Marking the historic succession from one monarch to another, the coins in our memorial coin collection honouring Queen Elizabeth II are the first to feature King Charles III’s official coinage portrait designed by acclaimed sculptor Martin Jennings.
Martin Jennings has been making public sculptures in the UK for many years. His representations of great writers and poets, including John Betjeman at St Pancras Station, Philip Larkin in Hull, Charles Dickens in Portsmouth, and George Orwell outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House, are particularly well-known and admired.
The sculptor turned his hand to coin design and recently created the first definitive coinage portrait of King Charles III, who personally approved the portrait.
“I was delighted to hear that The King likes the image. He was very interested in it and responded very positively to it. It has been very gratifying to be involved in this important process.”
To prepare for the process of designing His Majesty’s official coinage portrait, Martin Jennings began his research by studying as many photographs of The King as he could.
“You collect as many photographic images of your subject as you can. To present just one side of somebody’s head, you have to understand how the head works in the round, so you examine all of these old photographs then settle on just one or two that give you the optimal impression of the side of the head that you are modelling.
“The piece is modelled in plaster larger than the size of the coin, so about the size of a dinner plate. I work by hand using tiny, tiny millimetres of material to model it. And eventually, once it is complete and cast in plaster, my original design can be digitally reduced so that the impression is the right size for a coin.”
Originally training as a calligrapher, Martin Jennings also has experience carving inscriptions into stone. In order to complement and convey the gravitas of this new portrait, he explains that the font of the lettering within the design was of the utmost importance to him.
“What I wanted was a classical, almost magisterial, form of lettering to emphasise the strength in the portrait.”
In keeping with a tradition dating back centuries to the reign of Charles II, where each monarch faces in the opposite direction to their predecessor, the portrait of King Charles III faces left, whereas Queen Elizabeth II’s definitive coinage portraits show Her Majesty facing right.
Working closely with the Product Design team at The Royal Mint, Martin Jennings says it has been an honour to work on such a significant and historic design.
“Although I am the original designer, there are a number of skilled experts here at The Royal Mint. Every aspect of this has been pored over by all of us. It really has been a piece of teamwork that I have been absolutely delighted to be a part of.”
The first definitive coinage portrait of King Charles III features on the obverse of all the new coins in the Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Coin Collection, which includes three reverse designs honouring the life and legacy of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.