Why do English Monarchs face the way they do on Australian Coins?

January 25, 2011

From left Edward VII, George V, George VI, Elizabeth II

Have you wondered why King George VI faces to the left and Queen Elizabeth II faces to the right? It's a royal tradition that the succeeding King or Queen face the opposite direction to their predecessor in their profile portrait depicted on currency.

From 800AD the coins of Britain showed the names of the reigning king, and in 939AD Athelstan became the first King of Britain whose portrait appeared on a coin. From the time of Charles II (1660) a tradition developed where the succeeding monarch's portrait on coins faced in the opposite direction to their predecessor. Up until this day there has been a general tradition on Commonwealth coins that a representation of the reigning monarch be shown and this includes Australia. The portrait must be approved by the King or Queen before being struck onto coins. Queen Elizabeth II always faces to the right. She has had a number of formal portrait designs through the years still seen on all decimal currency.

As can be seen on the image above King Edward VII (1901-1910) faces to the right and his successor King George V (1910-1936) faces to the left.

There was a glitch in the tradition of the direction that the royal portraits faced after George V. King Edward VIII (not shown above) who succeeded the throne had coins issued in his name which depicted his portrait facing to the left. He thought it was his "best side" and refused to follow the royal tradition. After just 11 months as King, Edward VIII voluntarily renounced the throne because of public disapproval for his wife-to-be Wallis Simpson. Objections were raised over her two previous failed marriages and she was labelled as unsuitable to be the King's consort. Edward VIII, unwilling to give her up, abdicated the throne in December 1936. Because of the short time that he reigned and the disagreement over his portrait no coins containing his portrait were issued. Some extremely rare pattern coins were struck in anticipation of his coinage being released but these never entered circulation. In more recent times some fantasy pieces containing his portrait have become available on the collector market.

George VI followed reigning 1936-1952 facing to the left and Queen Elizabeth in 1952 facing to the right. All the coins seen with her majesty Queen Elizabeth II depict her portrait profile facing to the right, from a pre-decimal 1964 penny to your 1966 round 50c to your 2010 Australian Tax Office 20c you got in change at the supermarket today.

Posted by harrisk at January 25, 2011 10:20 AM
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