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A Royal Makeover: Cash After Elizabeth II

Categories : Cash connects people, Cash has legal tender status, Cash is a public good, Cash is a symbol of national sovereignty
December 29, 2022
Tags : Australia, Banknotes, Canada, Coins, Europe, Legal tender, New Zealand, United Kingdom
Queen Elizabeth II’s passing marked the beginning of a complex redesign and updating of banknotes and coins in the United Kingdom and many countries worldwide.
Manuel A. Bautista-González

Ph.D. in U.S. History, Columbia University in the City of New York

Post-Doctoral Researcher in Global Correspondent Banking, 1870-2000 – Mexico and South America, University of Oxford

This post is also available in: Spanish

Currency of the Realm: Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022)

“[Updating cash] may have a practical use in the fact that it obviously marks a difference from the previous reign.” – Nigel Fletcher, teaching fellow at King’s College London.

By her death on September 9, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II’s head appeared on all 4.7 billion individual Bank of England (BoE) notes (worth about £82 billion) and approximately 27 billion coins currently in circulation.

The Queen’s silhouette has also appeared in all 220 billion Royal Mail stamps since 1967. Nearly 61.4% of the U.K.’s 115,000 postboxes carry Queen Elizabeth’s mark, EIIR (Elizabeth II Regina). The legend “Her Majesty” appears prominently in passports and official stationery.

Updating banknotes, coins, stamps, and stationery will take time. “Most of the events accompanying or following accessions in the modern era, including in 1952, have simply followed what had happened the last time as a matter of habit, or resolution upon ‘how these things are done’—not a set of procedures prescribed by law,” said Robert Blackburn, professor of constitutional law at King’s College London.

Queen Elizabeth did not carry cash except on Sundays. In 2015, a source revealed that “she donated to the church collection basket. Her butler irons a five-pound note into a little square by folding it until you can only see her face.”


“On behalf of everyone at the Bank I would like to pass on my deepest condolences to the Royal Family. For most of us, she is the only head of state we have ever known, and will be remembered as an inspirational figure for our country and the Commonwealth.” – Andrew Bailey, BoE governor

After the BoE received permission from the U.K. Treasury to use the Queen’s portrait in 1956, Queen Elizabeth II became the first monarch to appear on BoE notes in 1960, with the £1 note. Six Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue notes which do not depict the British monarch.

As the royal succession occurs, the BoE is still replacing paper banknotes with polymer ones.

“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 HM Queen Elizabeth II 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,” said the BoE.

On December 20, 2022, the BoE unveiled banknotes featuring King Charles III (see Figure 1). These notes will enter circulation by mid-2024. The King’s portrait will appear on all four polymer notes (£5, £10, £20, and £50). The rest of the design on the banknotes will remain the same.

Figure 1. Bank of England: £5, £10, £20, and £50 Banknotes Depicting King Charles III

Source: BoE (2023).


“The Royal Mint worked with Her Late Majesty throughout her reign – detailing her journey from new Queen to respected head of state across five coin portraits, and ensuring each new UK coin received her personal seal of approval. The remarkable legacy of Britain’s longest serving monarch will live on for many years to come.” – Anne Jessopp, CEO at The Royal Mint

Queen Elizabeth II’s face started appearing on all U.K. coins in 1952, a year after her ascension. The Royal Mint’s most recent design of Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait was launched in 2015; it was the fifth coin portrait created during her reign.

It was customary to find multiple monarchs in small change until British coins were updated for decimalization in 1971, including “Queen Elizabeth II, George VI, George V. Maybe even some really old coins featuring Queen Victoria,” said Dominic Chorney from coin specialists A.H. Baldwin & Sons.

Video 1. Royal Mint: First Coins Depicting King Charles III

Source: Royal Mint (2023)

The first coins depicting King Charles III will enter circulation in line with demand from “banks and post offices,” said Anne Jesopp, CEO of The Royal Mint (see Video 1).

“Although I am the original designer, there are a number of skilled experts here at The Royal Mint. Every aspect of this has been pored over by all of us. It really has been a piece of teamwork that I have been absolutely delighted to be a part of.” – Martin Jennings, sculptor and designer of King Charles III’s first official coinage portrait

Whereas Queen Elizabeth II’s coinage portraits show her facing right, coins with King Charles III will depict him facing left. New kings and queens faced the opposite direction of their predecessors on currencies since the end of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate and the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), except for Edward VIII, who was king for less than a year in 1936.

Costs of a Royal Makeover

“The cost of the monarchy, which is significant, comes with the ongoing costs which ought to be reined in and haven’t been reined in.” – Norman Baker, former government minister and author.

Current banknotes and coins will continue to be legal tender, per the BoE and the Royal Mint, as updating the U.K.’s cash supply will be a multi-year process. Royal stamps will remain valid until the end of January 2023.

Rolling out the new physical money will “not happen overnight,” said Ethan Ilzetzki, associate professor at the London School of Economics.

Global Redesign

Queen Elizabeth II’s image has appeared in the currencies of 33 different countries (more than any other individual) with 26 portraits. Updating cash with her effigy will extend to 15 nations where the Queen was head of state (including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and 50 Commonwealth nations.



New Zealand



This post is also available in: Spanish