Cut farthing of Edward 'the Confessor'

British Museum

British Museum

The only coin that was circulated widely in early medieval England was the silver penny. Gold coins and larger silver coins were only struck very occasionally as religious offering pieces, and round halfpennies were only struck intermittently. The silver penny of the later Anglo-Saxon period was probably equivalent to £20 to £25 in modern terms. Although the economy was less heavily based on cash payments than today, there was a clear need in the eleventh and twelfth centuries for smaller coins.

Rather than issue smaller coins, it was thought simpler to cut pennies into halves and quarters. The majority of coin designs throughout the period had a cross on the reverse and, by lining a chisel up along the limbs of the cross, it was possible to make a neat division. Cut halves and farthings are very common, and because they are usually neatly cut it is thought that the cutting may often have taken place at the mint before they were issued. The term 'farthing' literally means 'a fourth part' or 'quarter' in Old English, and later came to be used of coins which were struck to the value of a quarter of a penny.

This example was issued by King Edward 'the Confessor' (reigned 1042-66).

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  • Title: Cut farthing of Edward 'the Confessor'
  • Physical Dimensions: Weight: 0.259g (cut)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: E.5083
  • Period/culture: Anglo-Saxon
  • Material: silver
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Authority: Ruler Edward the Confessor. Moneyer Wulfwine