King Charles' Official Coin Portrait Reveals A Striking Difference From Elizabeth's

On September 30, the Royal Mint unveiled the portrait of King Charles III that will soon begin appearing on coins in the United Kingdom. The portrait, which shows the king as he looks today — wrinkles, jowls, and all — is missing something you'd think a monarch's likeness would include. The five portraits of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, designed and used on coins during her 70-year reign, included this in all but one (her first), according to The Royal Mint Museum.

The new king ascended to the throne following the death of his mother at age 96 on September 8. Like nearly everything related to the British royals, the design of the new coins has to do with a centuries-old tradition. King Athelstan, who ruled in the 10th century, had coins featuring the detail in question — the first English king to do so — but by the reign of King Charles II in the 17th century, the item had gone missing, according to The Royal Family.

King Charles III's new coins are tradition-bound

The portrait of King Charles III shows his royal highness facing left and without a crown. At least since Charles II, whose coins featured him wearing a laurel wreath, the traditional symbol of victory, British coins haven't typically featured a king with a crown. The coins featuring James II, who succeeded Charles II, had him wearing, besides a laurel wreath, a long flowing wig with a bow at the back, as was the fashion of the time, per The Royal Mint.

Queens, on the other hand, have included crowns in their portraits that appeared on coinage, per Cosmopolitan, although Queen Elizabeth II's first coin, issued in 1953, showed her wearing a laurel wreath, rather than the various crowns her later portraits featured, per The Royal Mint Museum. King Charles III's portrait also has him facing left rather than right, as with the portraits of his mother, another tradition that began with Charles II in which the monarchs face the opposite direction of their predecessor, according to The Washington Post. The Royal Mint, which has been making coins in England for more than 1,000 years, will release the first of the new coins, a 50P piece, in the coming weeks, according to the BBC.

Who designed the new portrait of King Charles III? 

The British sculptor Martin Jennings, who typically creates much larger works of art, including statues of the writers Charles Dickens and George Orwell (and the work above), designed the portrait of King Charles III, according to The Royal Mint and his website. Working from photographs, rather than through live sittings, Jennings painstakingly created the portrait that was first modeled in plaster at a larger scale, per The Royal Mint. King Charles personally approved the portrait, which the artist was "delighted to hear" and was gratified to be "involved in this important process," according to a statement on The Royal Mint website.

The first 50P coins should be in circulation by the end of the year, along with a commemorative £5 Crown, with the same portrait then finding its way onto coins ranging from 1p to £2, according to the BBC. With about 27 billion coins in circulation, the queen's likeness won't be going anywhere soon, although the mint plans to stop making any new coins featuring the queen as of January 1, 2023, per The Washington Post and The Telegraph. "People should not worry if they have coins with the Queen on. We will keep those coins in circulation," Anne Jessopp, chief executive of The Royal Mint, told the BBC.