Posted on January 30, 2023
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth got a new monarch: King Charles III. He had been next in line for the throne for many decades, so these countries and their sovereign mints have had plenty of time to prepare for the transition. While Charles's visage was expected to eventually grace the money of the United Kingdom as well as other countries of which he would become the head of state, it wouldn't become official until his ascension as king. Though Charles became king officially at the time of his mother's death, his coronation is scheduled for May 6 of 2023.
Updating the currency of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is perhaps one of the most significant undertakings of the transition. While this has been commonplace throughout the existence of the monarchy, due to Elizabeth's long reign of over 70 years, many people alive today have not experienced it. It's not only the currency that will undergo a change, though. Stamps and official portraits of the monarch around the globe will have to be updated.
The first step in that process was selecting an official portrait for the new king. King Charles's official coin effigy was unveiled by the Royal Mint on September 30, 2022, less than a month after Elizabeth's passing. It was designed by British sculptor Martin Jennings. Jennings is known for creating many statues that can be found around the UK, including one of Charles Dickens in Portsmouth and George Orwell outside BBC headquarters in London.
Unlike Elizabeth's effigy, the profile portrait of Charles will be facing left. This is due to the custom of alternating directions with each new monarch. This means that Charles's portrait will resemble that of his grandfather, George VI, as both face left. However, tradition was bucked (or almost, depending on how you look at it) by George's brother Edward VIII who abdicated before currency bearing his official visage could be minted for circulation. Edward had requested his official portrait break with tradition, as he believed his left side looked more favorable, particularly because of the visible part in his hair. Trial coins were produced based on this design, but since no circulated currency was ever minted featuring Edward VIII, it could be argued that the tradition was never officially broken since Edward's coins were "skipped".
The first coins that will feature Charles will be a £5 coin and a 50p coin. Both coins will honor Elizabeth as they go into circulation with the £5 coin featuring two new portraits of the late monarch on its reverse and the 50p will feature a design from her 1953 coronation crown.
“The Royal Mint has been trusted to make coins bearing the Monarch’s effigy for over 1,100 years and we are proud to continue this tradition into the reign of King Charles III," said Anne Jessop, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Mint. "Although technology has progressed, we continue to honour British craftsmanship passed down through the centuries. Our team of skilled modellers, tool makers and engravers will ensure that The King’s effigy will be faithfully replicated onto millions of coins"
As currency around the world goes into circulation depicting King Charles III, collectors will finally have a new monarch to add to their collections. Queen Elizabeth II coins are still out there, though, with some around the world still being issued because her passing came after some 2023 runs were already designed and being minted. It could take a year or so until each mint makes the official transition to Charles. Of course, moving forward there won't be any more coins or notes featuring Elizabeth, except for maybe an occasional commemorative issue. Despite the new money depicting Charles, the old money will still be valid legal tender.
The Royal Mint has already begun putting the first of its King Charles coins into circulation, and other mints will be following close behind.
Perth Mint - Australia
Autralia is one of the most well-known Commonwealth countries, and its coinage is particularly popular because of the unique and interesting Australian animals depicted on many. The Perth Mint is the official mint of Australia and is expected to begin circulating their King Charles coins before the second half of 2023. People had expected the Perth Mint to start circulating these new coins earlier in the year, but Assistant Treasury Minister Andrew Leigh pushed back those expectations during an interview with ABC Radio. He cited a lengthy approval process as being the main reason in the delay as every design has to be presented to Buckingham Palace for the king's personal approval.
Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint has issued a unique effigy it's calling "transitional" which features an effigy of the late Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt which Canadians will recognize as the portrait that has graced their currency for many years. However, this design ads the years 1952 and 2022, denoting the rein of Queen Elizabeth. It could still be a while before Canada announces an official date for the first King Charles coins to go into circulation, and the Royal Canadian Mint is likely still in the middle of the design process.
Reserve Bank of New Zealand
New Zealand will likely be one of the last Commonwealth nations to feature King Charles III on its currency. The bank said that the process of transitioning to the new monarch's image could take "several years" as they intend to wait until the supply of their current stock is put fully into circulation. New Zealand does not have its own government mint and instead the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which oversees monetary policy and the issuing of currency, relies on the Royal Mint and the Royal Canadian Mint primarily for minting its currency. Because of this, they keep lots of currency on hand to avoid any issues with supply chain disruptions. However, this also means that the existing supply of coins and notes featuring Queen Elizabeth II could last for quite some time.