RFT Identification (and grading) Guide

The Royal Farthing tokens of James I and Charles I remain stubbornly in a numismatic backwater, shunned by many dealers and all but a handful of collectors. The reasons for this may be that the series appears both overly simple whilst at the same time proving quite complex and difficult to master. Problems with correctly identifying pieces are exacerbated by the lack of easily recognised monarch’s portraits or dates, which makes arranging them in a precise sequence more difficult.

With regard to their superficial ‘sameness’ a fairly perfunctory study will reveal that these RFT’s encompass a surprising degree of variety which occurred during their evolvement over the 30 year period they were in circulation.

They were produced under the auspices of a succession of licencees, or patent-holders, who inevitably sought to give ‘their’ tokens a distinctive appearance. Hence Harington, Lennox, Richmond, Maltravers and Rose versions have individual styles which permit ready separation. In lieu of dates these early copper issues carried privy marks which were changed at intervals.

In an attempt to defeat the counterfeiters, who were very active during this period, design changes occurred from time to time. This was only a limited success and a great variety of bogus pieces exist, which we are left with the problem of separating out. Most of them are of crude style and easily detected, but others are of superior workmanship closely resembling the pieces they were copying. A section towards the end of this publication illustrates some of the better attempts alongside their genuine counterparts. In 1636 the Tokenhouse introduced a brass segment into the new Rose issues, which virtually defeated the forgers at a stroke. Rose counterfeits are RARE.

The farthings of James and Charles I survive in large numbers, not surprising, I suppose, considering the large quantity issued, and their fairly low salvage value at the time they were de-monetised. This is borne out by the relatively large selection offered for sale at any one time on the ‘net’. Unfortunately many are in a pretty poor state, and there is a preponderance of the commoner Rose pieces amongst them. Their generally low grade does not assist in their correct identification, and frequently vendor’s descriptions cannot be relied upon. It is not uncommon for a coin clearly inscribed IACO to be listed as from the reign of Charles. Even when a piece is correctly attributed to King James, a common Lennox will sometimes be offered as a rarer Harington (or even Harrington).

The listings and illustrations in this article should assist attribution by buyers, sellers and students of the series. Even for those with a degree of expertise in this field changes in design and legends (often missed) can be a pitfall for the unwary, and result in a common piece being mistaken for a great rarity – and vice versa.

Perhaps because of the general illiteracy in the early 17th century, and the not very stringent quality control at the Tokenhouse where the RFT’s were produced, many striking errors occur which are sought after by the discerning collector. This article points out the major anomalies that are found but does not attempt to list them in full. They are covered in their entirety by a recent publication (and its addenda) now available.

After many decades ( centuries?) of confusion C.Wilson PECK brought some order to the Royal Farthing Tokens in the early sections of his splendid book ENGLISH COPPER, TIN AND BRONZE COINS in the British Museum 1558 – 1958.

Unfortunately, he seems to have relied rather heavily on the work of earlier writers and numismatists, and this resulted in a considerable number of spurious pieces being included as genuine – or at best doubtful. The large range of CARA counterfeits he legitimised being a case in point.

Although Peck trawled through the museums and major private collections of the day, perhaps through no fault of his own he also missed around 120 types or variants which have since come to light. Not a few privy marks were wrongly ascribed, perhaps some of them because the specimens available for inspection were of a poor grade.

Luckily, in late 2007, TIM EVERSON’s Galata Guide to the Farthing Tokens of James I and Charles I was published. This excellent work not only included all of the pieces missing from Peck, but attributed all of the bogus farthings to separate counterfeit sections linked to their genuine types. Everson’s publication has not only superseded the Peck catalogue for this series, but has the advantage of being constantly up-dated by the addition of new variants as they come to light. If you rely on Tim’s book, be sure to obtain the ADDENDA published a few months ago.

In any illustrations depicted or items listed I have used the Everson number followed by the Peck (or bmc) reference. On coins listed as E.117d/P.- etc. this indicates there is no Peck equivalent; i.e. it was unknown when the 2nd edition of his catalogue was printed.

Finally, there is one over-riding reason why I remain fascinated by the RFT series, and that is because there is always the chance that something previously unknown will turn up. It does happen from time to time – and occasionally from the most unlikely source. If anyone using this site comes across anything fresh (whether genuine, or a ‘note-worthy’ counterfeit) I would appreciate being advised, so that we can ensure the details are preserved for posterity (with attributions, of course). I would also appreciate my attention being drawn to any errors or omissions that have crept into this treatise.

RH 2011