GB & Ireland – Quarter-Farthings


Fractional farthings are one of the most interesting coins of modern times. The original ‘long cross’ penny was often ‘cut’ in half, or in quarters – hence the terms ‘half-penny’ and ‘fourthing’ (or feorthling), respectively. Eventually, the latter became corrupted into the modern term farthing.

When John Lackland was given the Lordship of Ireland by his father, King Henry II, he immediately set about making it his own. Sadly, his first trip to Ireland was a disaster but he seems to have learned from his mistakes and his second trip was almost an an invasion! He made his mark by introducing the first three-coin currency in medieval Ireland by minting ’round’ pennies, halfpennies and farthings. And, up until monetary union in 1827, the humble farthing was the smallest denomination coin in circulation.

Between the Great Re-coinage of George III and the Monetary Union of Great Britain and Ireland came an attempt to standardize all coins within the Sterling area, a.k.a. the British Empire. This area included some colonies where the standard of living was so low, and where goods and services cost so little, a smaller coin than a farthing was needed, i.e. fractional farthings!

Another, more pragmatic need, was the ‘political need’ to provide coins equivalent to denominations already in use, make the older (indigenous) currency obsolete. The 19th C was a time of great expansion for the British and the Royal Navy captured many former European colonies and kept them as their own. It was thus an important gesture to eliminate the previous colonial coinage(s) which contained the previous rulers in the designs.

The Quarter-Farthing

A quarter-farthing was issued for use only in Ceylon between 1839 and 1853, and was never legal tender in the UK & Ireland. However, they are usually considered to be part of the UK coin series, as Ceylon used British currency at that time. The former British colony of Ceylon is now known as Sri Lanka.

Copper Quarter-Farthings

The design is similar to that of the half farthing, but with a reverse which reads QUARTER FARTHING with the date and rose with three leaves (on either side) below, and a crown above.

Quarter-farthings are difficult coins to find in the top grades, as the tropical climate in Ceylon causes copper to corrode rapidly.

  • Diameter = 13.5mm
  • Weight = 1.2g
    • They have the smallest sized diameter of all copper British coins
    • All quarter-farthings are copper, except for the bronze and cupro-nickel proofs – both types are dated 1868


GB 1839 quarter farthing

1839 Copper Quarter-Farthing

  • Obverse:
    • uncrowned portrait of Queen Victoria
    • The surrounding legend reads: ‘VICTORIA D: G: BRITTANNIAR: REGINA F: D.’
  • Reverse:
    • the value ‘QUARTER FARTHING’ surmounted by a crown, with the date beneath. Rose with three leaves (on either side) below.

GB Quarter-farthings - Victoria

1868 Bronze Proof Quarter-Farthing (Victoria, 2nd portrait)

1868 Bronze Proof Quarter-Farthing (Victoria, 2nd portrait)

  • Obverse:
    • uncrowned portrait of Queen Victoria
    • The surrounding legend reads: ‘VICTORIA D: G: BRITTANNIAR: REGINA F: D.’
  • Reverse:
    • the value ‘QUARTER FARTHING’ surmounted by a crown, with the date beneath. Rose with three leaves (on either side) below.

Private Patterns

According to Henry Christmas (The Copper and Billon Coinage of the British Empire) in 1848, a few patterns, which were a wholly private speculation, were produced by a Mr Moore of Birmingham. These included a penny, halfpenny, farthing, half-farthing, quarter-farthing and an eight of a farthing. The quarter-farthing is illustrated below. They are quite rare and seldom appear at auction.

Pattern coinage by Moore - Model quarter farthing 1848

Pattern coinage by Moore – Model quarter farthing 1848

  • Obverse:
    • Portrait of Queen Victoria, facing left
    • Legend: VICTORIA REG:
  • Reverse:
    • Legend: MODEL QUARTER FARTHING 1848 (in 4 lines)


British Ceylon

The History of “British Ceylon” began in 1815 when the Kandyan Kingdom fell into the hands of the British. It ended over 2300 years of Sinhalese monarchy rule on the island. The British rule on the island lasted until 1948 when the country gained independence.

  • During the Napoleonic Wars, the British, fearing that French control of the Netherlands might deliver Sri Lanka to the French, occupied the coastal areas of the island (which they called Ceylon) with little difficulty in 1796
  • In 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens the Dutch part of the island was ceded to Britain, and became a British crown colony
  • In 1803 the British invaded the Kingdom of Kandy in the 1st Kandyan War, but were defeated with great losses
  • In 1815, the British returned, and Kandy was occupied in the 2nd Kandyan War




2 thoughts on “GB & Ireland – Quarter-Farthings

  1. Interesting read and excellent site.
    I believe it is thought that the first purposely hammered farthings are thought to be that of King John. Minted at both Limerick and Dublin, making Irish farthings the first of their kind in the world? Probably the case for half pennies also in John as Lord of Ireland?


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s