The passing of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on September 9, 2022, which led to a global outpouring of grief from millions of people in the United Kingdom and around the world, was also an event of major numismatic importance. Many collectors, not just in the United Kingdom but also in other countries, including the U.S., said they had so much respect and admiration for the late Queen that they were deeply affected by her death.
In addition, interest in the numismatic transition from one British monarch to the next has also been intense, with many people, including non-collectors, wondering when the first coins struck by The Royal Mint with an effigy of King Charles III would appear.
It was widely expected that coins bearing the new United Kingdom portrait of King Charles III would not be issued until 2023, perhaps in the spring, with coins bearing the fifth and final effigy of Elizabeth continuing to circulate for years. This time was theorized to be necessary due to the process involved in creating such portraits that must be commissioned, prepared by the artist, and approved by the Advisory Committee of The Royal Mint and the new monarch. This process took about a year in the prior case of Queen Elizabeth II.
New King Charles III Coin Effigy
But instead, on September 30, 2022, The Royal Mint unveiled the new portrait of King Charles III that will begin appearing towards the end of the year on a 50-pence circulating coin issued as a final commemorative coin for Queen Elizabeth. In early 2023, this effigy will also appear on collector versions of that coin and two other coins issued as final commemoratives for Elizabeth.
The new effigy had actually been in the works for about a year due to the advanced age of the late Queen and was approved in September by the Advisory Committee and King Charles III. The design is the work of renowned British sculptor Martin Jennings, best known for his sculptures of figures such as George Orwell and Charles Dickens. He began his task by studying as many photographs of Charles as possible, including those taken specifically for this project.
The photos were used to create a plaster model of his portrait, and then the lettering and other details were added after the Queen passed. They include a Latin inscription that surrounds the new effigy – “CHARLES III • D • G • REX • F • D,” which translates to “King Charles III, by the Grace of God, Defender of the Faith.”
The plaster is about the size of a dinner plate. Once it is completed by hand using small instruments, it is digitally reduced, so it is the right size for a coin.
In addition, the new portrait was able to be completed and approved much faster than expected because digital production tools and technology were available that did not exist the last time there was a change in monarch.
Chris Barker, Secretary of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, told Coin World that the design was selected through a closed competition, that the new king was very pleased with it, and that he feels it conveys the new monarch’s “grace and dignity” and “reflects a mature king. It really does stand well with classic numismatic portraits. You get the sense of a classic coinage design.”
Martin Jennings was trained as a calligrapher and has experience carving inscriptions into stone. In an interview for The Royal Mint, he said: “What I wanted was a classical, almost magisterial form of lettering to emphasize the strength of the portrait.” He added that his design “was inspired by the iconic effigies that have graced Britain’s coins over the centuries. It is the smallest work I have created, but it is humbling to know it will be seen and held by people around the world for centuries to come.”
Collectors will immediately notice that the new portrait faces to the left as opposed to the Queen’s effigies, which always faced to the right. This change is in keeping with a tradition that goes back several centuries in which each new monarch’s effigy faces in the opposite direction of his or her predecessor, except for King Edward VIII, the king who abdicated the throne.
Another interesting aspect of the new portrait is that the first batch of 2023 Britannia silver and gold bullion coins was struck over the past few months while Queen Elizabeth II was still alive and, therefore, will feature her final portrait on them. In contrast, the second batch of 2023 dated Britannias to be minted next year will have Charles on them. So, this means there will be a situation reminiscent of the new types of reverses on American Silver Eagles in 2021. The initial batch is believed to be much smaller than the second one, meaning those coins should have lower mintages.
Final Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Coins
On October 3, 2022, The Royal Mint began accepting orders for coins with three new designs that are both the first ones that will feature the new portrait of King Charles III and the final commemorative coin tributes to Queen Elizabeth II.
The 50-pence coin has a reverse based on the royal arms design of the 1953 coronation crown, while the £2 coin has a new portrait of the Queen by John Bergdahl, who worked on the platinum jubilee coins for the mint. Meanwhile, the £5 coin has a double portrait, with the one on the left showing Her Late Majesty at the start of her reign and the one on the right showing her towards the end. In the center of the £5 coin is her royal cypher. Charles III already has his own cypher.
In addition to the circulation version of the 50-pence coin, collector versions in silver, gold, and platinum in different sizes will be struck of each design based on the orders the mint receives between October 3, 2022, and December 31, 2022, and then released sometime next year.
Despite the unlimited mintages, some buyers, including this author, woke up very early on October 3, 2022, to get in line on the mint’s website when the coins went on sale at 4:00 am EST! There was intense interest in these coins when they went on sale, with tens of people waiting in an online queue that showed the number of people in front of each person.
When it is your turn, you are given a chance to complete your order unless the coin you want is already sold out, as the larger silver coins and the gold and platinum versions were on October 3, 2022.
While some people have suggested that King Charles III may not be as popular a monarch as his mother was, there is no doubt that collectors are eager to obtain the first coins with his portrait.