O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Silver Three-Halfpence


Introduction:

The ‘three-halfpence’ was the smallest silver coin ever struck by the Royal Mint for circulation. It was worth ​112d (or ​1160 of a pound) and was produced for circulation in the British colonies, specifically for use in British Guiana, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Mauritius, Sierra Leone and the West Indies.

  • They were a rough equivalent to the Indian ‘anna’
    • In Ceylon, they were equivalent to 4 stivers
    • In Jamaica, they were equivalent to the Spanish-American ‘quarter real’

This monetary equivalence was no coincidence.

The United Kingdom had adopted a very successful gold standard in 1821, and so the year 1825 was an opportune time to introduce the British sterling coinage into all the British colonies. An imperial order-in-council was passed in that year for the purposes of facilitating this aim by making sterling coinage legal tender in the colonies at the specified rating of $1 = 4s 4d (one Spanish silver dollar to 4 shillings and 4 pence sterling).

As the sterling silver coins were attached to a gold standard, this exchange rate did not realistically represent the value of the silver in the Spanish dollars as compared to the value of the gold in the British gold sovereign, and as such, the order-in-council had the reverse effect in many colonies.

  • It had the effect of actually driving sterling coinage out, rather than encouraging its circulation, i.e. Gresham’s Law.
  • Remedial legislation had to be introduced in 1838 so as to change over to the more realistic rating of $1 = 4s 2d.

In 1834, silver coins of threepence (3d) and three halfpence (1½d) were introduced, valued at ½ real and ¼ real. The three halfpence coins came to be called “quartiles” or “quatties.” These in particular were used in church collections due to a feeling by the black population that copper coins were inappropriate for that purpose. Hence, they came to be called “Christian quatties”.

In 1839 an act was passed by Parliament declaring that as of December 31, 1840, only British coinage would be legal tender in Jamaica, demonetizing all of the Spanish coins, with the exception of the gold doubloon which was valued at £3 4s.

  • Coins in use were thus:
    • copper farthing (¼d), halfpenny (½d) and penny (1d)
    • silver three-halfpence (1½d), threepence (3d), sixpence (6d), shilling (1/-), florin (2/-), half crown (2s/6d), and crown (5/-).

The emancipation of the slaves in 1838 increased the need for coinage in Jamaica, particularly low denomination coins, but the freed slaves were still reluctant to use copper – the silver 1½d helped.

According to Museum Victoria, Jamaica (which inherited the archive and collection of the Melbourne Branch of the Royal Mint) …

“Small parcels to the value of 25 pounds worth of 1½d pieces were issued by the Royal Mint, London to private persons for use in various colonies including Jamaica. No record was kept of the ultimate destination of any particular parcel.”

The coin is considered to be part of the British coinage because it has no indication of what country it was minted for, being made in the same style as the other contemporary coins of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland.

Silver Three-Halfpence (William IV)

  • Edge: Plain
  • Border: Teeth, and the teeth sit inside a narrow raised rim.
  • Diameter: 12mm
  • Weight: 0.71g
  • Designers:
    • Obverse: William Wyon
    • Reverse: Jean Baptiste Merlen
1834 William IV silver three-halfpence

1834 William IV silver three-halfpence

Obverse:

  • Portrait of King William IV, facing right
  • Legend: GULIELMUS IIII D G BRITANNIAR REX F D

Reverse:

  • “1½” beneath a crown and over the date, all contained within a wreath
1834-1837 William IV silver three-halfpence (mintage & market values)

1834-1837 William IV silver three-halfpence (mintage & market values)

Note:

  • Museum Victoria, Jamaica lists 1834 and 1837 proofs
    • Most UK dealer lists do not

 

Silver Three-Halfpence (Victoria)

  • Edge: Plain
  • Border: Teeth, and the teeth sit inside a narrow raised rim.
  • Diameter: 12mm
  • Weight: 0.71g
  • Designers:
    • Obverse: William Wyon
    • Reverse: Jean Baptiste Merlen
1839 Victoria silver three-halfpence

1839 Victoria silver three-halfpence

Obverse:

  • Portrait of Queen Victoria, facing left
  • Legend: VICTORIA D G BRITANNIAR REGINA F D.

Reverse:

  • “1½” beneath a crown and over the date, all contained within a wreath
1838-70 Victoria silver three-halfpence mintages & market values

1838-70 Victoria silver three-halfpence (mintage & market values)

Note:

  • The NGC / Krause coin database lists proofs dated 1838 and 1862, whereas as most UK dealer lists do not. Examples of these also exist at the Museum Victoria, Jamaica.

 

Further Reading:

  • A History of Currency in the British Colonies
    • Sir Robert Chalmers (1858)
  • The Guidebook and Catalogue of British Commonwealth Coins
    • Jerome Remick (1971)
  • Spink’s Catalogue of British Colonial and Commonwealth Coins
    • Andre de Clermont, (1986)
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