The ‘heads’, or obverse, side of a coin has depicted the image of a monarch or ruler for thousands of years.
However, the nature of these images have changed over the centuries. From the Ancient Greeks to Queen Elizabeth II, in this blog we guide you through the differing historic heads of uk coinage.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The coins of ancient Greece set the design template for the circulating coins that we use today in the UK!
On one side, their coins show a portrait of the symbol of national sovereignty and on the other side, we see something that resembles the nation.
Coins of ancient Greece and Rome were provided for city states and depict images of iconic leaders and the gods that protected them.
Roman coins depict the faces of the leaders of the empire, including Emperor Honoria.
Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Period
The Anglo–Saxon period in Britain spans approximately the six centuries from 410-1066AD.
In the ninth century The Royal Mint struck a silver penny of Alfred the Great at the time of the resettlement of London after its first occupation by the Vikings.
The coin would have been struck by hand and the design showcases the rigid markings that would have come as a result of hand tools.
The Renaissance and the Tudors
The Sovereign is undoubtedly one of the most impressive coins struck by The Royal Mint.
In 1489, Henry VII ordered a new coin of gold. The coin surface was large, enabling the engraver to include decorative details. It allowed for more detailed portraits of monarchs.
The portrait on this coin is of the crowned King Henry VIII.
When Charles II was restored to the throne, he needed to assert his royal authority and to show a clear break from the rule of Oliver Cromwell.
It’s been suggested that the tradition of monarchs facing in the opposite direction to their predecessor on coins, dates back to Charles II when he wanted coins under his reign to be different from that of Cromwell.
Despite reigning for 64 years, there were few coinage portraits of Queen Victoria, with one being favoured for 50 years.
For 50 years the ‘Young Head’ effigy of Queen Victoria featured on UK coinage this classically styled portrait was reinterpreted several times, with each effigy designed to portray the queen as she aged.
Queen Elizabeth II
Five portraits of Her Majesty The Queen have been used on UK coins since her accession to the throne in 1952.
The Queen’s first portrait, by Mary Gillick, shows her wearing a wreath in the style of many British coins struck between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. This portrait remained on UK coins up until decimalisation, when Arnold Machin’s new portrait of The Queen was used (pictured above).
The effigy selected for use from 1985 was prepared by the sculptor Raphael Maklouf, in which she is depicted wearing a necklace and earrings.
By her fourth portrait, designed by Ian Rank-Broadley, a greater degree of realism was used. It shows The Queen in her sixth decade, her crowned head filling the coin’s surface.
The fifth and most recent portrait of The Queen is by Royal Mint designer Jody Clark. This is arguably the first UK coin to introduce elements of personality with a hint of a smile. Clark is the first Royal Mint employee in over 100 years to design a UK definitive coin portrait.
So now you know how the portraits on our coins have changed over the years, which portrait is your favourite? Comment below!
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For the first time in 20 years, a brand new portrait of the Queen will be featured on Australia’s currency update.
Since her coronation in 1953, five effigies of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II have appeared on the obverse of Australian coins – creating a numismatic timeline which shows her changing profile over the years.
Previous effigies were designed by Mary Gillick (1953), Arnold Machin (1966), and Raphael Maklouf (1985), however since 1998, Australian coins have used the current effigy by Ian Rank-Broadley, except during 2000, when Royal Australian Mint designer Vladimir Gottwald’s effigy was used on the 50c Royal Visit coin.
The inclusion of an effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse of Australia’s coinage is mandated by Regulation 4(c) of the Currency Regulations made under the Currency Act 1965.
This new effigy by Jody Clark marks the sixth update to the Queen’s portrait and is said to continue the story of her reign and lifetime, although you might notice something a little different about this updated design…
Whilst continuing to depict Her Majesty facing to the right and wearing the diamond diadem crown, unusually this new image will break from the traditional UK design by also including the Queen’s shoulders and the Victorian coronation necklace.
Mr Clark is responsible for the UK’s most recent portrait of Her Majesty, updated in 2015 and selected by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee.
His designs have also featured on recent releases such as the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wedding £5 and the Queen’s Beasts £5 coins.
Chief Executive of the Royal Australian Mint, says: “The transition to a new effigy on all Australian coinage will begin in 2019 and continue into 2020. Coins carrying previous portraits of the Queen will remain in circulation.”
However there is some controversy surrounding this coinage update, as the Australian Republic Movement (ARM) continue their campaign to remove the Queen as head of state in Australia.
What are your thoughts on Australia’s new currency update and do you think the design is head and shoulders above the rest? Let us know in the comments below.
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As every collector knows, an error can add significant value to a coin. You only need to look at the undated 20p saga to realise just how much impact a simple human mistake can have. Those 20p coins with a mismatching obverse and reverse still frequently sell for as much as £50.
But sometimes it also pays to look further than the coin itself for such slip-ups.
Brilliant Uncirculated presentation packs, or BU Packs, are issued annually by the Royal Mint and are a collector’s item in their own right. They contain a full set of uncirculated coins for the year, along with illustrated packaging and more information about each coin.
These packs are equally prone to human errors, and this year has already been an eventful one in that respect.
2015 Annual Coin Set
If you were among the first collectors to secure a 2015 UK Coin Pack from the Royal Mint, the likelihood is you’ve been sent one with a printed error.
The specification in these original packs states an edge inscription for both the Battle of Waterloo and the Churchill commemorative £5 coins, but in fact both of these base metal coins have milled edges with no inscription. Once the Royal Mint were made aware of the error, the packaging was promptly changed to remove the text, but of course a significant number of packs had already slipped the net.
The New Portrait BU Pack
The latest presentation pack was issued recently to mark Jody Clark’s new effigy of the Queen, with all coins featuring his new portrait.
Again, if you were quick to snap up one of these packs you may have noticed a couple of mistakes which were overlooked in production.
The first is an errant photographic library watermark which somehow found its way onto the final packaging, and appears in an image of the Queen and Prince Philip.
The second and more surprising mistake to look out for is the specification on the reverse stating Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS rather than Jody Clark as the obverse designer of the new coins.
At the time of writing, we understand the Royal Mint has withdrawn the pack from sale and are awaiting a re-print.
For now, it is impossible to say precisely how rare these packs are, and it is unlikely that the Royal Mint will ever disclose the exact number.
It’s normal to feel short-changed if you’ve bought any item which has a defect. However, if you have recently added one of these error packs to your collection, you have actually secured something which is quite special to collectors, and may turn out to be highly prized in years to come.