O’Brien Coin Guide: Harington ‘Patent’ Farthings (1613-14) for James I


Strictly speaking, the Harington ‘patent’ Farthings are not part of the Irish coinage of James I but, since many turn up in Ireland (either as genuine finds, or as imports by collectors or dealers), they cause a lot of confusion due to their having a harp on the reverse. Also, this patent was carried through by no less than four subsequent patentees – the second, third and fourth of which did produce farthings ‘authorised’ for use in Ireland upon continuation of the original patent first granted to Lord & Lady Harington.

  • In order to clearly differenciate between the types, and to illustrate the design progression that they hoped to beat the counterfeiters with, I am including the Harington Farthings in my corpus of Irish coinages
  • All five types are listed in the annual Coin Year Book (published by Coin News), so a precedent does exist for their inclusion

Historical Context

When James I came to the throne of England he restored the coinage of Ireland to a better standard with two issues of silver sixpences and shillings,

  • the first in 1603-04
  • and the second in 1604-07

After 1607 the Irish economy was again dependent on coinage of a purely English type circulating along with miscellaneous coinages from elsewhere in Europe. Most of these coins were circulating at somewhat below their issue weight (because they were heavily clipped) and would not have been acceptable to re-export at their face value. Following Gresham’s Law, they remained in circulation whereas the new (good) silver was hoarded as a store of value. This ensured the retention of lightweight foreign coinages in Ireland.

The Harington ‘Patent’ Farthings

From his previous experience as King of Scotland, James realised that small denomination copper coins would be acceptable, as they had been in use in Scotland and on the European mainland for some time. However the English seemed to have an obsession with gold and silver, requiring that coins had their proper values’ worth of metal.

  • James decided not to have the copper coinage produced by the Royal Mint

On May 19, 1613 James issued a proclamation prohibiting private token coinage and granting John Harrington, 1st Baron Harington of Exton, a royal patent (after a number of other proposals had been considered) to produce tin coated bronze farthing tokens which were to be used throughout the realm.

  • Harington was heavily charged for the privilege of minting the farthings, but also made a healthy profit from this enterprise
  • The coins were authorized to be just six grains but the first products actually weighed only five grains
  • They were 12.25 mm in diameter, showing two sceptres through a crown on the obverse and a crowned harp on the reverse, so they are often called Irish coins but in fact they were the only English coins which were not authorised for circulation in Ireland

The Harington issues originally had a surface of tin which served to make counterfeiting more difficult and to make the coins look more like silver and therefore more acceptable.

  • The obverse shows two sceptres through a crown, and the legend IACO DG MAG BRITJames, by the grace of God, of Great Britain
  • The reverse shows a crowned harp and the continuing inscription FRA ET HIB REXFrance and Ireland, King.

Despite Harington’s best intentions, these copper coins were extremely small and easily counterfeited. Due to protests by traders and the public over the minute size of these tokens, the weight was increased to nine grains and made slightly larger – 15mm diameter – and without the tin wash.

There are three main Harington farthing varieties but Type 1 can be further sub-divided into three variations. In addition, there is a transitional ‘mule’ variety that incoporates Type 2 and Type 3 dies.

Harington Type 1a, privy mark = ermine (1613)

Harington Type 1a, privy mark = ermine (1613)

  • Type 1a : Small – 12-13 mm dia.  Most, but not all, were produced with a tin coating. The privy marks are located on the base of the obverse crown, between the sceptre legs.  Recorded privy marks include the letters A, B, C, D, F and S, in addition to a millrind, pellet and ermine.  The Harington ‘fret’ is found at 2.00 o’clock on the reverse.  The millrind piece has an upright die axis, all others being rotated.
Harington Type 1b

Harington Type 1b

  • Type 1b : Similar in size and weight to 1a, but not tinned. ‘Fret’ on reverse. Privy mark is now the central jewel on the obverse crown (quite difficult to make out) which can be unmodified, a trefoil, a crescent, or a mullet. All rotated die axis.
Harington Type 1c

Harington Type 1c

  • Type 1c : Fret on the reverse. Privy mark = a ‘stylised’ grasshopper below the base of the obverse crown. Rotated die axis. 2 versions exist.
Harington Type 2

Harington Type 2 – privy mark = lis (c.1614-16)

  • Type 2 : Large – 14.5-15.5 mm dia. Privy marks now found on the reverse at 2.00 o’clock where the ‘fret’ appeared in type 1. Recorded privy marks are:-cinquefoil, cross saltire, lis, mullet and trefoil. This type can also have 7 or 8 harp strings. Die axis rotated.
Harington Type 3

Harington Type 3

  • Type 3 : This is a new design for the Harington farthings. The obverse has a much larger fairly crude crown bearing 5 jewels in a quincunx ( 2-1-2). There are 7 harp strings. These coins are slightly larger and heavier than the earlier type 2 issues. Die axis is rotated.

When Lord Harington died in 1614 the patent passed to his son, who died soon thereafter, so the patent reverted to Lord Harington’s wife, Lady Anne Harington.

  • It appears Lady Harington either sold or gifted the patent to the Duke of Lennox on June 28, 1614

Who was John Harington ?

Harington was the eldest son of Sir James Harington (c.1511–1592) of Exton Hall, Rutland, and his wife, Lucy Sidney (c.1520–c.1591), daughter of Sir William Sidney and his wife, Anne Pagenham. His family was said to have held ‘the most extensive estates in Rutland during the late sixteenth century’

  • Harington was knighted in 1584
  • He joined the Inner Temple in 1558
  • He was MP for Rutland in 1571
  • He was commissioner of the peace for Kesteven from about 1559 to 1593
  • He accompanied Mary, Queen of Scots, through Warwickshire on her way to Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire 1586
  • He was also High Sheriff of Rutland in 1594,1598 and 1602.

Sir John Harington was created Baron Harington in July 1603 at the coronation of James I, the first Baron Harington of Exton, Rutland. He was made guardian of James’ daughter, Elizabeth. The high cost of entertaining the Princess ruined him. As partial recompense Harington was granted a licence to mint the first copper farthings by the King.

  • When Princess Elizabeth married the Elector Palatine, Frederick V and Lord Harington accompanied her to the Electoral Palatine, but died on his way back in 1613.
  • After his death, the Exton estate was sold to pay his creditors, being purchased by Sir Baptist Hicks.
Sir John Harington (1561-1612)

Sir John Harington (1561-1612)


One thought on “O’Brien Coin Guide: Harington ‘Patent’ Farthings (1613-14) for James I

  1. Pingback: Jamestown Unearthed: Cellar under church catches experts by surprise – Truth Troubles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s