The Evolving Effigy of Queen Elizabeth

Her Majesty The Queen’s portrait is on all current UK coins – that’s a fact we all know, isn’t it? Also referred to as The Queen’s effigy, it’s a sign of royal approval, but have you noticed that there’s more than one effigy of The Queen on the coins that we all handle every day? Take a handful of them and look more closely. You’ll find that there have been three royal coin portraits created since decimalisation in 1971.

There have, in fact, been four coin portraits of Her Majesty since she became Queen, if we include the pre-decimal period. The 2015 coin designs will be the last to bear the current royal effigy first introduced in 1998. So this seems a good moment to look back at the beautiful portrayals of Her Majesty that have graced the coins of her realm so far. We’ll consider the artists behind the designs and some of the events that have shaped Her Majesty’s long reign. And then we’ll ask the question “What might we see next?”

The first royal effigy of Queen Elizabeth’s reign – 1953-1967 by Mary Gillick

The 25-year-old Queen came to the throne in 1952, but no coins bearing her effigy were struck that year. The first Queen Elizabeth II UK coins were struck in 1953 and bore Mary Gillick’s head and shoulders portrait of the young monarch wearing a laurel wreath. Fresh and evocative, it reflected the optimistic, post-war mood of the nation beautifully. Mary Gillick, a sculptor from Nottingham, beat 16 other artists in competition for the honour of this commission. Her uncrowned portrait is the only one of the four still struck today – it continues to grace the Maundy Money distributed each year by Her Majesty and has also appeared as a cameo on British commemorative stamps since 1966.

1953 Royal Mint Sovereign - portrait by Mary Gillick smaller

The Queen married His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 and was the mother of two children, Charles and Anne, by the start of her reign in 1952. During the 14 years this effigy was in use, the British political landscape changed dramatically. Her Majesty saw five Prime Ministers come and go, beginning with the Conservative Sir Winston Churchill and ending with Labour’s Sir Harold Wilson. By 1967, she was mother to four children and had travelled to19 countries in her role as Head of State.

The second royal effigy – 1968-1984 – by Arnold Machin RA

With decimalisation of the British currency planned for 1971, it was decided to refresh The Queen’s coin portrait. Arnold Machin’s sculpture had, in fact, been chosen and approved by The Queen as early as June 1964. Born in Stoke, Machin had worked with Derby, Minton and Wedgwood ceramics in his early career. He was made a Royal Academician in 1956 and was awarded the OBE in 1965. His design made its first appearance in 1968 on the 5p and 10p coins, the first of the ‘new’ coins that were able to circulate alongside the ‘old’ coins due to the equivalent pre-decimal values of the shilling and florin.

1974 Royal Mint Sovereign - portrait by Arnold Machin smaller

A version of his design, with Her Majesty wearing the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland‘ tiara (a wedding present from her grandmother, Queen Mary) was also reproduced on Royal Mail postage stamps in 1967. Well-known to The Royal Mint, Machin also created the obverse and reverse designs for the 1977 Silver Jubilee crown that celebrated 25 years of Her Majesty’s reign.

During these years Her Majesty saw Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female British Prime Minister, come to power and her country undertake military action in the Falkland Islands and Gulf Wars. On a happier and more personal note, she also became a grandmother in 1977!

The third royal coin effigy – 1985-1997 – by Raphael Maklouf

Like Machin, Raphael Maklouf was working as a sculptor when he was commissioned  to undertake what was to be his first coin design. His ‘couped’ portrait depicts The Queen wearing the royal diadem that she favours for the journey to and from the State Opening of Parliament each year. It has been said that he shows Her Majesty as somewhat younger than her then 58 years, but it was Maklouf’s avowed intention to produce a ‘regal and ageless symbol’ – and who could say he did not succeed in that?

1985 Royal Mint Sovereign - portrait by Raphael Maklouf smaller

These were some of the most turbulent years for Her Majesty, with notable events including the serious fire at Windsor Castle in 1992. Happily, she and The Duke of Edinburgh celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1997.

The current royal coin effigy – 1998-to date – by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS

The current depiction of The Queen on British coins was created by sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS, and chosen in competition with ten other artists. Working from photographs, he was granted two sittings by Her Majesty to refine his final design. Conscious that the coinage was getting smaller as the 5p, 10p and 50p coins had been reduced in size, Rank-Broadley deliberately made the image as large as possible within the framework of the coin’s outer edge. Commenting on his noticeably more mature portrayal of Her Majesty in an interview with The Times newspaper he responded “There is no need to flatter her. She’s a 70-year old woman with poise and bearing. One doesn’t need to see a rather distant mask.” His ‘strong and realistic’ portrait could also be viewed as a return to a more traditional design following the idealistic style of its predecessor and the boldness of the Gillick portrait 50 years previously.

1998 Royal Mint Sovereign - portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley

In a very sad year, Her Majesty lost both her mother and sister in 2002. But today The Queen’s family continues to grow, and includes three great-grandchildren to date, with another due in April 2015. A ‘happy and glorious’ year awaits – to quote our national anthem!

And now we’ll ask that question we opened with – what might we expect to come next? How do you think Her Majesty will be portrayed when the next coin effigy is revealed? Let us know by commenting here or on our social media Facebook or Twitter.

The changing of a coinage portrait is a rare occasion. As the time comes to mark this new chapter for The Queen and her nation’s coinage, we are offering one last opportunity to own the fourth portrait in these final edition coin sets.

The Fourth Circulating Coinage Portrait – Final Editions Proof Set
The Fourth Circulating Coinage Portrait – Final Editions Proof Set

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  • Adam Swansbury

    I would expect something surprisingly modern and less traditional, for the simple reason that the Royal Mint has quite a young crop of designers these days. Apart from John Bergdahl, there aren’t many “oldies” left, so I suspect the next person to design the Queen’s numismatic effigy will be a relative youngster with new ideas.

    • tom

      I would doubt it will be more modern. There have been modern designs done, like a 5 pound coin, but they were one offs, the queen has to accept this design, and I doubt she’ll go with anything other than pure tradition, she’s an old lady who has changed a lot in her time, but not that much.
      Charles would be more likely to have a modern image, but I think the image that has been used of him in the past is the image the mint has got in mind for when the Queen goes.

  • kentishman49

    Interesting article but peppered with inaccuracies. The Machin portrait was introduced in 1968 on the 10p and 5p coins that were to replace the Two Shillings and One Shilling coin. Also, the Queen does not celebrate her 90th birthday until April 2016.

    I’m really surprised the Royal Mint would not know these most simple of facts. Obviously no proof reading undertaken at all!!

    • Hi and many thanks for your feedback. I’m really sorry to have overlooked those two points in what was a quite extensively researched and checked article – now amended. I think the Christmas rush got the better of me! I’m pleased to note you found the article interesting, though. Our coin fans always keep us on our toes with their eagle-eyes and I hope you’ll continue to do so! Cheers, Jo

  • kentishman49

    I think the reference to the tiara and stamps issued in 1967 might be inaccurate too. The style of the tiara, used on all current stamps since 1967, is the same as the Maklouf effigy introduced in 1985.

  • Plantagenet Robinson

    Kentishman is right. The style of the tiara on definitive stamps since 1967 is the same as the Maklouf effigy on coins, in fact it seems to have been the same tiara on the earlier designs of definitive stamps too, and on most commemorative stamps, between 1952 and 1966. What I found most interesting here is that the tiny youthful portrait which still appears on almost all commemorative stamps is the original coin portrait. I had thought it was a detail from the Annigoni portrait, but on examination of the latter it clearly isn’t ! I have a suspicion that I picked this up from errors being made at one time or another in the philatelic world.

  • Adam Swansbury

    I was thinking along the lines of what the Dutch and Swedes have occasionally done with their royal portraits. I think it’s valid to use the word “modern”. For instance, anyone looking at Mary Gillick’s portrait, even when it was first issued in the early 1950s, would think it was decidedly un-modern, since the Queen was depicted wearing a wreath, such as was worn in ancient Roman times.

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