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!
Secure the History of Britain in Coins Collector’s Album to your collection!
The ‘History of Britain in Coins’ Collector’s Album is an exciting way to collect ten specially selected UK 50p and £2 coins that Change Checker consider as some of the most historically interesting circulating coins of the decimal era!
Coins from British territories have a habit of making an unexpected appearance in our change.
Finding one in your change is an annoyance on one hand as the coins are not legal tender in the UK. On the other hand, from a collecting point of view, new and interesting designs are always a bonus!
The Bailiwick of Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands and is situated off the coast of Normandy, France. As a British Crown dependency, Pound Sterling is the official currency of the island. However, Jersey started issuing the Jersey Pound in 1841 not as a separate currency, but as an issue of banknotes and coins by the State of Jersey.
Jersey has a population of just over 100,000 and as with all coins from the British Isles, mintage figures are always expected to be quite low.
When is a Penny not a Penny?
When it’s 1/12 of a Shilling. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the pound was divided into twenty shillings or 240 pennies. So before decimalisation in 1971, 1/12 of a Shilling would have amounted to 1 Penny.
The Penny by another name…
During Queen Elizabeth ΙΙ’s reign, Jersey issued three commemorative 1/12th shilling coins – this penny marks the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest and is the last bronze 1/12th of a shilling issued during the Old Elizabeth ΙΙ coinage, 1954-1966.
Before decimalisation, Jersey, as a British Crown Dependency, was required to use the crowned effigy of the Queen on the obverse of its coins. This coin features Cecil Thomas’ famous crowned portrait of Her Majesty the Queen with the simple legend ‘QUEEN ELIZABETH THE SECOND’.
The reverse, designed by Georgie Edward Kruger Gray, features the Jersey Coat of Arms containing three lions and the dates ‘1066’ and ‘1966’ divided either side of the shield. The Jersey Coat of Arms derives from the seal granted to the island by King Edward Ι in 1279.
As the last 1/12th of a shilling coin issued during the Old Elizabeth ΙΙ coinage this 1/12th shilling has become a coveted collector’s item.
Click here to own a Jersey 1/12th of a Shilling Coin
Not only is our Queen now the longest reigning monarch in British history, but today Her Majesty is celebrating her 92nd Birthday – the only British sovereign to reach this milestone.
Elizabeth immediately became Queen after her father King George VI passed away. Her Coronation was delayed for 16 months because of a traditional period of mourning that follows the death of a Monarch. The first commemorative crown of her reign was designed by Gilbert Ledward and captured the hearts of the nation.
The first coins of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign featured the first portrait of Her Majesty by Mary Gillick. The portrait is remembered for reflecting the optimistic mood of the nation and was also used on coinage in many of the commonwealth countries.
In 1965, a crown was released by the Royal Mint which changed everything. This particular Crown is famous for being the first British coin to feature anyone outside the Royal Family – Sir Winston Churchill.
On Decimal Day, the UK and Ireland decimalised their currencies. The new currency system meant that the pound would be divided into units of ten, including half, one, two, five and 50 pence.
The marriage of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip Mountbatten took place on the 20th November 1947 and in 1972, the couple celebrated 25 years together. The Royal Mint issued the first British coin to have a face value of 25p to mark their 25th Wedding Anniversary.
The thirteenth Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh in 1986 which saw the striking of the very first commemorative £2 coin. Not only that, it was the first coin to commemorate a sport.
The very first bi-metallic coin was issued in 1997 – one year prior to the portrait change. This coin is the one and only year that Raphael Maklouf’s portrait appears on the bi-metallic £2 coin. His portrait features Queen Elizabeth II wearing a necklace, which earned the coin its unique status and nickname in the collecting world, the ‘Queen with a Necklace’ £2.
2011 saw the introduction of a new design for the 1oz Silver Britannia who has a long standing history with British coinage. The coin features the 4th portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley which is regarded as being a realistic and mature representation of the Queen.
In 2015, British History was made as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrated an incredible Royal milestone, becoming our longest reigning monarch. This remarkable £20 coin was issued in celebration and features all 5 portraits of Her Majesty. The obverse features the fifth portrait of Her Majesty as 2015 was the first year that the Jody Clark portrait was used on UK coinage.
To celebrate the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II a selection of brand new commemorative coins were issued. Designed by Christopher Hobbs, the coin depicts nine roses – one for each decade of her life as well as the number ’90’ in the centre.
2016 proved to be a significant year for collectors and the 90th Birthday celebrations were no exception. The coins that appeared throughout Her Majesty’s reign have proved to be very popular over the years and we’re sure the 90th Birthday commemorative coins will be favourites among collectors in years to come.
Own your own piece of numismatic history