The Royal Portraits

Mary Gillick Portrait

The first portrait of the Queen to appear on a coin was issued in 1953, the portrait was fresh, evocative and beautifully reflected the optimistic mood of the nation as it greeted a new Elizabethan era.

The portrait was designed by Mary Gillick and shows The Queen wearing a wreath. This portrait was used both on UK coinage and the coinage of many commonwealth countries until Arnold Machin's portrait of The Queen was adopted for decimal coinage.

Mary Gillick coin portrait

Arnold Machin RA Portrait

Although decimalisation did not take place until 1971, the first decimal coins – the 5p and 10p – entered circulation in April 1968. Because they corresponded exactly in size and value, they were able to circulate as shillings and florins until the change-over and served a useful purpose in preparing the public for what was to happen.

As part of the change, a new portrait of the Queen was adopted for the decimal coins. Designed by Arnold Machin RA, it had in fact been approved by the Queen as early as June 1964. Like Mary Gillick, Machin avoided the couped portrait cut off by the neck which had been usual on coins earlier in the century. The wreath, however, was replaced with the tiara which the Queen had been given as a wedding present from her grandmother Queen Mary. A modified version of the portrait has appeared on definitive British postage stamps since 1967 – possibly the most reproduced image in history.

Next we will look at the third portrait of the Queen to appear on UK circulating coins as we get closer to the unveiling of the official Diamond Jubilee crown.

Arnold Machin RA Portrait

Raphael Maklouf Portrait

From 1985 to 1997, UK circulating coins were struck bearing a royal portrait by the sculptor Raphael Maklouf. The couped portrait – cut off at the neck – shows the Queen with the royal diadem which she wears on her way to and from the State Opening of Parliament, and includes a necklace and earrings. Having been accused by some of sculpting the Queen ‘flatteringly young’, the artist responded that such critics had misunderstood his intention which was ‘to create a symbol, regal and ageless’.

A close examination reveals the artist’s initials, RDM, on the truncation of the neck, the inclusion of the middle letter – for David – ensuring that the signature would not be misinterpreted as a reference to the Royal Mint.

There is a long-standing urban myth that the first bi-colour £2 coins – dated 1997 and thus bearing the Maklouf portrait – are rare and valuable. But given that more than 13 million of these coins were issued, this is certainly not the case.

Raphael Maklouf Portrait

Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS Portrait

The idea of replacing the Maklouf portrait had its origins in a competition held by the Royal Mint to design the obverse of the 1997 Golden Wedding crown. Such was the standard of the entries for the conjoint portrait of the Queen and Prince Philip that it was decided to explore the possibility of a new standard portrait for the circulating coins as well.

The winning design by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS – introduced in 1998 – makes an interesting contrast with its immediate predecessor, being less idealised and more strongly realistic. So far as Mr Rank-Broadley was concerned, there was ‘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’. Conscious that the coinage was getting smaller – the 5p, 10p and 50p coins having been reduced in size in 1990, 1992 and 1997 respectively – he also deliberately made the image as large as possible within the framework of the coin’s outer edge.

Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS Portrait

Diamond Jubilee Portraits

Designed by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS to celebrate a remarkable royal milestone, the portraits encapsulate the Queen’s sixty years on the throne, a regal achievement matched only by the reign of Queen Victoria- the Queen’s great-great grandmother.

The first of the portraits recalls Mary Gillick’s effigy for the Queen’s first ever coins. The other is inspired by Ian Rank-Broadley’s own sculpture for the new Supreme Court Building in London. The coin design is inspired by the commemorative medal struck by the Royal Mint for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.