World Coins

Farthing found under mast of HMS ‘Victory’

Earlier this year, the lower main mast of HMS “Victory” was removed from the ship for the first time in nearly 130 years. During the process, officials discovered an 1894 farthing under the mast.

Image courtesy of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

A common British coin, found in an uncommon location, is now in a museum display.

The 1894 farthing was recovered earlier in 2021 from below the mast of the United Kingdom’s historic flagship, HMS Victory, where it was long ago placed as part of a centuries-old seafaring tradition.

The coin joined an Oct. 21 Trafalgar Day display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Trafalgar Day marks the 1805 battle in which Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson died aboard the Victory while defeating combined French and Spanish fleets.

When the base plate of the 32-meter, 26-ton mast section was temporarily removed from the historic flagship during a complex three-day engineering challenge earlier this year, the 127-year-old coin was uncovered.

It is now part of a new exhibit in the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s newest gallery, “HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship,” which charts the extraordinary story of this remarkable survivor, considered by many to be the world’s most famous ship.

A farthing, with a face value when minted equaling one-fourth of a pence, would be worth about one-tenth of a penny today, according to the museum. The farthing type recovered features Queen Victoria’s head on the obverse, with her hairstyle of 1874 to 1894, and Britannia on the reverse with a lighthouse in the background.

The continuing naval tradition of placing coins under ship masts may date back to Roman times.

The coin’s date, 1894, ties in with when these particular masts were inserted into the Victory after being removed from their previous ship, HMS Shah, when it was decommissioned. The recycled masts replaced the Victory’s Douglas fir masts, which, inserted in the 1850s, had since become rotten.

Discovering the coin

The head of conservation at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Diana Davis, found the coin when she was examining the base plate, after the mast was lifted out in May 2021.

The historic ship’s team knew about a metal wedge that had been placed between the mast and the base plate, to allow the mast to sit at the desired angle. The coin was found as the team inspected remains of the wedge.

Rosemary Thornber, principal heritage adviser for HMS Victory, said, “We had wondered if there would be a coin under the mast, to follow with naval tradition, and imagine our excitement when the coin was found and news rapidly spread through the team who were sworn to secrecy whilst we conserved it and made plans to put it on display.”

The coin was damaged by pressure from the mast sitting on it, as well as corrosion from the sea.

“Whilst on paper it’s not particularly rare, the fact that it occupied such an intriguing place for so many decades and now its imprint is part of Victory’s fabric, makes it invaluable to us, and our visitors will love to see it,” she said in the press release.

Stabilizing the coin

Davis, who uncovered the coin, described the process undertaken since to stabilize it for display.

“I excavated it from the shim on the mast base plate with a leaf trowel and scalpel, after recording and drawing it in situ,” she said. “Then, in the laboratory, I removed as much of the corrosion as possible without damaging the patinated copper alloy surface. There has been a little bit of loss to the coin surface from the impact of the mast with upwards of 21 tonnes resting on it but I was able to clean enough of the sound surface to uncover the lighthouse to the lower left side of Britannia, allowing us to date it as an 1894 farthing. It’s been one of the more unusual projects I’ve worked on — being the first person to see the coin in over 120 years.” 

The mast’s removal is part of a 20-year-long conservation project on the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission, which has already included the debut of a state-of-the-art support structure for the flagship.

The mast needs to be analyzed and conserved to ensure that it is structurally secure and materially stable enough to be fully rigged, according to the Museum.

Visitors can take a tour onboard the Victory to learn more of its story.

More information about the tour is located at

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