Queen Elizabeth II of England celebrates her 90th birthday today; after more than six decades as Queen, her image has been imprinted on over 54 million coins, according to the Royal Mint. In celebration of her Majesty’s birthday, here’s a look at the portraits that have graced the coins and stamps of the United Kingdom.
The first image of the Queen used on coins showed an elegant profile of the young Queen by Mary Gillick; Elizabeth was 25 when she began her reign, and is depicted wearing a wreath.
A new portrait, by Arnold Machin RA, was brought into use in 1968, as part of the effort towards decimalization of the currency. The Queen is depicted in the tiara that she received as a wedding present from her grandmother, Queen Mary. (This design was later used for stamps as well; keep reading!)
Between the years of 1985 to 1997, other coins were struck using a portrait by Raphael Maklouf, which added a necklace and earrings to the Queen’s attire. This portrait was the subject of some controversy, as many thought Maklouf depicted the Queen too young; Maklouf insisted that his intention was “to create a symbol, regal and ageless.”
In 1997, a new portrait was chosen after a design content brought in a high number of excellent proposals. Ian Rank-Broadley returned to the practice of depicting the Queen’s age realistically, in praise of the Queen’s “poise and bearing.” His portrait occupies as much space as possible within the area of the coin, with little blank space.
A new coin unveiled in 2015 is the fifth definitive coinage with the Queen’s image, and the fourth portrait on coins in current circulation.
But the Queen isn’t just on coins; her portrait has appeared on many stamps as well. From 1952 through 1971, the portrait used was based on a photograph taken by famous photographer Dorothy Wilder. Seventy-five designs were considered to frame the portrait, and five basic designs were eventually selected. The stamp designs also include four flowers symbolic of each country in the United Kingdom. Designers Michael Goaman and Faith Jacques considered the person, three-quarters image of the Queen to be inappropriate, and proposed a more classic image that they felt better represented the monarchy. In 1967, the Wilding design was retired, except in regional issues, and was replaced by the Machin portrait.
The Machin portrait, also used on coins, has been used since June of 1967. This simple design consists only of the profile of the Queen and the denomination of the stamp, and are usually monochromatic. Despite their apparent simplicity, the Machin series have a surprising complexity. Variations in color, gum, value, and other considerations give them a wide range of collectibility. While other designs have been proposed, the Machin portrait has remained, due in part to the Queen’s expressed satisfaction with the design.