Struck for the occasion
The first coins of The Queen's reign appeared in 1953. To mark her Coronation a set of Proof coins were struck for record purposes only and included the four coins of the Sovereign family – a £5, a £2, a Sovereign and a Half-Sovereign.
Only three sets were struck, one set was given to the British Museum, one to the Royal Collection and the third set is kept at The Royal Mint Museum.
Selecting the first portrait
Photographs of The Queen by the international society photographer Dorothy Wilding were used to create the first royal portrait. In keeping with best numismatic practice, The Queen’s coin portrait was to be in profile and, holding to the tradition whereby succeeding monarchs were to face in opposite direction, was to face right since her father, George VI, faced left.
The sculptor Mary Gillick was one of 17 artists who submitted designs for the new royal effigy and won the competition with a beautiful uncouped portrait laureated in the classic tradition. Mary Gillick was born in Nottingham in 1881. She was therefore 71 years old when she created The Queen’s first coin portrait and when she died in 1965, the portrait was still in use.
Mary Gillick’s was the first coin portrait of a Queen for more than 50 years and, uncouped, made a refreshing break from the more conventional coin portraiture of previous twentieth-century monarchs. In placing the effigy within a continuous inscription she recalled the coins of the first Queen Elizabeth. Uncrowned yet regal, lively yet dignified, the new Queen’s portrait seemed to embody the buoyant spirit of the post-war nation and was immediately acclaimed as the herald of a new, more prosperous Elizabethan era.
Unveiling the new portrait
The new royal portrait was unveiled in the Autumn of 1952, urgent preparations having been put in hand upon The Queen’s Accession. It made its debut on the circulating coinage in 1953, the year of The Queen’s Coronation, but while a complete set of coins was struck for archive purposes, no gold coins were authorised for general release and, in the event, only Sovereigns were ever issued in the entire pre-decimal period.
The precious pattern pieces and the original dies are now housed at The Royal Mint Museum.