It will be a while before we know exactly what Charles III's coins will look like.
While many aspects of his accession were carefully pre-planned, it's been reported that the new King refused to have his portrait modelled for coins while he was still Prince of Wales. This means that the team at The Royal Mint will have to commission a portrait ASAP so they can start using it to strike new money. We can expect this to be revealed in the coming months.
Until then we're left with a few key questions, including whether King Charles will be shown wearing a crown on his coinage.
Luckily, we've got centuries of royal and numismatic precedent to comb through for answers.
Charles will be crowned with St Edward's Crown at his upcoming coronation but will he wear it on his coinage?
What we know about Charles III's coins
Looking to the past gives us clues about what Charles coinage will look like. Some conventions like which way the new King will face on his coins are likely to be followed.
No royal portrait has yet been unveiled but there's a few things we can be reasonably sure of:
- Charles will face left on his coinage: Since the seventeenth century, successive British monarchs have faced the opposite direction to their predecessor. As Elizabeth II was shown looking right, Charles will very likely face left. Controversially, Edward VIII, Charles' great-uncle, planned to break this tradition (he reportedly preferred his left side). It seems unlikely that Charles would want to rock the boat in this way.
- The King will get final say on his portrait: For most of the last hundred years, coinage portraits have been chosen via an invite-only competition held by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee. The committee will pick their favourite entry and present this to the Chancellor of the Exchequer then Charles himself for approval. Elizabeth II approved Mary Gillick's portrait in 1952 from 17 designs by eminent artists.
- We'll see the first Charles III coins very soon: You might find new coins in your change before Charles' coronation, as early as January 2023: that's when The Royal Mint can start issuing coins in the name of the incoming monarch. This is a very short turnaround time so we're sure they're very busy in Llantrisant right now.
Did you know? The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC) was established in 1922 to advise the government on the design of official coinage, medals and seals. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh served as Chair of the RMAC for 47 years. The current Chair is Baroness Gisela Stuart who leads a panel that includes well-known artists and academics.
Crowns on historic British coinage
Medieval English Kings identified themselves on their coinage by their crowns. It's hard to tell your Henrys from your Richards unless you're an expert but you're left in no doubt that the chap on the 'heads' side of the coin is a monarch.
This changed after the English Civil Wars. Interregnum governments initially choose not to feature portrait at all. Later, after he had rejected the throne, Oliver Cromwell was shown wearing a crown of laurels, harkening back to Roman coinage portraiture which often depicted leaders in this way.
After the restoration of the monarchy, Kings and Queens opted for laurels or a bare head. Perhaps, they didn't like the idea of a disembodied crowned head after the execution of King Charles I.
It wasn't until the reign of Queen Victoria that a British monarch was again shown crowned on their coins. Victoria's earliest coinage portrait - William Wyon's 'Young Head' - shows her without any headgear but, from the 1840s onwards, artists became comfortable showing the Queen with an array of different crowns on coinage issued in the UK and across the British Empire.
Victoria's successors, Edward VII, George V and George VI reverted to the crown-less tradition, at least on their British coinage. Crowns certainly feature on the reverse or 'tails' side of UK coins in the early twentieth century but these Kings were not shown wearing them.
Did Elizabeth II have a crown on her coins?
When Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, she choose an uncrowned, 'laureate' effigy for her first coins. Mary Gillick's design, used from 1953 until 1970 shows the Queen facing right, adorned only by a wreath at her temples.
Like her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, Elizabeth was only shown crowned on her coinage after she had been on the throne for some time. Her second British coin portrait - the work of Arnold Machin - shows the Queen wearing the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, believed to be one of her favourites.
Machin's portrait was replaced with a new one by Rapahel Maklouf in 1985. This shows Elizabeth II sporting the George IV State Diadem. She also wore this to the State Opening of Parliament. Ian Rank-Broadley's portrait, introduced in 1998, reverts back to the Girls of Great Britain tiara while Jody Clark's fifth and final portrait again shows the George IV Diadem.
Five portraits of the late Queen Elizabeth II on gold Sovereigns issued during her reign.
Will King Charles be crowned on UK money?
While both Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II were shown crowned on British coins, they are outliers. The custom of the last four centuries has been for uncrowned portraits. We know that Charles takes a serious interest in art history and British heritage so he's likely aware of this.
If Charles III does want to be shown crowned, he'll have to consider that the portrait will be created before his coronation. In this ceremony he will be formally bestowed with St Edward's Crown by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Elizabeth II and Victoria's first, uncrowned portraits were also designed in the period between their accession and coronation. Only subsequent effigies, issued years into their reigns, featured a crown. Presumably Charles could borrow some of the Crown Jewels ahead of the ancient royal ritual but would that come across as jumping the gun?
Another obstacle in the way of a crowned portrait is that Charles has less headwear to choose from. That is, unless he wants to be shown with a tiara or diadem. He could use St Edward's Crown: George VI is seen wearing the piece, named after St Edward the Confessor, on coins issued in India, Hong Kong, East Africa and Malaya. The thing is, it rather dominates the design. The crown is 30 centimetres tall and covered in 444 precious and semi-precious stones. Fitting that in means the rest of the portrait would need to be shrunk down to achieve an attractive, balanced motif. The Imperial State Crown is lighter but even taller at 31.5 centimetres.
The biggest argument against a crowned portrait might be changing attitudes towards the royals and Charles' own opinions on the subject. We expect that the new King's coronation will be less expensive than his mothers and there's been suggestions that he will reduce the number of royal family members who conduct royal duties and receive the sovereign grant. Though many of us enjoy the pomp and splendour associated with the monarchy, a bejewelled portrait, laden down with a whopping crown, is probably not the image that Charles is trying to send.
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Frequently Asked Questions
In early 2023 we will start seeing new coins in our change with King Charles' portrait on the 'heads' side. These will circulate alongside older Elizabeth II coins which will remain legal tender. The team at The Royal Mint who produce all of the UK's official coins will no doubt be hard at work getting new coins ready.
The Queen's coins will not be immediately withdrawn and will remain legal tender. Instead they will circulate alongside new coins bearing a portrait of King Charles III. Before the UK decimalised its currency it was typical to find coins of multiple Kings and Queens in your change.
Unofficial commemorative coinage is being offered by private mints but legal tender UK coins have not yet been issued by The Royal Mint. We are likely to find out what these look like soon but we won't find them in our change until early 2023.
We'll have to wait a little while yet for the first Charles III coins. A new coinage portrait of the King will have to be chosen first but we can expect to start finding this in our change from January 2023 onwards, mixed in with the older Elizabeth II £2s, £1s and 50ps that populate our change right now.
Footage from the meeting of the Accession Council appears to show Charles wearing a tie pin with a crowned 'CR' cypher, the 'R' standing for 'Rex', Latin for 'King'. We'll soon see this on postboxes, uniforms and government buildings. The King's mother, Queen Elizabeth II, used a cypher that read 'E II R'.
The 'R' stands for 'Rex', the Latin word for 'King'. The feminine form of this is 'Regina': you'll see this abbreviated to 'REG' on many British coins issued during the reign of Elizabeth II. If the new King follows tradition we can expect 'Charles R' or 'Charles Rex' to be a feature of British currency going forward.
Since his mother faced right on her coins, Charles III will likely face left on his. The tradition for British monarchs to face a different direction to their predecessor on their currency stretches back to the seventeenth century when Kings and Queens began to be shown in profile on coins.
A new coin portrait of King Charles has yet to be revealed. His mother, Elizabeth II, was shown wearing a crown on some of her coins but the general trend for the last few centuries, particularly for male monarchs, has been for uncrowned portraits on UK money. We'll have to wait and see what Charles chooses.
Most Queen Elizabeth coins will not become rare and they will not be withdrawn any time soon. Before the UK decimalised its currency the coins of several monarchs often circulated alongside each other. This will be the case again: you'll find a mix of Elizabeth II and Charles III coins in your change from 2023 onwards.
Some coins issued in the reign of Elizabeth II are already valuable and these limited edition pieces have become sought after with the accession of Charles III. However, circulating coins with the Queen's head on them were issued in their millions: they have not increased significantly in value.