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Minted Majesty: New coins for the new King

Minted Majesty: New coins for the new King

What does the coronation mean for the UK’s currency depicting the monarchs—old and new?

When Queen Elizabeth II died, my 11-year-old niece was concerned it would mean money was worthless as you wouldn’t be able to use the coins and notes that featured her face. That is, of course, not the case. 

All the current coins and notes which feature Queen Elizabeth II will continue to be legal tender, even though there’s a new monarch on the throne. And they’ll remain so until they need to be replaced.  

Which could take a while—there are currently around 27 billion coins with the Queen’s face on one side in use in the UK! Though there have been wholesale replacements of coins in the past, such as through decimalisation in the 1970s, the resizing of 5p, 10p and 50p coins in the 1990s, and the new £1 coin in 2017, this was quite unusual.  

"Normally old coins only stop being used when wear and tear take them out of circulation"

Normally old coins only stop being used when wear and tear take them out of circulation, and Buckingham Palace is keen to avoid any unnecessary environmental and financial impact by changing this. 

That doesn’t mean we won’t find King Charles III in our wallets already. In fact, 50p coins with the King appeared at the end of last year. And all new coins minted since January 1st have featured King Charles.  

But expect to continue to use coins with both the Queen and King for a good while yet. According to the Royal Mint, it's only since 1992 that every coin featured the same reigning monarch. Previously you’d find a hotch potch of monarchs on coins, stretching back to medieval times.

A coin without a crown

Some say there's a hidden bird by the King's ear, but it's uncertain whether this was deliberate

If you find a new coin in your change, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the absence of a crown on King Charles’ head. It might seem strange, but there’s precedent with King George VI (Elizabeth’s father) and other Kings also crownless. 

Another difference in the new coins the King faces left, while the Queen faced right—also following a tradition that alternates the direction of profiles between monarchs. 

Some have said that the design, by sculptor Martin Jennings, features a hidden bird next to the King’s ear. Whether it’s an unintended extra or deliberate, once you see it, you can’t unsee it! 

No notes

It wasn't until Queen Elizabeth II that monarchs featured on banknotes

You’ll have to wait until next year to see King Charles on a banknote, with mid-2024 likely to see the first release. The longer transition is because there are a number of notes with the portrait of the Queen already printed by the Bank of England but not circulated. So the idea is to use these first and print the new versions only when they’re needed. 

"Surprisingly, this is the second time a monarch has been on a Bank of England UK banknote"

The back designs will all stay the same as they are now, with Winston Churchill on the £5 note, Jane Austen on the £10 note, JMW Turner on the £20 and Alan Turing on the £50. The difference will be on the front and in the see-through security window, with King Charles (crownless again) replacing the picture of the Queen.  

Surprisingly, this is the second time a monarch has been on a Bank of England UK banknote. It wasn’t until 1960 that Queen Elizabeth became the first one to feature. 

Worldwide it’s less clear if King Charles will replace the Queen on current and former Commonwealth currencies. In Canada, the Queen appears on the $20 note, on coins in New Zealand, and others include some Cypriot and Eastern Caribbean Central Bank cash. Over in Australia, it’s likely the King will appear on coins, but it’s been announced the $5 note will instead “honour the culture and history of the first Australians”. 

What to do with old coins and notes

While you can't use old notes in shops, you can still swap them out for legal tender

Of course, even though you’ll be able to keep using the current currency featuring the Queen, we have seen some changes in recent years where that isn’t the case. 

The move from paper to polymer notes is now complete, so you can’t spend the older notes. Last September it was the old £20 and £50 notes that were withdrawn, with the £5 and £10 notes removed in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

"If you have or find one of these old notes don’t chuck them in the bin as they still have value"

If you have or find one of these old notes don’t chuck them in the bin as they still have value. To make them useable you’ll need to swap them for the new style notes (with either the Queen or King), which you can do by sending them in the post to the Bank of England. You can also pop in and change them in person at participating Post Office branches, or the Bank of England itself if you happen to be near Threadneedle St in London. 

The only recent coin you might still have that can’t be used is the round-pound coin. It’s easier to swap this over as you can deposit it into your current account at your bank. 

Don’t forget to swap your stamps

While the King's portrait now features on new stamps, old stamps are still valid

The King’s portrait will appear on stamps issued by Royal Mail from 4 April 2023, though as with cash you can continue to use those with a picture of the Queen - with one major exception. 

Last year new style stamps were issued that featured a barcode and these are officially the only traditional stamps you can use since 31 January this year, with the exception of Christmas or picture stamps

However, there’s a six-month grace period lasting until 31 July 2023 when posts with old stamps will still be accepted. 

So you can either use them before that date or send them by post to the Royal Mail Swap Out service. You’ll be able to find the form on the Royal Mail website or from local post offices. 

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