O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Farthings (Victoria)


Background

The bronze Coinage of Queen Victoria was introduced in the year 1860, to replace the copper coinage first inaugurated by Charles II in 1672. This new alloy for coinage had several advantages over the old copper coins:-
  • it was lighter, cheaper and had greater hardness / durability

But bronze is not as easy to strike coins in as copper, and the large number of die varieties found in this coinage is evidence of the great difficulties the Royal Mint encountered in coining in this metal. It is quite easy to understand that in the years 1860-61 there should be so many changes.

  • The Royal Mint was dealing with a metal it had no previous experience of
  • Bronze proved to be a much more difficult metal to work with, compared to copper
  • It is a much harder alloy, thus it broke up the dies very rapidly
  • Conversely, many Victorian bronze farthings display small cracks in the flan
    • Die-making technologies had to evolve rapidly to cope
    • Die-making repairs, fixes and ‘work arounds’ became common short-term solutions
  • This happened because bronze coinage was to replace an older coinage of copper which was ordered to be called in, and the change was to be made as rapidly as possible, so that in these years an exceptionally large number of pieces were required
    • Production volumes within a short timescale, no doubt, added to the man difficulties the Royal Mint had to contend with
    • This, in turn, is a delight to numismatic students, i.e. there are lot of varieties to collect

Victorian Bronze Farthings (Bun Head)

  • Edge:         Plain
  • Border:     Detached circular beads, and the beads sit inside a small raised rim.
  • Diameter: 22mm
  • Weight:     2.7 – 2.9g
  • Designer:
    • Obverse: Leonard Wyon
    • Reverse: Leonard Wyon
GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) - Type 1

GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria), Type 1 – Bun Head design

1860-69 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria) - mintage, varieties & market values

1860-69 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria) – mintage, varieties & market values

1860-97 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) 3, 4 and 5 berries varieties

1860-97 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) 3, 4 and 5 berries varieties

1864 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) plain 4 in date

1864 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) plain 4 in date

1865 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) 5 over 3 in date

1865 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) 5 over 3 in date

1865 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) small 8 in date

1865 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) small 8 in date

During the 1870s, the Royal Mint was under such pressure to produce coinage that they took the unprecedented step of ordering blanks from the privately-owned and run Heaton Mint in Birmingham. In 1874, 1875 and 1876, they went further – the Royal Mint sub-contracted some, or all of the production of GB & Ireland bronze farthings to the Heaton Mint. These coins had an H under the date. Those without an H were minted in London by the Royal Mint – possibly using Heaton blanks – but there are no records to say how many. The Heaton Mint seems to have encountered similar ‘die problems’ to that of the Royal and, once again, there are man die varieties, repairs, re-cuts, etc. to study and collect.

1875 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - mintmark H centred

1875 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – mint mark “H”

1872-79 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) mintage & market values

1872-79 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) mintage & market values

The berries are similar to those illustrated in the previous section.

Other varieties for this decade include:

1873 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Low 3 date variety

1873 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Low 3 date variety

1875 & 1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - RFG variety

1875 & 1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – RFG variety

1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Large 6 date variety

1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – the “high large 6” is actually a “6 over 6” die variety

1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - wide date variety (12 beads)

1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – wide date variety (12 beads)

1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - very wide date variety (13 beads)

1876 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – very wide date variety (13 beads)

1878 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Low 8 date variety

1878 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Low 8 date variety

1879 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Large 9 date variety

1879 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Large 9 variety

During the 1880’s, similar die varieties occurred as the Royal Mint struggled to produce replacement coins, along with a “mint mark to the left” variety from the Heaton Mint. By 1883, they seemed to have got things right and no major die varieties exist for the rest of that decade.

1880-88 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) mintage & market values

1880-88 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) mintage & market values

1881 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - H to the left variety

1881 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – H to the left variety (almost touching the first 8 in date)

1882 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - H centred

1882 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – H centred A normal coin for comparison (with above)

1883 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Broken F in FD

1883 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Broken F in FD variety

The 1890s also has a few scarce varieties and high premiums are paid for the better grades. Once again, it is always worth checking carefully because many dealers do not check for these small die variations.

1890-95 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) mintage & market values

1890-95 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Bun Head) mintage & market values

1890 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Narrow date variety

1890 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Narrow date variety

1890 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Normal date, high 0 in date variety

1890 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Normal date, high 0 in date variety

1890 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Narrow date, low 9 variety

1890 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Narrow date, low 9 variety

1892 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - 2 over 2 date variety

1892 GB & Ireland bronze farthing –     2 over 2 date variety

1893 GB & Ireland bronze farthing - Narrow date variety

1893 GB & Ireland bronze farthing – Narrow date variety

Victorian Bronze Farthings (Widow Head)

  • Edge:         Plain
  • Border:     Detached circular beads, and the beads sit inside a small raised rim.
  • Diameter: 22mm
  • Weight:     2.7 – 2.9g
  • Designer:
    • Obverse: Thomas Brock / George De Saulles
    • Reverse: Thomas Brock / George De Saulles
GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Widow Head) - Type 2

GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria), Type 2 – Widow Head design

1895-1901 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Widow Head) mintage & market values

1895-1901 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Widow Head) mintage & market values

Widow Head Farthing Varieties

1897 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Widow Head) - high & low tide varieties

1897 GB & Ireland bronze farthing (Victoria, Widow Head) – high & low tide varieties. The ‘high tide’ (on the left) is the scarcer of the two.

Notes:

In 1897, in response to complaints from the public and shopkeepers, the Royal Mint began to chemically stain their farthings a darker colour in order to prevent people confusing a bronze farthing (¼d) with a gold half-sovereign – a coin worth 480-times more than a farthing !

The high and low tide marks vary between Victorian farthings, halfpennies and pennies so it is important that collectors compare like with like – due diligence usually pays handsomely when the scarcer variety is successfully identified.

 

Further Reading:

 

 

 

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