New Monarch, New Currencies

The death of HM Queen Elizabeth II (more often referred to, everywhere, as simply The Queen) on 8 September was a time of mourning and reflection on her remarkable life as the second longest reigning monarch in history (Louis IX of France was the longest, albeit he was only four when he ascended the throne in 1643).

Among the tributes, flags at half-mast and the pomp and ceremony of the state funeral, one question being asked was ‘what happens to our notes and coins’ (not to mention stamps, passports and other royal insignia), specifically in those countries where her image appears on the banknotes and/or coins.

As it happens, there are quite a lot of them.

When the Queen acceded the throne in 1952, she was head of state of 32 countries. Over the intervening years, this reduced to 15. The majority of countries that secured their independence continued their ties with the ‘mother country’, and one another, through the Commonwealth, headed by the Queen and, now, by her son, Charles III.

There are 56 members of the Commonwealth, all bar two (Mozambique and Rwanda) were former British dominions, colonies or dependencies. Of these, 36 are republics while five have their own monarchs. The 15 others have retained the Queen as their head of state. All feature the Queen on their coins (in the case of the eight countries in the Eastern Caribbean, they share a common currency), but fewer feature her portrait on their banknotes.

In addition to the members of the Commonwealth, there are three crown dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man), along with 15 British Overseas Territories, of which five have their own banknotes and coins (the Falkland Islands, St Helen and Ascension, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar).

All feature the Queen on both the notes and the coins.

In the UK, while all four Bank of England notes feature the monarch, and have done since 1960 – which was the first time she appeared on banknotes – none of the those issued by the six note issuing banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland do. The coins are the same throughout the UK. And all feature her effigy.

In total, 13 countries with the Queen as their head of state issue one or more banknotes with her portrait – 53 notes in total. As for coins, 14 countries’ coins feature her effigy, on a total of 89. Or 95 if you factor in the Cook Islands, which feature her on coins, but use the New Zealand dollar for its banknotes.

That’s a lot of notes and coins to be replaced. Whether or not some of those countries will replace her image with that of the King remains to be seen, however.

Some countries are already weakening their ties with the monarchy. In most cases, they have desisted from doing so out of affection and respect for the Queen whilst she was still alive. But that no longer being the case, the number of states that are republics within the Commonwealth is likely to grow. And even for those that don’t, there could be moves to replace the image of the Queen with national symbols and imagery.

In all cases, however, where central banks and governments have commented, they have stated that existing banknote and coins remain legal tender, and will continue to circulate alongside whatever comes next.

The first central bank to reveal its plans is the Bank of England, which has announced that it will unveil images of updated banknotes featuring a portrait of HM King Charles III by the end of this year. The notes are expected to enter circulation by mid-2024. They will be a continuation of the current series and no additional changes to the designs will be made.

According to the Bank, in line with guidance from the Royal Household to minimise the environmental and financial impact of the change of monarch, existing stocks of notes featuring the Queen (of which there are 4.5 billion) will continue to be issued into circulation. New notes will only be printed to replace worn banknotes and to meet any overall increase in demand for banknotes.

The Royal Mint, meanwhile, has already unveiled the first UK coin with effigy of King Charles III, facing the opposite way to his mother in accordance with tradition. The new 50 pence will enter circulation in the next few weeks. The reverse features a copy of the design used on the 1953 Crown struck to commemorate the Queen’s coronation.

The other coins – ranging from the 1p to the £2 – will be minted from the start of next year. They include the new £1 coin, a new design for which was already scheduled to enter circulation in 2023.

In Canada, the $10 features the Queen. There have been no announcements about a new design, while the Royal Canadian Mint has said that there is no need to change the current coins.

New Australian coins will go into circulation next year, but Reserve Bank of Australia has stated that while the image on the $5 note will change in due course, there is no guarantee that it will include the new King. This may or may not reflect the growing republican movement in the country, which was put on hold while the Queen was alive.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has stated that, for cost reasons, there are no immediate plans to change banknotes (the Queen features on the $20) or coins, as any design is a few years away.

The Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), which only completed the issue of a new all-polymer series last year, has advised that the Bank has three to four years of stocks of the new note, and ‘nothing happens right now’. He did remark, however, that a conversation needs to take place on where the EC states want to take their currency, and whether they should be using their own landmarks and heroes, rather than the British sovereign.

There are 22 monarchs in the world (be those monarchs kings or queens, emperors, sultans, sheikhs or grand dukes). In addition to those currencies that feature the Queen, 17 others feature their monarchs on one or more of their coins, and 11 on their banknotes. Only five have them on both – Brunei, Eswatini, Jordan, Morocco and Thailand.

The passing of a monarch is inevitably a time for change, and where this change is perhaps most apparent and keenly-felt is on the currency. For those for whom the Queen was their sovereign, most have never known banknotes, or coins, without her image.

But in spirit with the keeping of the times and the reluctance to expend resources unnecessarily, that change will be some time coming.