Acceding to the British throne on 8 September 2022 following the passing of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, His Majesty King Charles III now becomes part of numismatic history as we unveil the first definitive coins of his reign, complete with eight new reverse designs.
A History of Change
When Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father as British monarch on 6 February 1952, we faced a considerable challenge as the coins, medals and seals of George VI required alteration for the new reign. In addition to creating a coinage portrait, produced by Mary Gillick, new reverse designs were created for the five-shilling coin, half-crown, florin, English shilling, Scottish shilling, sixpence and threepence.
Pen-and-ink sketches were required in the first instance, with almost 300 reverse designs submitted by approximately 70 artists. These were placed before The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC) for consideration, before the new designs, created by Edgar Fuller, Gilbert Ledward, Cecil Thomas and William Gardner respectively, were eventually chosen.
A Collaborative Approach
Producing the first definitive coins of His Majesty King Charles III’s reign required a great deal of technical expertise and involved a more collaborative approach than the process involved with the creation of the first coins of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. The task is also different to the creation of a design for a commemorative coin, as there are more technical constraints and the process involves more than just one coin. Definitive coins are struck for the entire nation so various uniting themes are explored to ensure that the coins are aesthetically representative of the United Kingdom and easily identifiable to the public.
The Royal Mint’s internal product design and technical teams collaborated with the RMAC and external artists to create eight new designs that both symbolise the four nations of the UK and pay tribute to the conservation of the natural world – a cause close to The King’s heart. Providing feedback throughout the process, His Majesty’s involvement with the design process is testament to his passion for craft and the arts.
Flora and Fauna
The overarching theme of the new reverse designs centres around animals and plants from all four UK nations. Many of the animals that feature in the designs for this set are considered endangered, whilst some represent conservation success stories.
The definitive design for the UK’s largest circulating denomination features flora that symbolises the four nations of the UK – a rose for England, a daffodil for Wales, a thistle for Scotland and a shamrock representing Northern Ireland. Inspired by The King’s inaugural address on 9 September 2022 and personally approved by His Majesty, the edge inscription reads ‘IN SERVITIO OMNIUM’, which is Latin for ‘In the service of all’.
With more than 250 species of bee in the UK, including bumblebees, mason bees and mining bees, these industrious insects play a pivotal role in pollinating many plants and fruiting trees. They can be found all over the country, commonly in gardens, parks, woods, orchards and meadows, and now on the reverse of the definitive UK £1 coin.
A priority conservation species, the Atlantic salmon features on the 2023 definitive UK 50p coin. Wild populations are low due to factors like river pollution, habitat loss, river heating – due to a lack of tree cover and climate change – and overfishing. They can be found in very clean rivers in Scotland and Wales along with those in North and South West England.
Striking in their appearance, around 10% of the worldwide puffin population breeds along the UK’s coastline. Classed as a Red List species, the population is predicted to severely regress over the next 30 years, but there is hope for the puffin if action is taken to protect its nesting sites and food supply. The unmistakable seabird features on the reverse of the new definitive UK 20p coin.
Found in a very small part of Scotland, the capercaillie is the world’s largest grouse and features on the reverse of the 2023 definitive UK 10p coin. After becoming extinct once before, in the mid eighteenth century, the species is now at risk of becoming extinct for the second time.
The definitive UK 5p coin displays a leaf taken from an oak tree, which itself is a national symbol of strength, wisdom and healing. Supporting more life than any other native tree species in the UK, the oak tree has a storied association with monarchies, as ancient kings of Britain and Roman Emperors wore crowns of oak leaves.
With 75% of its UK population found in areas of Scotland, the red squirrel can also be found in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Wight, Brownsea Island, Anglesey, Cumbria, Kielder Forest and Formby. Conservation efforts are currently in place to manage the population in the UK to avoid it becoming extinct. The red squirrel’s distinctive colouring blends perfectly with the reddish hue of the definitive UK 2p coin.
Small in stature, the hazel dormouse is a fitting presence on the definitive UK 1p coin. Mostly found in southern England in the UK, in places such as Sussex, Devon and Kent, the hazel dormouse population in the UK has halved since 2007. However, more than 1,000 have been reintroduced in 13 different counties across the country to reverse the hazel dormouse’s ongoing decline.
Paying Tribute to The King
Serving as a unique visual feature that unites all eight of these definitive coins, a pattern featuring three interlocking Cs appears on the reverse of each coin. The Cs link back to the reign of Charles II, as a C motif appears on the coins of his reign. The interlocking Cs represent a link to historical royal iconography and mark the beginning of this new Carolean era.
A Special Privy Mark
The new reverse designs created for these coins feature alongside the official coinage portrait of King Charles III, which appears on the obverse of UK definitive coins for the first time, marking a special moment in British and numismatic history. The obverse of each of these coins also features a privy mark in the form of the Tudor Crown, which forms part of The King’s cypher and will be used in representations of the Royal Arms, military badges and crown badges.
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