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 more significant impact on numismatics than Queen Elizabeth II. This sentiment is especially true in terms of volume since she has appeared on more coins than anyone else. In fact, she has appeared on coins from at least 35 countries, which is more than any other individual, even setting a Guinness world record. As a result, her face has graced billions of circulating, commemorative, and non-circulating legal tender coins throughout her reign, which be around for a long time after she passes.
The fact that Queen Elizabeth II has had such a significant 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 following the death of her father, King George VI. Since the next British monarch is expected to be her eldest son, Charles, the Prince of Wales, who is currently 73, King Charles is not likely to appear on nearly as many coins as his mother did.
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. 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, an even that was celebrated with several coins issued by mints worldwide.
In 2022 Elizabeth marked her platinum jubilee on February 6. If she is still reigning in about two and a half years, she will overtake France's King Louis XIV as the longest-reigning monarch in history.
The platinum jubilee will be celebrated for most of the year, including a four-day holiday from June 2 through June 5. The celebration also includes a wide range of collectible coins and a new 50-pence circulating coin whose obverse shows her on horseback. The reverse is a modern design focused on the number "70".
In addition, many of the countries of the British Commonwealth will also issue platinum jubilee coins for collectors. Examples include a special 2-coin set issued jointly with the Royal Canadian Mint that features a UK coin with the equestrian motif as the circulating coin and a Canadian coin that features a portrait of the Queen as she looked in 1952 when she was coronated.
Over the decades during which she has reigned, Queen Elizabeth II has appeared primarily on the obverse of coins issued by Great Britain and 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. These countries do not actually mint the coins; 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 arrangement is an essential source of revenue for those small island nations.
Overall, the Queen has appeared on the coinage of over 35 different countries, including the British Virgin Islands, East Caribbean States, St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Tokelau, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Cyprus, Gibraltar, and the Isle of Man, to name a few.
Without question, the primary way Queen Elizabeth II has had such a significant 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 and commonwealth coins, along with several others that appear only on certain Commonwealth countries, which are not required to use the same effigy as those on British coins.
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 because it was a simple laureated bust that showed the Queen's shoulders. In contrast, 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 degraded appearance 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. The design would be used on the decimal coinage introduced by Great Britain in 1968, Australia in 1966, New Zealand in 1967, and Canadian coins from 1965. For the first time, the same effigy would appear in both sovereign countries and colonies.
This effigy, which featured clean lines and subtle shading, was used for almost two decades. The design shows the Queen wearing the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara and was used until 1984. 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 was the work of Ian Rank-Broadley, which was introduced in 1998. The design shows her wearing the Queen Mary button stud pearl earrings and 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, formerly an engraver at The Royal Mint, 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 again 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 significant numismatic event in 2015, issuing several 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 gold sovereigns were struck with both effigies.
The Perth and Royal Australian Mint adapted this new effigy in Australia in 2019. The design would stay much the same and would feature a gracefully aging Queen facing to the right of the coin, but it does show the Queen's shoulders and the diadem around her neck.
Coinage of countries that are part of the British Commonwealth, a political association of 54 countries that are almost all former British colonies, are required to carry on their obverses effigies of the reigning British monarch who serves as the head of state of those countries.
As discussed earlier, some of these countries create their own images for this purpose, while others use the same ones that appear on UK coinage. In the case of Canada, the country has followed both approaches in its history.
From 1953 to 1964, Canada used the same effigy that appeared on British coins – the one created by Mary Gillick. Still, there was a problem with the relief of the Queen's portrait, which had to be lowered because the coins did not strike properly, which was most noticeable on her shoulder. That is known as the "no shoulder fold" obverse. This change resulted in more detail in the shoulder and hair in the second version, or "shoulder fold" obverse.
From 1965 to 1989, Canada used the Arnold Machin effigy, whose size was reduced in 1979 on one-cent coins to be proportionate to the diameter. Then in 1990, it introduced the first effigy designed by a Canadian artist, Dora de Pedery-Hunt, who came to Canada from Hungary. It shows the Queen wearing a diamond diadem and jewelry, as does the Raphael Maklouf effigy. This design is still used on Canadian coins issued for the Chinese Lunar New Year.
In 2003 the current effigy designed by Canadian artist Susana Blunt debuted to mark the 50th anniversary of the Queen's coronation. It is unique in showing her more informally without a headdress and wearing a single string pearl necklace, and it marked the first time that had happened since her father, King George VI, appeared on UK coins. She also has the hint of a smile in the portrait.
Australia has had six different effigies on its coins, and the first four of those were the same as the ones used on UK coins. The first by Australian artist Victor Gottwald was only used once in 2000 for coins commemorating the Queen's visit to Australia. Coins issued since 2019 have featured a design by UK artist Jody Clark, who formerly worked for The Royal Mint, with the Queen wearing the royal diadem that is similar to but distinct from the one he developed for UK coins that debuted on them in 2015.
Another way 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), older men and women who number the same as the monarch's age receive two small leather string purses. The red purse contains coinage while the white purse is filled with special silver Maundy coins that consist of the same number of pence as the Queen's age. These individuals receive these gifts to recognize their Christian service to the Church of England.
An exciting aspect of Maundy coinage, which numismatists widely collect, is that it uses the same Mary Gillick effigy which debuted in 1953.
Elizabeth's impact on numismatics extends beyond her various royal effigies. 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 genealogy of the new Queen.
These heraldic icons transferred beautifully onto coins, and the series grew to great popularity among both stackers and collectors. This series 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!
After all the 10 Queen's Beast designs were released, they were followed by the completer coin in 2021, which features smaller images of all ten beasts arranged in a circular pattern with a reduced effigy in the center.
Then in November 2021, a new series called the Tudor Beasts was released that is a successor to the Queen's Beasts. For information on that series, see this article.
The new series is also being issued in both collector and bullion formats in different sizes in silver and gold. Likely, they will also be issued in platinum.
Upon the Queen's death, a new design will be commissioned that features the face of the new leader, who is expected to be Prince Charles. The Royal Mint would begin producing coins with his image, which will face left rather than right as the Queen does since, by tradition, each monarch switches position when the coins with their effigies are created.
However, since British coins are minted the first day of each year, if the Queen were to die in the middle of the year, coins with her image would continue to be produced, and existing ones would still circulate. Those coins will be gradually phased out, but that will take many years as they will remain legal tender.
Queen Elizabeth II's remarkable numismatic legacy will thus outlast her long life.
Author Name: Louis Golino
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,” and in August 2021 the column received the NLG award for best column on modern U.S. coins. He has also received other awards for his writing. 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 and other publications. 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 has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.