Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nine Hundred and Sixty to the Pound


That's 960 farthings (see below) in one pound sterling in pre-decimal currency, not wrens. There would be about 45 wrens in one pound weight, because a wren weighs about 10 grammes (facts courtesy of the excellent BTO web site). The fact that this diminutive bird used to appear on Britain's smallest unit of currency is a measure of its public popularity. When it throws back its head, cocks its tail up and releases an explosive burst of song it always seems that it should come from a much bigger bird. Goldcrests may be smaller, but they are way down the league when it comes to noise to weight ratio.


I was nine years old when farthings ceased to become legal tender (1960), but before that I spent a lot of them during primary school days. Two farthings would purchase a ha'penny chew and since adults couldn't be bothered with these diminutive coins there was always a ready supply for spending on tooth-destroying sweets in the sweet shop opposite our school. When school finished in the afternoon the lady who owned the shop must have ended up with a cash-till full of these fiddly coins. Indirectly, they are probably the reason why I've had to make far too many trips to the dentist in later life.

For more British wildlife on obsolete currency, visit

8 comments:

  1. What a bird! I'm sure it can't beat our Koel in the decibel level of noise!

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  2. Hubby came across a farthing just the other day. It was lovely to see it because I remember it too Phil, when it was still in use. I was 7 in 1960. I also remember the first time I heard a magnificent burst of birdsong and realised it was a wren! I would have expected a gentle trilling lullaby.

    Teeth.... hmmmm, it's only the fillings holding mine together I think!

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  3. This takes me back, Phil. I remember being regularly sent around to our local Co-op for bread, in those days (60 or so years ago) a large white loaf. A large loaf then cost fourpence farthing but the Co-op never had any farthings to give in the change, so every loaf actually cost fourpence halfpenny. In the same period, I also remember having to take a ration book to the butchers across the road from the Co-op and going with my mother to Welch's sweet factory in Whitley Bay where we could exchange a two pound bag of sugar for barley sugar sweets. In the early 1990's, when I walked the Southern Upland Way, Welch's sponsored me in Barley Sugar sweets (for energy) as part of my fund-raising effort (£1000 for my good cause).

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  4. Hi lotusleaf, I'll have to find out what a koel sounds like now!

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  5. Me too Keith, I came across a dealer selling old coins in Tynemouth market and couldn't resist buying a few with wrens on..

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  6. Hi Lesley, we've had wrens nesting in the garden this year, so they've been making their presence felt with loud bursts of song.

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  7. Hi Emma, Fascinating! I seem to remember reading somewhere that the limit for legal tender of farthings was four and that shopkeepers could refuse more than that - not sure if it's true, though. Our late next-door neighbour, Doug Horne, used to own a sweet factory that specialised in black bullets and toffee - dentists' nightmares! When you walked past his premises on a day when they were having a toffee 'boiling' the smell was wonderful.

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