On the afternoon of the 8th September, an official protocol entitled Operation London Bridge was put into motion which was a plan of events agreed to by various departments of the British government some years ago to be enacted in the event of the death of the sovereign. Sadly, the day most of us dreaded, the moment Buckingham Palace announced the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, arrived. The world learned of this sad event just over two weeks ago at 6:30 p.m. London time, and though the Queen was ninety-six years of age, it was nevertheless still somewhat of a shock. Shortly after the news was broadcast, the British nation, Commonwealth, and world at large learned the Prince of Wales had been proclaimed His Majesty, King Charles III, while at Balmoral, Scotland, where the Queen had passed away. The words took getting used to, the new King, the new name, and eventually, new national symbols involving portraits, effigies, and royal monograms will ultimately make their appearance in due course. As the ten national days of mourning ended with the conclusion of the Queen’s funeral, the British nation and Commonwealth are slowly adjusting to the sad news.
In terms of being a symbol of national identity, the Queen had the distinct and unique honour of having graced the coins and/or banknotes and stamps from countries on every inhabited continent, including Antarctica, where despite not having a centralised bank, there is however the research station and post office of the British Antarctic Territory. The image of Queen Elizabeth II was also included on items of money more times than any other person in history. At the time of her accession in 1952, there were more than thirty separate countries and/or monetary authorities with coinage bearing the effigy of the British sovereign. Ultimately, this was reduced to fourteen realms of which not all of these countries today issue their own individual coins or banknotes.
Aside from having received messages of condolences from colleagues abroad, I also received questions as to what the procedure might be to make changes to the country’s coins and banknotes. This question was eventually addressed by the wider media and what time frame the public may expect to see effigies and monetary portraits of the King in the many realms that he has inherited. I believe the time frame for this will depend on two primary factors. Changes will occur based on a) the quantity of coins in storage in the vaults of HM Treasury and banknotes at the Bank of England and b) the need to replenish the readily available supply of coins and banknotes. This scenario may also be followed in countries and Monetary Authorities within the Commonwealth. In countries such as Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, and New Zealand, the Queen’s image was present on only one banknote denomination and, in the case of the Bahamas, two denominations. As such, changes in these countries may be quicker, but it could involve the removal of the image of the Head of State altogether.
Since the introduction of the Queen’s first series of coins in 1953, things have changed markedly in the last seventy years, as many mints around the world have endeavoured to develop their collector coin activities and customer base. At the time of this writing, the Royal Mint has not yet put forth a plan to introduce national coinage depicting an effigy of His Majesty. It is, however, expected there will be commemorative/collector and bullion-related coins with the effigy of Charles III well before circulation type coins. After consultation with all parties — namely Buckingham Palace, the Treasury, the Bank of England, the Royal Mint, and Royal Mail for stamps, the practical aspects of a changeover will be a steady if not a slow process. For the purpose of this article, I will focus only on coins and banknotes circulating within the United Kingdom.
Royal Mint Coins
HM’s Treasury has a substantial inventory of coins bearing the effigy of the late Queen for distribution, from £2 to one penny. In fact, the Royal Mint released information in 2019 that since there is currently a significant quantity of £2 circulation-type coins in storage, they do not envisage minting this denomination for another ten years. However, due to the activities of the Royal Mint in terms of prolific commemorative, collector and bullion-related coins, the need to produce 2023-dated coins with the new King’s effigy would be required to reflect the historic accuracy of the accession of the new King. With the eventual change in mind, I would be very surprised if the Royal Mint, in collaboration with the-then Prince of Wales’s household, did not make adequate preparations ahead of time for his eventual accession with the creation of a preliminary effigy. Whether the Royal Mint confirms the existence of an effigy ready for use or, they put out a call to residing artists and engravers to create an effigy in time to use on coinage dated 2023, is something we may only learn of in the coming weeks. In keeping with tradition first introduced during the reign of King Charles II and with the restoration of the throne in 1660, it is known the new King will be depicted facing in the opposite direction of his predecessor, since the Queen’s effigy faced to the right, the new sovereign will be depicted facing to the left. It is also expected, as has been tradition with centuries of English and British coinage, his legend — or inscription encircling his image — will be shown in Latin and may likely read “CAROLUS III DEI GRATIA REX FIDEI DEFENSOR” (“Charles III by the Grace of God King, defender of the faith”) and likely be abbreviated accordingly to accommodate the design.
As far as Elizabethan coinage remaining in use, It is worth mentioning base metal coins minted after 1948, which depicted the Queen’s father King George VI, remained in circulation for decades after the Queen acceded to the throne in 1952. Many of these coins did not disappear from circulation in the UK until a decimal currency was introduced in 1971. With the change of specifications of five and ten-pence coins — or old one and two-shilling pieces in 1990 and 1992 — that little bit of history disappeared completely.
Bank of England Banknotes
As is with the inventory of circulation coins stored at HM Treasury, the same can be said for the new G series polymer banknotes stored in the Vaults at the Bank of England. Shortly after news of the Queen’s death, the Bank of England released a statement of condolence. The statement also affirmed the legal tender status of all current banknotes of the G series produced in polymer as well as the £20 and £50 paper banknotes from the previous F series (until the 30th September) bearing the image of the Queen and currently in use. Governor Andrew Bailey reiterated with the statement:
As the first monarch to feature on Bank of England banknotes, the Queen’s iconic portraits are synonymous with some of the most important work we do. Current banknotes featuring the image of Her Majesty The Queen will continue to be legal tender. A further announcement regarding existing Bank of England banknotes will be made once the period of mourning has been observed.
Many people in the UK or further afield may not remember, but Bank of England banknotes did not always depict a portrait of the sovereign; this design concept was only adopted in 1960. It is estimated that in the United Kingdom, there are currently more than 4.5 billion individual legal tender Bank of England notes with a face value of more than £80 billion and which feature Queen Elizabeth II’s image on the obverse or face side. For the release of a new banknote, it is important to take into consideration two specific aspects or criteria. First, as is the usual practice for the Bank of England, they endeavour to change the design of the denominations in circulation every ten to twelve years. This timeframe is put in place as a measure to thwart counterfeiters as well as introduce new personalities and increase or improve security features. Second, the Bank of England is believed to have a substantial supply of G series polymer banknotes stored in their vaults for use, though the actual number of banknotes is not publicly known. The first denomination in the G series was introduced into circulation in 2016 with the release of the £5 denomination. The last denomination in this series, the £50 banknote featuring a portrait of famed World War II mathematician Alan Turing on the back side, is the most recent addition, having been released in June 2021. It is very unlikely these banknotes, which bear the image of the late Queen, would be destroyed as the cost of production is something that would be taken into consideration — and these days, with a cost of living crisis, the public would likely disapprove of such blatant waste. As such, if the timeframe outlined above is continued, it is expected the first denomination to undergo a change in terms of design or new series would be £5 banknotes, perhaps beginning in 2024 or 2025. As it is not a legal requirement to include the reigning monarch on Bank of England banknotes — as it is for coins of the realm, they could decide that a design change might mean omitting a portrait of HM King Charles III altogether in favour of a return to the image of Britannia.
Banknotes Circulating in Scotland and Northern Ireland
Visitors to Scotland and Northern Ireland will have noticed they receive banknotes in change, which are not always Bank of England banknotes. There is a longstanding agreement between the Bank of England, three commercial Banks in Scotland, and three in Northern Ireland, which allows for them to supplement their local economies with Scottish and Northern Irish paper currency. The Banks in Scotland that issue banknotes are the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Clydesdale Bank. Three banks are authorised to issue banknotes in Northern Ireland; they are the Bank of Ireland, Northern Bank Limited, and Ulster Bank. All versions of these banknotes conform to certain specifications and dimensions of Bank of England banknotes, with all banks having now transitioned to a polymer substrate. The exception to these notes is they all depict different designs, and as such, none of these notes includes an image of the late Queen. It is not likely any of these notes will undergo any changes to reflect the accession of King Charles III.
As with all information pertaining to British coins and, to some extent, banknotes, we at Coin Update will continue to keep our readers advised of any news or changes as we receive briefings.