Lawrence Chard continues his guide to the many coins featuring Britannia
In the second part of his special guide to Britannia coins Lawrence Chard, Director and Expert Numismatist at Chard’s, examines the famous Queen Anne farthing, the coins of the first three Georges, and take a look at how Britannia has been depicted on private trade tokens
All the previous issues of tin and copper farthings and halfpennies had been made under licence, or with blanks being subcontracted, rather than by the Royal Mint. Partly because of the profitability of this, they had been overproduced, and there was a glut of them by the time of Queen Anne’s accession to the throne in 1702. In addition, Isaac Newton had become the Master of the Mint in December 1699, and held strong beliefs about the future quality of coin production.
He believed that the base metal coins should contain their full intrinsic value of pure copper, less only the actual cost of production, that the entire production process should be controlled by the Mint, and that their production should only be sufficient to meet actual demand. On the face of it, these would appear to be very reasonable beliefs, aimed at producing better quality coins at lower cost. Unfortunately, his hopes were somewhat optimistic because the British still did not have the skills or knowledge to produce high quality pure copper blanks. The Swedish were the technological leaders in copper metallurgy at that time.
The main, or only, quality control test for the purity of copper was known as the ‘Hammer Test’. A piece of red hot copper was hammered until it was thin. If it split, it had failed the test. We believe that because copper was a relatively new material as far as the Royal Mint was concerned, that they and others at the time, were ignorant of its metallurgy, despite the fact that much earlier civilisations, such as the Romans, has successfully used copper coinage almost two thousand years previously. It would have been much sensible to have used bronze, an alloy of copper, tin and zinc. It is nowadays well understood that alloys usually possess better working properties than pure metals.
Because of these factors, no copper halfpennies were ever produced during Queen Anne’s reign, although experimental patterns for them were being produced. Similarly, no farthings were produced until 1713, the very last year of her reign.
According to Peck, about 400 farthings dated 1713, may have been produced. This was the last year of Anne’s reign. It is believed that these farthings were never actually issued for circulation, but were the culmination of a number of patterns produced with the intention of finding an acceptable design. The fact that such a large number of a pattern coin were released may be because it had proved to be acceptable and successful, and that it was about to be produced in larger quantities for circulation at the time of Anne’s death. Certainly farthings were issued during most of George I’s reign.
Anne farthings are certainly a rarity. Our company has only handled 1 example in over forty years, but then there are many coins about which we could say the same. My guess would be that there are more than 400 in existence, either that or the current
catalogue value is too low (2000 Spink Standard Catalogue quotes EF £375, VF £350, and Fine £175). Most specimens which have been offered for sale appear to have been in very good condition, mainly EF (Extremely Fine). Peck comments that the few pieces which show some wear may have been carried in pockets for ‘good luck’.
Almost a century after their issue, a strange rumour started involving Queen Anne farthings. This rumour seems to have started in February 1802, and Peck gives a number of examples of press comment and advertisements from the period, from the collection held by the
British Museum Coins & Medals Department, in which Anne farthings were offered for sale at astonishingly high prices for the time.
Part of the rumour seems to have been that only three examples were made, and that two of these were accounted for. The earliest story tells that a soldier from Chatham was supposed to have received one in his change, been offered £50 for it, refused, then journeyed to London where he sold it for £400.
By 1808, the story was still around, and there was a secondhand report of a legal case where an innocent man had been charged with robbery, and the theft of a Queen Anne farthing. The man was acquitted, and it was said that the case was brought by a ‘pettifogging lawyer, as ignorant as he was villainous’ who had suborned a soldier to make a false accusation of robbery, so that the man would be hanged, and the lawyer could get possession of the farthing. Why is it I’m prepared to believe that there may be some grain of truth in that particular story?
Every age seems to have its own rumour about coins. In 2000 AD in Britain, it is the famous ‘£2 Necklet Coin’, soon it will be ‘Silver Pennies Found in Change’. Before that it was the ‘Missing 1933 Penny’. Other countries have their own native versions of these silly stories. (You could always let us know yours).
The 1713 Anne farthing is very attractively engraved, and would make a pleasant addition to most collections. Don’t worry if you can’t obtain one, the issues of George and II used the same master punch prepared by John Croker, as did most of the George III issues.
It is believed that the figure of Britannia on the many pattern coins of Anne were modelled on the Queen herself. The Britannia used on the actual farthing of 1713 differs considerably from previous patterns produced by Croker, and it is believed that Anne ordered the design to be changed, objecting to the bare leg which Britannia was showing. This would not have been acceptable to the very modest Anne if it were thought that the figure of Britannia was modelled in her likeness.
By 1717, there was a strong demand for halfpennies and farthings, and there was no time for the Royal Mint to conduct further experiments in production of its own copper blanks from raw metal. Copper coins were minted using rolled copper fillets or strips, ready for cutting into blanks by the Mint before striking.
The new issues were struck in high relief, and produced attractive coins, although this also caused production problems such as weak striking. The very first issues were made on small diameter thick flans, and are now know as ‘dump’ issues. From 1719 a thinner, larger diameter was used.
The copper coins of George II remained unchanged from those of George I, except for the obvious matter of an updated obverse portrait.
The forgery of copper coins however became a significant problem, and new laws were introduced to control the problem. The forgers responded by deliberately altering the inscriptions, many of which are amusing. Strangely, we see far more forgeries of George III coins than we do of George II.
George III - First Issues
The reign of George III is noteworthy for coin collectors. From 1760 to about 1815, most of the coinage was similar to previous issues. Change started in about 1797 with the issue of ‘Cartwheel’ pennies, twopences by Matthew Boulton, and from 1816, the entire coinage was revised.
In 1762 and 1763, a large issue of halfpennies was produced, all dated 1754, the last date of George II, whose portrait they bore.
From 1770 to 1775, halfpennies were issued for George III, with his portrait and legends, but otherwise continuing previous designs. Similarly, farthings were issued from 1771 to 1775.
As already noted, these were very commonly forged, usually with deliberately altered inscriptions.
Because of shortages of good copper coins (most of the official issues were being melted down and re-issued as forgeries), many local companies started to produce their own ‘token’ coinage. The first of these were the pennies of the Anglesey Copper Company in 1787. Following this, there were large numbers of privately issued ‘coins’ or tokens issued, most of which were well designed and
produced, and make up an entire and important segment of the British coin collecting scene.
We have shown the reverse of a Warwickshire halfpenny token of 1790 to illustrate a very industrious Britannia, but need a better photograph. The figure is not actually named as Britannia, so she may be ‘Industry’ instead, or it is possible that she may represent industrious Britannia.
This however is not the best place for us to expand on the theme of tokens. If we ever get the spare time, we will try to add a short section about tokens.
Boulton and Watt’s Steam Power
Matthew Boulton and James Watt together had a great effect on the British coinage. Matthew Boulton was one of the greatest industrialists of his time. James Watt is familiar to every student as the inventor of the steam engine. In about
1772, Matthew Boulton turned his attention to the problems of the coinage, particularly that copper coins were being counterfeited. He applied his engineering success to ways of producing coins efficiently using steam power. By producing them efficiently, and incorporating design features difficult to copy, they could posses a high intrinsic value, which would deter counterfeiting by making it unprofitable. He proposed using a retaining collar to ensure a constant diameter, and using incuse lettering on a broad rim, which would protect the design from wear, and also be deter counterfeiting because of the heavy equipment need to strike the coins.
He received no response from the Royal Mint, but proceeded to build several coining presses. In 1786, he won a 100 ton order for copper coins from the East India Company.
In 1787, a government committee was formed to consider the state of the coinage, and Boulton was invited to attend in January 1788. As a result he was asked to produce patterns for halfpennies, which he offered to produce at about half the cost of the previous Royal Mint issue. Several designs appear to have met with approval, but none were coined for circulation, probably because of intransigence by the
Royal Mint, who were reluctant to admit their incompetence, and the inadequacy of their machinery.
Despite this, Boulton was confident in the superiority of his equipment, and continued to build more coining presses at his Soho Works in Birmingham.
Eventually in 1797, Boulton was given a contract to supply 20 tons of twopences and 480 tons of pennies. These were the famous ‘cartwheel twopences’ and ‘cartwheel pennies’ of 1797. These magnificent and impressive coins weighed two ounces and one ounce respectively! A further order for the same quantities was received the next year. Unfortunately for collectors, these were issued with the same, 1797, date as the first issue. This was the first time Britannia had appeared on pennies or twopences. These were also the first copper penny and twopence to be issued. Britannia had now appeared on four British coin denominations.
Royal Mint Re-equipped by Matthew Boulton
Between 1805 and 1812, the Royal Mint was rebuilt, and all the new coining presses were supplied by Matthew Boulton. Many of these were so advanced and successful that they remained in use until as late as 1882. During the rebuilding period the Soho Mint received further orders for pennies and halfpennies which were dated 1806 and 1807.
Britannia, Rule the Waves
The words of the well-known song are usually misquoted as ‘Britannia Rules the Waves’, but the correct version is a call for Britannia to rule the waves, not a statement that she already does rule them.
With the new Soho Mint coinage, Britannia received a more nautical look. Her spear was changed to a trident, previously an attribute of Neptune the sea god, waves were shown washing around the rock upon which she is shown seated, and a ship was added on the horizon, symbolising Britain’s naval power. The ship is believed to represent a warship, and the port-holes visible are actually gun-ports.
The freshly sculpted figure of Britannia on the Soho coins was engraved by Conrad Heinrich Küchler, a talented German designer who Boulton recruited in 1793.
In the next issue we bring Britannia’s coin story up to date, charting the Victorian era and beyond, and detailing the foreign and ‘other’ pieces on which this symbol of the nation has proudly appeared.