The Gold Sovereign Portraits of Queen Elizabeth II

by Les Kendall

Queen Elizabeth II is now the longest reigning Monarch ever and as you may expect there has been quite a number of different portraits on coins, not only on the UK but many other associated countries. On British Gold Sovereigns there have been five different portraits plus a special commemorative portrait.

1st portrait: Mary Gillick 1953-1968

1968 Sovereign Obverse
1968 Sovereign Obverse – Mary Gillick

Mary Gillick (1881-1965) was a British sculptor who had the privilege of creating the first portrait of the new Monarch. Gillick was given an OBE in the 1953 Honours list.

The Queen is shown wearing a wreath, which was similar to what we saw with some of the ‘Early King’ sovereigns. The image showed the Queen’s shoulders rather than just the neck. The shoulders tended to wear unevenly and the dies were later altered by Cecil Thomas to prevent this.

The portrait remained in use until decimalisation and is still used today on Maundy Money.

2nd portrait: Arnold Machin 1974-1984

1974 Sovereign Obverse
1974 Sovereign Obverse – Arnold Machin

It was decimalisation in 1968 and a new portrait was designed by British artist Arnold Machin (1911-1999). Machin designed both coins and stamps.

Machin’s portrait shows the Queen with the tiara of festoons, scrolls and collet-spikes. The tiara was a wedding present from Queen Mary. It was said that Prince Philip was very impressed with the image.

3rd portrait: Raphael Maklouf 1985-1997

1986 Sovereign Proof Obverse
1986 Sovereign Proof Obverse – Raphael Maklouf

Sculptor Raphael Maklouf (1937-) decided to make a much larger portrait of the queen, spanning the entire height of the coin. Unlike the first two portraits, this image is cut off at the neck rather that the shoulders (technically this is known as ‘couped’).

Maklouf originally worked from photographs but was later granted two sittings by the Queen so as to make the final modifications.

Maklouf used his full initials RDM (Raphael David Maklouf) just in case some thought RM stood for ‘Royal Mint’.

The Queen is wearing the George IV Royal Diadem, which is a type of ornamental crown worn for the State Opening of Parliament. Her majesty is also shown with earrings and a necklace.

4th portrait: Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS 1998-2015

2001 Sovereign Proof Obverse
2001 Sovereign Proof Obverse – Ian Rank-Broadley

Ian Rank-Broadley( 1952-) made an even larger head by eliminating more of the neck. The larger head was probably driven by the fact that the same portrait was to be used on other circulating coins which were getting downsized to save production metal costs.

5th portrait: Jody Clark 2015-present

2017 Piedfort Gold Sovereign Obverse
2017 Sovereign Obverse – Jody Clark

Jody Clark (1981-) became the first Royal Mint employee for over 100 years to design a coinage portrait of a Monarch. Clark was also the youngest (at 33) to do so. He uses computer-aided design software to help create his portraits.

2015 was unique in that there are Gold Sovereigns of both the 4th (Ian Rank-Broadley) design and 5th (Jody Clark) design. This was probably more to do with Royal Mint marketing that any other reason.

Her Majesty used the the Royal Diamond crown which she wore for her coronation.

Butler Portrait: James Butler 2016 proof only.

2016 Half-Sovereign Proof Obverse
2016 Half-Sovereign Proof Obverse – James Butler

To commemorate her majesty’s 90th birthday, James Butler created a new portrait just for that year. This is also known as the Butler Effigy sovereign. It was also used on the half-sovereign and quarter sovereign.

This is only the second time in Queen Elizabeth’s reign that a commemorative portrait has been used on Sovereign proof coins, the first time being 1989 (500th anniversary of the gold sovereign special design and did not feature the Queen’s portrait).

Images credit: M J Hughes Coins


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 1965 ELIZABETH II GOLD ROYAL MINT FULL SOVEREIGN COIN GRADED NGC MS63
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1957 1st Full Gold Sovereign Of Queen Elizabeth
1957 1st Full Gold Sovereign Of Queen Elizabeth's Reign in good condition
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