A Queen’s Portrait

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. 

Coin 1

 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.


Wilding stampBut 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.

Machind stampThe 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.

Appearing on stamps, coins, and other collectibles, Queen Elizabeth II has one of the most recognizable portraits in the world. Happy birthday, your Majesty!

“The Devil’s Hair” Canadian Banknote Controversy

Official currency printed by the government can be prone to mistakes – or, in the case of the 1954 ‘Devil’s Hair’ Canadian bank note, prone to accidental hidden images.

In 1952 the Bank of Canada asked George Gundersen from the British American Bank Note Company to design a bill featuring Queen Elizabeth II. Gundersen based his design on a photographic portrait of the Queen, only changing it slightly to remove her crown and add detail to the top of her hair.

Straightforward enough, right? But the illustration turned out a little different than expected.

All seemed fine until the government put the bill in circulation, when someone complained to the Bank of Canada that they could see the devil’s face in the Queen’s hair. Soon multiple complaints poured in.

Seeing patterns, especially faces, in random data is an almost universal human trait called ‘apophenia’.

They saw the image just over the Queen’s left ear: a grinning demon with horns embedded in the Queen’s hair, the threatening shape formed by the coiffed curls and highlights of her hair. Was this some kind of conspiracy?

The image in question, showing a grinning face with horns.

The image in question, showing a grinning face with horns.

Of course this alarmed the bank, and in 1956 they modified the design to NOT show a devilish grinning face, by darkening the highlights of the hair.

Though some looked for an explanation of the occurence, most attributed it to coincidence. Some suspected the bill designer of planting the face, but he denied any claims.

Years later, some claimed Her Majesty’s portrait photographer, Peter-Dirk Uys, (who took the offending ‘devil’s hair’ portrait) as a follower of Aleister Crowley, an acclaimed devil-worshipper. However, there is no concrete evidence to that claim, and so any conspiracies to that point cannot be proven.

The light probably just so happened to fall on the Queen’s hair in such a way in the original photo, which Gundersen engraved in exact detail for the note.

Now, thanks to a few citizens’ observant eyes and the resulting short issue period of the bill, the “Devil’s Face” banknote is a valued collector’s item. After all, it’s not every day that you find a demon grinning at you from royalty’s hair.


With a closer detail outlining the face

A more detailed account