It was the day when a nation stood still in disbelief, shock and a day which many will always remember where they were when they heard the news. On the afternoon of the 8thSeptember, an official protocol entitled Operation London Bridge was put into motion which was a plan of action agreed to by various departments of the British government some years ago – only to be enacted in the event of the death of the sovereign. Sadly, the day most of us living in the United Kingdom dreaded, the moment Buckingham Palace announced the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II arrived. The world learned of this sad event on that day at 6:30 pm London time and though the Queen was ninety six year of age, it was nevertheless still somewhat of a shock. Shortly after the news was broadcast, the British nation, Commonwealth and world at large learned the Prince of Wales had been proclaimed His Majesty, King Charles III while at Balmoral, Scotland where the Queen had passed. The words took a little getting used to, the new King who is now Charles III and eventually, new national symbols involving portraits, effigies and royal monograms that will ultimately make their appearance in due course. As the ten national days of mourning ended with the conclusion of the Queen’s funeral, the British nation and Commonwealth are slowly adjusting to the sad news and new reality.
In terms of being a symbol of national identity, the Queen had the distinct and unique honour of having graced the coins and/or banknotes and stamps from countries on every inhabited continent, including Antarctica where despite the fact there is a miniscule population and not having a centralised bank, there is however the research station and post office of the British Antarctic Territory. The image of Queen Elizabeth II was also included on items of money more times than any other person in history. At the time of her accession in 1952, there were more than thirty separate countries and/or monetary authorities with coinage bearing the effigy of the British sovereign. Ultimately, this was reduced to fourteen realms of which not all of these countries today issue their own individual coins or banknotes.
Aside from having received messages of condolences from colleagues, friends and family abroad, I also received questions from readers as to what might the procedure be to make changes to the country’s coins and banknotes. This question was eventually being addressed by the wider media and what time-frame the public may expect to see effigies and monetary portraits of the King in the many realms which he has inherited. Surprisingly, both the Royal Mint and the Bank of England responded far quicker than many had anticipated. The Royal Mint recently unveiled the King’s new effigy and the Bank of England advised the public they will unveil a portrait of His Majesty to be included on banknotes by year’s end. Coins minted from October will include this new effigy and the Bank of England stated new banknotes bearing the likeness of the King will enter circulation by mid-2024.
The scenario outlined by both the Royal Mint and Bank of England may also be followed in countries and Monetary Authorities within the Commonwealth. In countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the Queen’s image was present on all circulation and collector coinage but was included on only one banknote denomination. In the case of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and the Cayman Islands for example, their currencies are similar to that of the United Kingdom with the Queen’s image on all denominations of currency, coins and banknotes. As such, changes in these countries may be similar to that in the UK but, unlike their British counterparts, they could also introduce the option of removing the Head of State’s image altogether.
Royal Mint Coins
HM’s Treasury maintain a substantial inventory of coins for distribution, from £2 to one penny. In fact, the Royal Mint released information in 2019 that since there is currently a significant quantity of £2 circulation-type coins in storage, they do not envisage minting this denomination for another ten years. However, in an unprecedented move and at surprising speed, the Royal Mint unveiled the new definitive effigy for His Majesty’s coinage, just three weeks after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. They have confirmed new fifty pence coins carrying his likeness will be released into circulation before the end of 2022. The effigy is the work of renowned British sculptor Martin Jennings who, the Royal Mint advised in their press material, worked closely with King Charles III to produce the image which will be used on all British circulating and collector coinage from this year. The swiftness of the unveiling and collaboration between Mr. Jennings and the King may suggest this project had been ‘in the works’ for some time and taking into consideration the prolific collector and bullion coin activities of the Royal Mint, this scenario is most likely correct.
In keeping with tradition first introduced during the reign of King Charles II and with the restoration of the throne in 1660, the new King is depicted facing in the opposite direction of his predecessor. Since the Queen’s effigy faced to the right, the new sovereign is facing to the left. His legend – or inscription encircling his image will be shown in Latin but, in a move which is contrary to tradition of centuries of English and British coinage his name is shown in English. The legend reads: CHARLES III D G REX FID DEF (Charles III by the Grace of God King, defender of the faith). The abbreviations represent – DEI GRATIA REX FIDEI DEFENSOR and the year of issue is also shown as part of the legend. The Royal Mint have also addressed any questions about Elizabethan coinage presently in circulation by assuring the public all of these coins are legal tender and will only be replaced when no longer fit for circulation. It is worth mentioning base metal coins minted after 1948 which depicted the Queen’s father King George VI remained in circulation for decades after she acceded to the throne in 1952. Many of these coins did not disappear from circulation in the UK until a decimal currency was introduced in 1971. It was only with the change of specifications of five and ten pence coins – or old one and two shilling in 1990 and 1992 respectively, that those little bits of numismatic history disappeared completely.
At the time the Royal Mint unveiled the King’s new effigy, they also announced a range of memorial coins to honour the life and work of the late Queen Elizabeth II, which many British coin enthusiasts were expecting to see at some time in the future. These new Carolian-era coins in themselves may be something of a curiosity since the time of the restoration in 1660, no monarch has ever had coinage dated in the same year of their ascendency – such was the swiftness seen by the Royal Mint on this occasion.
Bank of England Banknotes
In similar circumstances of circulation coin stored at HM Treasury, the same can be said for the new G series polymer banknotes stored in the Vaults at the Bank of England. Shortly after the news of the Queen’s death, the Bank of England released a statement of condolence as well as affirming the legal tender status of all current banknotes of the G series produced in polymer as well as the remaining paper £20 and £50 banknotes from the previous F series (until the 30th September) bearing the image of the Queen and currently in use.
It is noteworthy to remind the public that Bank of England banknotes did not always include a portrait of the sovereign, nor is it a legal requisite to do so in the same way it is for coin of the realm. In fact, this design concept was only adopted in 1960 as a suggestion by the Treasury when a new series of banknotes was being discussed. It is estimated that in the United Kingdom, there are currently more than 4.5 billion individual legal tender Bank of England notes with a face value of more than £80 Billion and which feature Queen Elizabeth II’s image on the obverse or front side. As there is considerable cost involved with the production of banknotes, the Bank of England would not want to be seen destroying perfectly good banknotes in order to produce new notes reflecting the accession of the new monarch. However, as was with the swiftness of the Royal Mint to unveil an effigy for King Charles III, the Bank of England have confirmed they will include an image of the King on banknotes. They have also advised the public that a new portrait of King Charles III will be unveiled by the end of 2022 and ready for production as early as 2024. The Bank of England reiterated the reverse designs will not be affected and, as there will be some cosmetic changes – most likely some update improvements to security elements, the reverse designs may be around a little longer than initially anticipated.
Banknotes circulating in Scotland and Northern Ireland
The Bank of England has had a longstanding agreement with three commercial Banks in Scotland and three in Northern Ireland. The Banks in Scotland who issue banknotes are the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale Bank. Three banks are authorised to issue banknotes in Northern Ireland, they are the Bank of Ireland, Northern Bank Limited and Ulster Bank. The result is they all produce and circulate banknotes for the local economy. All versions of these banknotes conform to certain specifications of Bank of England banknotes with the exception of design. As such, none of these notes includes an image of the late Queen and it is not likely any of these notes will undergo any changes to reflect the accession of King Charles III.
The author, Michael Alexander, is president of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre.
Have a look how Queen Elizabeth II was featured on England’s banknotes.