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A Legal Lacuna? - The ‘Illegal’ Farthings of 1799

We are almost all familiar with the Second Coinage pieces by Matthew Boulton and the Soho Mint. Dated 1799, there were approximately 42,480,000 halfpence and 4,224,000 farthings produced between November 1799 and July 1800. They were, presumably, common then, and they are common now, though possibly not in the same lustrous state as the piece illustrated.


The coinage was ordered by the Government, and authorised by the Royal Proclamation of 4th December 1799. The wording of the Proclamation describes the coins which have been authorised:


‘We have also thought fit to order, That Halfpenny Pieces and Farthings should be coined, having also on one side thereof Our Effigies or Portraiture, with Our Name or Title, and on the Reverse the Figure of Britannia; with the Year of Our Lord’


There is no doubt that the halfpennies of 1799 conform to the design set out in the Proclamation, but there is equally no doubt that the farthings do not. There is nothing in the Proclamation about the insertion of the denomination of the coin ‘1 Farthing’ and there is everything in the Proclamation to order the year to be placed on the REVERSE of the coin, along with Britannia.


At one level, this all seems a bit minor, but the Proclamation is what gives the coins their legal status, and the Farthings do not comply with specification.


The conclusion must be, therefore, that the 1799 Farthings were never legally authorised; the consequence of which is, of course, that anyone who was tried and found guilty of forging them was found guilty in error!

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