As home to the coins of the United Kingdom, The Royal Mint has charted the tales of British monarchs for more than 1,100 years. In the year that Her Majesty The Queen celebrates her 95th birthday, we take a look back on her long life and reign with great pride and, like the rest of the country, more than a little nostalgia.
The coins we have struck for Queen Elizabeth II tell the story of her journey from a young queen to the experienced, respected head of state she is today. During Her Majesty’s reign, the nation’s circulating coins have featured five different portraits of the monarch, and each representing her at a specific period of time, always evolving, just as The Queen herself has done.
A Youthful, Fresh Monarch – the Mary Gillick Portrait
New coins showing the first portrait of Her Majesty were issued in 1953. They represented a new start after the Second World War and the long days of rationing, announcing a new Elizabethan era. The Queen looked youthful and optimistic, wearing a laurel wreath instead of a crown, and the portrait was used on UK coins and the coinage of many Commonwealth countries.
Guiding the People through Change – the Arnold Machin RA Portrait
Although decimalisation didn’t take place until 1971, some decimal coins entered circulation in 1968 when 5p and 10p pieces were introduced to replace the existing shillings and florins. The new coins were the same size and value as the pre-decimal coins, so they were able to circulate together as ‘decimal twins’ until Decimal Day in 1971; it was a useful first step in preparing the public for what was to come.
To help the new coins stand out from the old coinage, a new portrait of The Queen was commissioned to mark the change. Designed by Arnold Machin, the new portrait showed Her Majesty wearing a tiara of festoons, scrolls and collet-spikes, which had been given to The Queen as a wedding present by Queen Mary. Like Mary Gillick before him, Machin avoided using a ‘couped’ portrait – a portrait that cuts off at the neck – which had been the norm on coins issued earlier in the century.
A Regal Symbol – the Raphael Maklouf Portrait
From 1985 to 1997, UK circulating coins featured a royal portrait by the sculptor Raphael Maklouf. The portrait was couped and showed The Queen wearing the royal diadem, which she normally wears on her way to and from the State Opening of Parliament, along with a necklace and earrings.
Although he worked originally from photographs, the sculptor was granted two sittings by The Queen in order to make minor adjustments to the portrait. When his design was released, critics accused him of sculpting The Queen ‘flatteringly young’ but Maklouf responded by pointing out that his intention had been ‘to create a symbol, regal and ageless.’ He was proud of his work, and if you look closely you can see the artist’s initials, ‘RDM’, at the bottom of The Queen’s neck. Maklouf included his middle initial, D for David, to make sure that his initials wouldn’t be seen as a reference to The Royal Mint.
A Golden Age – the Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS Portrait
The standard of entries to a competition to design a conjoined portrait obverse of The Queen and Prince Philip for the crown struck for the royal couple’s golden wedding anniversary in 1997 was so high that it was agreed that a new coinage portrait would be created to grace the UK’s circulating coins.
The winning design by Ian Rank-Broadley, which was introduced in 1998, made for an interesting contrast with its predecessor, as it was less idealised and more realistic. The portrait shows The Queen in her sixth decade, and her crowned head fills the surface of the coin.
Our Queen Today – the Jody Clark Portrait
The most recent portrait of The Queen was unveiled in 2015 and was created by the designer Jody Clark – the youngest artist to create such a portrait for the nation’s coins. Jody skilfully combined modern and traditional elements as well as introducing personality with a hint of a smile.