Coins of a new King
Volume 59, Number 11, November 2022
Old and new IT WAS with great sadness that we learned of the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, on Thursday, September 8. We had, of course, already gone to press with the October issue when we heard of Her Majesty’s passing and now, nearly a month later, we find ourselves already looking at the new portrait of King Charles III that will adorn our coins going forward. There is little point in dwelling too much on Her Majesty’s life here; millions upon millions of words have been written about her since September 8 and I can add very little—we have, though, included a tribute to her numismatic legacy later on in the magazine. That numismatic legacy was vast. Billions of coins were minted with Queen Elizabeth’s effigy on them—a result of her position as Head of State of so many countries, her longevity and the “recoinage” that was decimalisation 51 years ago as well as numerous new coins introduced during her reign. King Charles will not appear on quite so many issues; already in his 70s, there’ll be no Golden, Diamond or Platinum jubilee for him as there was for his mother. It is perfectly possible that some countries that had the Queen as Head of State may now decide to move towards becoming republics—there are already rumblings to that end from the Caribbean. Nor, of course, will there be anything like the upheaval in the coin world that there was in 1971, so it’s unlikely we’ll see coin mintages in the billions for King Charles. Nothing is impossible of course, after all, the introduction of the new 20p, the £1 coin and £2 coin all necessitated vast mintages, as did the resizing of the 50p, 10p and 5p in the 1990s. More recently, the changeover from the “round pound” to the 12-sided version in 2016/17 gave us hundreds of millions of new coins. Will there, we wonder, be something similar during this new reign? Will we see a resizing of the rather anachronistic 2p? Will we see a brand-new coin brought in perhaps? Sadly, such things seem unlikely in this day and age. With new payment methods coming in all the time and coins being used less frequently (particularly copper coins), it seems far more possible that under King Charles we will see the small denominations disappear altogether (after all in Australia, New Zealand and Canada copper has vanished—the smallest coin in all these countries is now the 5 cent) rather than see money going on a brand-new sized coin. As for any other “new issues” it would be difficult to see where a new coin would fit, a 25p coin replacing the 20p perhaps? Or maybe a £5 crown being issue for circulation to replace the note of the same denomination? Not impossible but again it seems unnecessary—the 20p slots in nicely in our base 10 system and, now we have switched to polymer notes, the problems we used to have with the “fivers” generally being in very poor condition are eliminated. It is therefore difficult to see what, if any, changes can be made to the coin of the realm in this new era but of course there doesn’t have to be any, not really—the change of effigy is enough for now (I must confess to being surprised that coins bearing it were available so soon. I’d assumed we’d see the new portrait sometime this year but I had expected it to start adorning coins sometime after the Coronation. In fact, the first ones bearing the rather relaxed and amiable bust of His Majesty by Martin Jennings were available to buy on October 3). That His Majesty’s coinage won’t see the huge changes that his mother’s reign brought is a given, if only because 70 years is a long time and Charles simply cannot match that, but we do hope that he won’t follow his grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather in only having one UK coinage profile. We hope that this recently revealed one (suitably facing the opposite way to Her Majesty, in keeping with a tradition dating back to the 17th century that only Edward VIII broke, and look what happened there) will just be the first step in him giving us a numismatic legacy just as interesting, if not as varied, as that of the late Queen. As with all these things only time will tell but, for now, we have a King on our coins again, may he be there for many years to come.
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