  The groat was discontinued in 1855, however silver fourpence are specially struck for the Maundy ceremonies.

1296-1297 Farthing obverse

1296-1297 Farthing obverse

These Early British Denominational Silver Coins continued to be resized throughout the centuries with a range of variations too large for this article.  Eventually all of these Early British Denominational Silver Coins were discontinued from circulation.

The last hammered silver penny was struck in 1663, during King Charles II reign, when they started minting them with rolling machines.  The silver pence was replaced with the copper pence in 1797, and now silver pence are only minted for the Maundy Ceremony.  The silver half penny was discontinued by 1672 when they were replaced by the copper halfpenny.

The silver farthing is very small since its worth is based on its silver content.  In order to accommodate its striking and ease of use; a variety of sizes, including reducing percentage of silver were tried. The last of the silver farthing were struck during King Edward VI’s in 1553.   King James I had farthings struck in copper during his reign in 1603 and they haven't been struck in silver since.

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