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Elizabeth I three farthing

This coin was found some time back by Colin Pearson. At first it looks pretty straightforward but when he examined the coin more closely Colin noticed something peculiar about it.

The coin measures close to 12mm in diameter and it has a date (1561) on the reverse, so it must be a threefarthing piece. However, were it a threefarthing piece it should have a rose behind the queen’s head on the obverse. There is no rose, so is it something really special?

Small denominations of Elizabeth I

During the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I there was in increase in the number of small denominations in the hammered series. Sixpences, groats, threepences, halfgroats, threehalfpences, pennies and threefarthings were struck. The discs of silver for coins were cut out by hand from sheets. Their sizes were often inexact, so (for instance) a small halfgroat could be the same size as a large threehalfpence. To help people to distinguish between the denominations some had a date and a rose behind the queen’s head, some had neither.

Date and rose

Sixpences, threepences, threehalfpences and threefarthings had a date and a rose. Groats, halfgroats and pennies didn’t have a date or a rose. Therefore, besides checking the size, people had also to check if coins had a date and a rose or neither. I’m pretty sure there must have been countless arguments when goods were bought and sold. Some, both buyers and sellers, might be trying to pull a fast one; others might just be muddled up and could have mistaken one denomination for another.

Why no rose on this coin?

So, why isn’t there a rose on the obverse of Colin’s threefarthing piece? The most likely answer is that it was removed by someone during the 1560s in order to pass a threefarthing piece for a penny. In doing so the person passing the coin would end up a farthing better off. In 2021 this counts as an extremely small sum but in the 1560s a farthing might have bought a range of things. Of course, had any person who received the coin turned it over and seen the date they should have realised it was a threefarthing piece rather than a penny.


Colin’s ‘doctored’ threefarthing piece has a weak area on both sides but is otherwise in VF condition. It’s not as it should be but has such an interesting tale to tell that it wouldn’t be worth any less than a standard coin of this denomination.

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