Hunting the castar...

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Elleth
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Hunting the castar...

Postby Elleth » Tue Aug 16, 2016 11:58 am

So we had a brief discussion a while back on coins floating around Breeland:

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:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_(English_coin)
coin-reference-english-hammered-penny.jpg
coin-reference-english-hammered-penny.jpg (31.69 KiB) Viewed 6815 times

(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.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denarius
coin-reference-roman-denarius.jpg
coin-reference-roman-denarius.jpg (65.33 KiB) Viewed 6815 times


"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.

Hunh.

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)
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Greg
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Greg » Tue Aug 16, 2016 12:29 pm

I follow your logic, and dig it.

When you sort this out and have a run of pennies/Castar made...I'm on your list. ;)
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Taurinor » Tue Aug 16, 2016 3:36 pm

Another pair of historic coins that we could consider comparing the castar and tharni to could be the silver penny and groat of Edward I. The groat was worth 4d.

Image

Here's an Edward III groat next to an Edward I penny, for size reference (from this auction):

Image

That groat would actually be a little undersized, at least according to Wikipedia (super reliable source, I know...) - "While strictly speaking, the English groat should have contained four pennyweights or 96 grains (6.2 grams) of sterling silver, the first ones issued weighed 89 grains (5.8 g) and later issues became progressively lighter. The weight was reduced to 72 grains (three pennyweights or 4.7 g) under Edward III".

The hobbits using the word "farthing" for a tharni is a little confusing, because in Medieval England, the farthing is 1/4d. The fraction stays the same, but what it is a fraction of seems different, if a tharni is analogous to an English silver penny.

Elleth wrote: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"


The silver pennies of Bree are tripping me up. In Ian Mortimer's "The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England," it is stated that a "good palfrey or riding horse" was worth 4 or 5 pounds. I'd imagine a pony of the above description would be worth quite a bit less, maybe 2 pounds or so? If a worn-out pony should be worth 4 silver pennies in Bree, that would make each penny worth at least half a pound of silver when converted to the coinage of Medieval England! It could be that ponies are much, much less expensive in Bree than in Medieval England, making this an inappropriate equivalency. It could also be that the monetary system of Arnor has developed to be more like our modern one, and that the value of coinage is not related to the metal it contains - it simply has value because everyone has agreed that it does. That seems very, very wrong for a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting, though.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Elleth » Tue Aug 16, 2016 4:30 pm

Ha! Yes, just after posting that the penny:groat thing had occurred to me - thanks! :)

As to the pony, I think there's a couple things going on. First, in this case the pony's starved and beaten down - I read that sentence as saying in effect "the used car was worth maybe a few hundred bucks, but Bill was insisting on full Blue Book"
That is - a healthy pony in good spirits would be 12 pence or so, not four.

Secondly, I think there's a good bit of variation both in regional economies and in the cost of horseflesh. On craigslist at the moment, I see locally a yearling pony for $400 and registered riding horses for $5500, and lots of animals in between. It's not unlike the question "how expensive is a car?"

But I do agree with you - I can't possibly imagine the coinage in Middle Earth being effectively fiat. I do expect the value of silver fluctuates relative to the value of - say - grain and hence livestock a fair amount with events however.

Mostly I'm going for order of magnitude - a penny (and hence I argue a tharni) isn't "five dollars" and isn't "five hundred dollars" ... but to the extent it's at all a meaningful question, I think it's reasonable to estimate its buying power in 2016 dollars as "somewhere slightly north of twenty and less than eighty, depending on the circumstances."
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Peter Remling » Tue Aug 16, 2016 5:13 pm

Just a thought brought about by the coin pics. Instead of two different size coins, how about one that is quartered, like a crease in it, so if I needed to pay someone a 1/4 value, I'd simply break off a slice of the pie so to speak. As more of these smaller valued coins began to circulate, they became more recognized and eventually got their own name.

This has more to do with Elleth's pm regarding coinage than this open thread though.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Taurinor » Tue Aug 16, 2016 5:29 pm

Peter Remling wrote:Just a thought brought about by the coin pics. Instead of two different size coins, how about one that is quartered, like a crease in it, so if I needed to pay someone a 1/4 value, I'd simply break off a slice of the pie so to speak. As more of these smaller valued coins began to circulate, they became more recognized and eventually got their own name.


I've read that the silver pennies had the cross on the back to facilitate cutting them into fourths, but I don't know if that is a guess or if there is evidence to back it up.

Image

J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "The Appendix on Languages", §41, p. 45 wrote:In Gondor a tharni was a silver coin that was one-fourth of a castar


That sounds to me like a tharni was a distinct coin, not a cut castar, but I could see how it could support the "cut coin getting its own name" theory, as well.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Elleth » Tue Aug 16, 2016 6:21 pm

I suspect in Middle Earth as in the real world, cutting of coins for change occasionally happened. Given the amount of base metal coinage that still exists however, I tend to think it was the exception rather than the rule in our world.

Certainly I think tharni were always distinct coins - though I'd be surprised if there weren't pieces of both tharni and castars floating around Middle Earth as "small change."

I suspect the average traveler in the Bree-lands would have a jumble of coins in his purse. Pre Erebor, I'd expect the mix to be mostly local manufacture, Michel Delving made Hobbity coins, and a fair amount of older Gondorian pieces that filtered up through sporadic trade.

Post Erebor, I'd bet a fair amount of both Dwarven and Dalish coins enter the mix - all valued by weight rather than custom.

I'd be surprised in there wasn't a fair amount of base metal small change floating around as well - much of it decades old.
I suspect all the local regulars at the tavern or general goods store just keep a tab though.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Kortoso » Tue Aug 16, 2016 7:02 pm

It's a riddle, isn't it?
Normal ancient cultures (such as the Roman Empire and the Anglo-Saxons) would have copper coins (like the modern copper penny) that would be used commonly for most exchanges. Sometimes they were made of bronze, but they weren't especially small. It wasn't the value of the copper that made the coin for the most part.
Larger denominations, however, depended on their silver or gold content and were usually small.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby SierraStrider » Wed Aug 17, 2016 2:47 am

that would make each penny worth at least half a pound of silver


Not quite so much, I think, but still a fair bit.

I don't have the original source, but I went back and looked at some notes I took from what were effectively late medieval repo records from England in the 1300s. Though a war horse was indeed very expensive at up to 50 Pounds, a farm horse was worth drastically less at only about 1/4 pound, or 60 pence. So if a worn-out pony should be worth 4 pennies, those pennies would at most only be worth about as much as a medieval shilling, which was 12 pence. If we take 12 pennies to be the worth of a non-worn-out horse, then those pennies would be the equivalent of a medieval groat or sixpence, which were 4 and 6 pence respectively. A sixpence was roughly the volume of a US quarter dollar coin. In weight, that would mean Frodo only paid 1/4 of a modern American pound of silver for the pony, about 1/3 of a medieval 'Pound Sterling'.

Relative prices fluctuate too much to have a consistent equivalent, but by an oat flour or US minimum wage equivalent, that's about $3,000.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Mirimaran » Wed Aug 17, 2016 5:47 pm

"Well, what are you waiting for? I am an old man, and have no time for your falter! Come at me, if you will, for I do not sing songs of dastards!"
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Elleth » Fri Aug 19, 2016 1:04 pm

Sierra - is there any chance this is what you're remembering?

http://regia.org/research/misc/costs.htm

And this part makes it ever more fun:

. To make matters even more complicated, the shilling did not have a constant value, varying from 4-6 pence, not the more recent 12 pence. For the purpose of this article I will be figuring a shilling to be worth an average 5 pence (48 shillings to the pound).


And that's not even accounting for regional debasements, shortages, and whatallelse.
Even "how much is a dollar worth" is an entirely different question in 1916 and 2016. :/

This one also has some good information, but there's not attempt to "rationalize" the data like Regia Anglorum.
http://medieval.ucdavis.edu/120D/Money.html


Anyhow - I've been playing with a graph of costs to get a better idea, and even though costs are all over the map the one strikingly consistent thing is that riding horse prices are dramatically higher than other livestock, even of the same rough size (which goes to cost of feed and upkeep). War horses much higher still, of course.

I'm tentatively assuming that's because - like today - a riding horse is largely an economic consumption good, whereas a draft animal is an economic asset. That is - I can use an ox to plow a field to get more food. A riding horse has to be fed and sheltered all year round but doesn't earn me anything. Therefore its net cost is higher, even for a riding animal.



ANYHOW... I think my Bree penny project is a go at least.
Especially given the penny and groat of real medieval Britain, I'm feeling fairly confident in those sizes even if I'm wrong about everything else. :)
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby SierraStrider » Mon Aug 29, 2016 1:03 am

That list looks similar, but lacks a handful of assets I have notes on from my previous research. Similar prices, though.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Will Whitfoot » Sat Nov 04, 2017 1:50 am

Just to throw another source of confusion into the mix :P

Tharnis and Kastars (as denominations of Gondoran currency) do not appear anywhere in THE HOBBIT, nor in any one of the three volumes of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, including the appendices. The licensing of Tolkiendom is divided in twain. All publishing rights remain with the family. A non-family entity controls the rights to films and merchandise related to THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS,. None of the other publications are within the license.

So, our problem is that the nomenclature of our coinage must be as if the Silmarillion and the HOME did not exist. That is why the silver penny is equivalent to a "shilling" and not a "tharni". Forgive please us our deviation from strict canon on some of these topics.
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Re: Hunting the castar...

Postby Will Whitfoot » Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:21 pm

Discussing the values of pennies, silver pennies, &c I think some people may be conflating the ordinary small copper coin called a "penny" with the "silver penny". The farthing is generally considered a quarter of a copper penny. One does not usually say "copper penny"... just "penny". And so if it is a silver one, it must be specified as a "silver penny" so as to avoid confusion. This is why we seldom refer to them as silver pennies... more commonly as shillings.

In Chapter 1 of FoTR (A Long Expected Party) there is this passage:

When the old man, helped by Bilbo and some dwarves, had finished
unloading. Bilbo gave a few pennies away; but not a single squib or cracker
was forthcoming, to the disappointment of the onlookers.


So here in this case we see Bilbo giving a few pennies away to the assembled children (would that Peter Jackson had kept that bit)... and clearly we cannot imagine that he is giving away silver pennies.

So we need to remember the need for small coin... enough for a half-pint, a piece of fruit, or a scone. Silver pennies are clearly too large for that.

Here at Shire Post Mint we've created a series of denominations for The Shire, based upon the Penny as the central unit with others defined as fractions or multiples of the Penny.

1/4p Farthing copper or brass ~0.75G (these exist in at least ten different types)
1/2p Haypenny copper or brass ~1.5g (ha'penny, or half-p) (these exist in at least five different types)
1p Penny copper or brass ~3.0g (these exist in at least eight different types)
2p Tuppence copper or brass ~ 6g (these exist in at least four different types)
3p Thrupny copper ~9g (these exist in at least three different types)
6p Sixpence silver 3.1g+ 1/10 troy ounce (these exist in at least five different types)
12p Shilling silver 7.8g+ (aka "Silver Penny") 1/4 troy ounce (these exist in at least five different types)
24p Two-shilling silver 15.6g+ (aka "Toofer") 1/2 troy ounce (these exist in at least four different types)
In addition there are a series of higher value coins conceptualized, but these would be rarely seen in Hobbit parlance except for large mercantile purchases.
48p 1/4-crown silver 3.11g+ 1/10 troy ounce Two types exist, in gold.
96p 1/2 Crown gold 7.9g 1/4 troy ounce , one type exists in gold, also made in brass to emulate gold color.
192p Crown gold 6.2g 1/2 troy ounce (not yet made)

All coins of The Shire have, upon their obverse, the central image of a tree. There are three reasons for this... one is that I have long been a fan of the 1652 Massathusetts Pine Tree Shilling.... illegally minted in defiance of British authority. The original Shire Silver Penny was made to emulate the style of the Pine Tree Shilling. The second is that we surmised that the Hobbits would have a vague deference for a tree on a coin, as an echo of long-ago Gondoran coins featuring the White Tree. And thirdly, the Hobbits would have heard faint Elven echoes in song and tale of the Two Trees of Valinor... and while putting two trees on a coin would be cheeky, one tree is fine... it just seemed right. But the problem is, what tree? Each farthing (or district of The Shire) has it's own iconic tree... the Pine for the North Farthing, The Elm for the East Farthing, the Willow for the South Farthing, and the Oak for the West Farthing. So the mayoralty instituted the "tree cycle" whereby each year the tree on the coins would change in a cycle, each year honoring one of the four farthings. 1402 was an oak, 1403 the pine, 1404 the elm, 1405 the willow, 1406 the oak, 1407 the pine etc.

Conceptually (though not in practice) this would have continued on forever. (spoiler alert) But the cycle is broken in SR-1419 with the hostile occupation of The Shire by Big Men, first invited in by Lotho Sackville-Baggins, but later under their boss Sharkey. Sharkey wanted to gather all the circulating silver to himself and (after first imprisoning Mayor Will Whitfoot) ordered iron occupational currency (in decimal denominations no less) to be minted, with the Michel Delving coining operation moved to the new Steam Mill in Bywater. The iron coinage was short-lived however (and now rare), due to the triumphal return of the four Hobbits of the Fellowship and the routing out of the Big Men. Thus ends the Third Age of Middle-earth. Coinage for the fourth age in The Shire begins with the series of SR-1420, in which the tree-cycle is abandoned in favor of unity, and all the denominations feature the now-famous Mallorn tree on obverse.

So for the Shire coinage I have thus-far focused entirely on the period of the story spanning SR-1401 (Bilbo's farewell party) to SR-1420 (The Scouring of The Shire). Once the series of 1420 is complete, there will be little more change going towards the future. But there is a great deal of potential in stepping backwards into the earlier precursors... all the mixed coins that would have been circulating in the district for hundreds of years.

In the real world now... it is a great challenge to make coinage more primitive! As we have learned more about coining and refined our processes, our coins have tended to look more and more modern, more centered, more perfectly struck. And yet, that's exactly what we need to strive to avoid when making coins to emulate ancient types!

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