Shire Post mint gets authorization
I'd like to think a bit about that topic, and more to the point what exactly are the "tharni" and "castar" we see Christopher Tolkien talk about? It's only a passing reference to illustrate the linguistic concept of "farthing" - so all we know is that in Gondorian coinage, 4 tharni equal one castar.
The word tharni was an old word for "quarter" and was used by the Hobbits for "Farthing". The current word for a quarter or a "fourth part" was tharantīn. In Gondor a tharni was a silver coin that was one-fourth of a castar (in Noldorin the canath was one-fourth of the mirian.).
http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/The_Appe ... _Languages
J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "The Appendix on Languages", §41, p. 45
But what IS a castar or tharni? What do they weigh? At the very least, how big are they?
On the way there, let's think a bit about the silver pennies of Bree. About the only place we can judge their value is in Fellowship, where Bill Ferny demands twelve of them for a sickly raggedy pony:
Bill Ferny's price was twelve silver pennies; and that was indeed at least three times the pony's value in those pans. It proved to be a bony, underfed, and dispirited animal; but it did not look like dying just yet. Mr. Butterbur paid for it himself, and offered Merry another eighteen pence as some compensation for the lost animals. He was an honest man, and well-off as things were reckoned in Bree; but thirty silver pennies was a sore blow to him, and being cheated by Bill Ferny made it harder to bear.
-FotR, Ch. 11, "A Knife in the Dark"
Now given Tolkien's love of Dark Ages Britain, I'm virtually certain those silver pennies are for all intents and purposes the same manner of coin that was standard in Britain for most of the medieval era: the hammered silver penny:
(for scale, that's about the diameter of an American penny, but about half as thick- they're skinny!)
I've heard it said in the medieval era a soldier's pay might vary from three to six pence a day. If we assume a sickly pony is worth four pence, and a healthy animal twelve - I think we're in pretty much the right ballpark. Granted the medieval economy is not at like the modern one and it's hard if not misleading to make equivalences... but given I'd pay several hundred to a thousand dollars for a healthy animal today, I think we're at about the right order of magnitude thinking of Bree silver pennies as effectively medieval British pence.
SO... where does that leave us for the the castar and tharni of Gondor (and presumably Arnor)?
Again I think we have a reasonably good historical analogy. As many of you no doubt know, In the "pounds, shilling, pence" accounting of Britain, "pence" are abbreviated with a "d" rather than a "p." And "d" is for "denarii."
That is - the penny is a direct descendant of the Roman denarius.
"Aha!" I thought - "and in the Augustan Roman system, four sestertii equals one denarius! That can't be a coincidence! Therefore... a castar is about a penny in size."
Not so fast.
Chris Tolkien says the tharni was a silver coin. A denarius is a fairly small coin - about the size of a dime. Cutting that in quarters makes for a coin of quite small size. Certainly they existed here and there, but I think a silver coin barely a quarter inch across (give or take) is I think unplausibly small for a coin in regular circulation across most of society: hence the Roman solution of making sestertii from base metal.
But the tharni is silver.
Well... this may be simply cutting the knot, but I think that it's likely the pennies of Bree are still a descendant of Arnorian coinage - but of the tharni, not the castar.
This actually works quite well when you think on it. If a base laborer earns a penny or two a day, a soldier three to six... that means a castar is right around a day's skilled wages and a tharni a sizeable chunk of a day's wages but still small enough to be common in commerce - think of tharni conceptually as $20 bills from the ATM, castar as $100s. Again it's hard to make direct comparisons to a pre-industrial economy, but I do think we're in about the right order of magnitude here.
That would make the tharni ABOUT dime sized, and the castar ABOUT 50-cent piece sized, with about .15 and .60 ounces of silver respectively.
The Bree penny would be about the size of the tharni, but more crudely made with more spoaradic, lower-run mintings.
What do you all think? Plausible? Anyone have some holes to punch in the theory?
(edit - this also matches the coins of the world Tolkien knew: 4 pence to the groat)