The lack of crown is in keeping with coin images of previous British kings. But there is a different standard for queens. The young Queen Elizabeth II was shown with a crown of laurels on her first coins, issued in 1953. Subsequent coin portraits showed her wearing a tiara or the royal diadem, used for the State Opening of Parliament.
Elizabeth also faced right on coins. By tradition, each monarch faces in the opposite direction from their predecessor. But the reason is unclear.
It started with the reign of Charles II, and some have claimed that it’s because he “turned his back” on Oliver Cromwell, a senior statesman who had advocated for the execution of Charles I and ran England as a de facto republic. The Royal Mint says that explanation is “unlikely and it may be better to concede that if any practical or political reason ever existed it has long since been forgotten.”
Only one monarch has broken this tradition since the 17th century. Edward VIII, the late queen’s uncle, refused to face right, as he preferred his left profile, which showed the part in his hair. A very small number of trial coins featuring Edward VIII were made before he abdicated in 1936 to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.
Switching Britain’s coinage over will take some time. There are an estimated 27 billion coins currently circulating in the United Kingdom that feature the image of Elizabeth. The Royal Mint, the official coin maker and the oldest company in Britain, said coins featuring the king and the late queen will “both circulate in change for years to come.”
The Charles coin was designed by British sculptor Martin Jennings, who worked off photographs to devise his design.
“You collect as many photographic images of your subject as you can,” he said in a statement on the Royal Mint’s website. “To present just one side of somebody’s head, you have to understand how the head works in the round, so you examine all of these old photographs then settle on just one or two that give you the optimal impression of the side of the head that you are modeling.”
Jennings told the BBC: “It is the smallest work I have created, but it is humbling to know it will be seen and held by people around the world for centuries to come.”
The announcement of the new coin comes during a week of stormy financial news, with the British pound at one point plunging to its lowest level ever against the U.S. dollar.
One user on social media joked, “In other news the first currency that King Charles will appear on will be the £500 coin.”