Few people have had as much of an influence on coinage and numismatics as Queen Elizabeth II. Her face has been present on the obverse of commonwealth coins all over the world for over 60 years. Explore the history and influence of her Majesty in numismatics.
It can be argued that no living person has had a greater impact on numismatics than Queen Elizabeth II. This is especially true in terms of volume, since she has appeared on more coins than anyone else. She has also appeared on coins from more countries than any other individual. As a result, her face has graced billions of circulating, commemorative, and non-circulating legal tender coins over the course of her reign.
Born on April 21, 1926, Elizabeth Alexander Mary was the daughter of Albert Frederick Arthur George and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Her father became King George VI after her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in 1936. In 1947, she married Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark. In 1952, her father died and she became the Queen on February 6, 1952, with the official coronation on June 2, 1953.
In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee, marking the 60th year of her reign, and on September 9, 2015, she achieved an even more impressive landmark - the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom (UK), and the longest-reigning woman in history. Numerous coins were issued to mark both of those events. In 2016, she celebrated her 90th birthday. At that time, a number of coins celebrating this event were struck.
Over the course of the decades during which she has reigned, Queen Elizabeth II has appeared primarily on the obverse of coins issued by Great Britain and by the 16 nations of the Commonwealth that recognize her as head of state. In addition, there are other coins, such as the 1953 Silver Coronation Crown, on which she also appears on horseback on the reverse.
Several of the smaller countries of the Commonwealth, especially Niue, the Cook Islands, and the Isle of Man, have had an enormous number of non-circulating legal tender commemorative coins issued under their authority. The coins are not actually minted by these countries however; they are minted by government and private Mints in other countries like Poland and Germany. These private Mints pay the countries a licensing fee to issue the coins. This is actually an important source of revenue for those small island nations.
Without question, the primary way in which Queen Elizabeth II has had such a major impact on modern numismatics during her reign is through the various effigies, or definitive portraits of her that have appeared on the obverse of billions of coins. There are five major effigies of Her Majesty that have been used on Great Britain coins as well as commonwealth coins, along with several others that appear only on certain Commonwealth countries. These others are not required to use the same effigy as those on British coins.
For example, since 2003, Canadian coins have used an effigy designed by Susanna Blunt that, unlike others, is based on a photograph. Australia and New Zealand have also used their own distinctive effigies in the past. Now however, both of these major coin producing countries use the ones designed by Ian Rank-Broadley.
The first effigy of Queen Elizabeth II was launched in 1952 and designed by British sculptor Mary Gillick. Selected from a group of 17 other designs, this one was first used on circulating coins in 1953 for Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia, and Nyasaland.
The Gillick effigy was mainly notable for the fact that it was a simple laureated bust that showed the Queen’s shoulders, whereas coins depicting her predecessors (except Queen Victoria) were couped, that is, cut off at the neck. Over the course of the life of the master dies for this effigy, wear set in on some facial features, her dress seams, and her neckline. The latter became so reduced that she began to appear bare-shouldered and flat-faced.
This did not sit well with British authorities, so Cecil Thomas was brought in to recut the master dies and add a seam to the Queen’s dress. Thomas also created an effigy for use on the coinage of British colonies, in which the Queen wore a Tudor crown, as did her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
In 1964, British artist Arnold Machin was selected to create a new effigy. It would be used on the decimal coinage introduced by Great Britain in 1968, in Australia in 1966, and in New Zealand in 1967, as well as on Canadian coins from 1965. For the first time, the same effigy would appear on both sovereign countries and colonies.
This effigy, which featured clear lines and subtle shading, was used for almost two decades. It is also believed to be the Queen’s favorite.
From 1985 until 1997, UK circulating coins used an effigy by artist Raphael Maklouf, who came to the UK from Israel after World War II. This couped portrait depicts the Queen wearing the George IV royal diadem, or crown, which she wears on her way to and from the official State Opening of Parliament every year.
Unlike the previous effigies, this one shows the Queen wearing a necklace and earrings, which the artist has explained was intended “to create a symbol, regal and ageless.” In addition, Maklouf’s, middle initial, D, was added to the initials that appear on the truncation of the neck, i.e., “RDM” to avoid confusing “RM” with the Royal Mint.
The Maklouf effigy continues to be used by some commonwealth countries, such as Niue, on their numerous commemorative coins, though often reduced in size to free up space for a design that fits the theme of the release.
The fourth effigy had its origins in a design competition held in 1997 for the obverse of the golden wedding crown. Because the designs were so impressive, it was decided to explore the possibility of using a new portrait on circulating coins, too.
The design selected, which is the work of Ian Rank-Broadley and introduced in 1998, is very different from the Maklouf effigy since it depicts the Queen in a much more realistic, rather than idealistic, way. As Rank-Broadley said, there is “no need to disguise the matureness of the Queen’s years. There is no need to flatter her. She is a 70-year old woman with poise and bearing.”
In addition, because the diameter of circulating British coinage was getting smaller, this effigy used a larger image of the Queen that fills up most of the obverse apart from the inscriptions, rather than leaving space as the previous ones had.
In 2015, British artist Jody Clark, who is a Royal Mint engraver, became the youngest designer ever to create a definitive coinage portrait of the Queen after winning a closed competition.
Like one of her predecessors, her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II has now been the subject of five royal effigies used on British coinage. In Clark's effigy, she is wearing the George IV diadem, as on the Maklouf effigy, and wears earrings without a necklace.
The Royal Mint turned the unveiling of the new coinage portrait into a major numismatic event in 2015, issuing a number of special coins and sets for the occasion. Some coins issued that year feature the Rank-Broadley design, while others have the Clark design. 2015 is also the only year in which gold sovereigns were struck with both effigies.
Another way in which Queen Elizabeth has impacted numismatics is through Maundy Money, which is a tradition that began under King Charles II. During a special ceremony held on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), elderly men and women who number the same as the monarch’s age receive two small leather string purses: a red purse that contains coinage and a white purse that contains special silver Maundy coins that consist of the same number of pence as the Queen’s age. These individuals receive these gifts in recognition of their Christian service to the Church of England.
An interesting aspect of Maundy coinage, which is widely collected by numismatists, is that it uses the same Mary Gillick effigy that was launched in 1953.
Queen Elizabeth's impact on numismatics is more than just a royal effigy. In 2016, the Royal Mint announced a new series of silver and gold bullion coins with designs honoring the Queen's Beasts - 10 statues carved for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation back in 1953. These statues displayed various beasts guarding a shield, representing the geneology of the new queen.
These heraldic icons transferred beautifully onto coins, and the series has grown to great popularity among both stackers and collectors. It grew even further when the Royal Mint announced a collector's proof version in December of 2016, which would be issued in various sizes ranging from 1/4 oz. up to 1 Kilo!
The fact that Queen Elizabeth II has had such a major impact on coins has a lot to do with the unexpected circumstances that led to her ascension to the throne at the young age of just 26. Since the next British monarch is likely to be older by the time they assume the throne, they will probably never appear on as many coins as she did.
You can add coins with Queen Elizabeth II’s effigy from ModernCoinMart (MCM) and enjoy low, competitive prices and free domestic shipping with no minimum.
||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|