25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 29

On Persecuted Coins

THE monetary reformers are always with us, and during the past few weeks their voices have been lifted up afresh. Their present suggestions are not for radical reorganiza- tion but for minor adjustments. Our pounds, shillings, and pence are to be left untouched, but others of our coins are a nuisance and must go. The condemned pieces are the farthing, the threepenny-bit, and the half-crown. The reformers, however, in one direction have softened their hearts, and they would welcome back to the fold, after forty years of exile, that rejected coin the four- shilling piece. The protest against the continued use of the farthing and threepenny-bit is no new one. These little coins have long been the objects of scorn. The curious thing about them is that, although nobody seems to have a good word to say for them, they must have many secret friends. At any rate, there is sufficient public demand for them to justify the authorities in minting them by the million.


The use of farthings varies according to locality. In some districts they are in common use, while in others they are almost a rarity. The number struck at the Royal Mint, however, is surprising, and it is literally true to say that they are turned out by the ton. In 1928, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of farthings struck was 11,625,000, and to manufacture them 33 tons of metal were used. In 1918 the record number of 21,000,000 was issued, or over 60 tons of them. There is nothing in the official figures to suggest that the farthing is increasingly unpopular, and the question of its issue being suspended has not even been considered. As a matter of interest it might be mentioned that the farthing contains more than one-quarter of the metal used in a penny, and, therefore, its manufacture is not so profit- able to the Royal Mint as is that of the penny. A ton of alloy will make £448 in pence, but only £873 6s. 8d. in farthings. The bronze alloy used for our coins to-day costs about £45 a ton, so even on farthings there is a con- siderable profit. A shilling's worth actually costs about three-halfpence. Apart from the inconvenience which the withdrawal of the farthing would cause to certain classes, its retention is desirable on historic grounds.' The farthing—or fourthing —then made of silver, first became a coin of the realm in the reign of Edward I. The copper farthing dates from the time of Charles I. Those of to-clay, although loosely termed' "coppers," are made of bronze ; no copper coins of any kind have been struck since 1860.


There is one very mysterious feature of our farthings. Official figures tell us exactly how many are put into cir- culation, but nobody seems to know what happens to them afterwards. Millions and millions simply vanish every year. The law provides that money may be with- drawn from circulation when worn. This applies to our silver and to pennies and halfpennies. Farthings are an exception and are not withdrawn. Between the years 1860 and 1928 over 380,000,000 were issued. But where are they now ? Assume every person in the country to possess two farthings—a liberal estimate even after allowing for those card players who keep a stock for use as counters—and less than 100 million would be accounted for. Then where are the other 280 million ?


In calling for the abolition of the threepenny-bit the reformers arc attacking what is probably the most sur- prising member of our coinage. The farthing outwardly may have few friends, save the tradesmen who use it in their prices to appeal to the reasoning of woman, but the threepenny-bit would seem to have no friends at all. It is at once the bane of 'bus conductors and the despair of church officials. Yet a few years ago there was striking proof of the -place it holds in the affections of the country. In 1920, prior to the introduction of the silver coinage of the new alloy, the issue of all silver was suspended for some months. Threepenny-bits, however, were is such demand that the pressure for them could not be withstood, and large supplies of these coins were issued direct to the public by the Mint as early as April, 1920, although the issue of the larger silver pieces did not begin until the f011owing December.

, The demand for threepenny-bits varies considerably. In 1924 none was issued, but during the past ten years over fifty millions have been minted. They arc much more popular in Wales and Scotland than in London, and it is understood that a large proportion of those issued are sent north. A curious feature of the journeyings of these little coins is that Scotsmen visiting London come well supplied with them, for although there is a persistent demand for them in Scotland, stocks continually accumu- late in London. The position is counterbalanced by the L mdon bankers sending their unwanted stocks to their colleagues north of the Tweed.


The half-crown has been bitterly attacked in times gone by, and en at least one occasion its enemies nearly sue- - ceeded in securing its abolition. In 1849 the florin had been introduced as a concession to those who advocated a decimal coinage. The new coin had only a lukewarm reception, but in many quarters there was a feeling that there was no need for two coins so alike in value and size as the florin and the half-crown. No half-crowns, there- . fore, were struck between the years 1851 and 1874. In response to public demand, however, the coining of half- , crowns was resumed, and this coin is now issued in about the same quantity as the florin. There is possibly no real need for both the coins to circulate, but it is most unlikely that the authorities would ever consent to the permanent withdrawal of the half-crown. Indeed, the Royal Mint is very reluctant to allow any historic piece to be dis- continued. An instance of this is to be found in the re- sumption of the issue of the five-shilling piece in 1927, after a lapse of twenty-five years, none having previously

been struck since King Edward VII's Coronation year of 1902. The present reign, until 1927, had been the only one in which no crowns had been struck for over 300 years, and this break has caused general regret. This regret, it is only fair to add, was felt more by numismatists and historians than by the general public. The authorities, nevertheless, felt it desirable to reinstate the crown to its dignified position in our coinage.

In calling for the return of the four-shilling piece the reformers are engaging in what must be a hopeless effort, for it seems unthinkable that the double-florin will be re- introduced. Our monetary authorities are as loth to introduce a new piece into the coinage as they are to abolish an old one. Their last effort in this direction was in 1887, when, in the new and unfortunate Jubilee coinage, they introduced the double florin. This coin failed to win the slightest degree of popularity. It was awkward and almost identical with the five-shilling piece. Nobody liked it ; in 1893, after a life of six years, its minting ceased, and has not been resumed. R. JAMES.