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Billions of Coins Feature Queen Elizabeth II's Portrait. What Happens Now?

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  • Queen Elizabeth II's portrait features on each of the 29 billion coins currently in circulation in the U.K., as well as currencies of Commonwealth countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
  • As King Charles III is now the monarch, coins bearing his image will come into circulation, but money featuring the queen isn't going to be phased out anytime soon, according to Dominic Chorney from coin specialists A.H. Baldwin & Sons.
  • Pound coins can typically circulate for around 30 years without becoming too worn for use.

Queen Elizabeth II's portrait features on each of the 29 billion coins currently in circulation in the U.K., as well as currencies of Commonwealth countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

As King Charles III is now the monarch, coins bearing his image will come into circulation, but money featuring the queen isn't going to be phased out anytime soon, according to Dominic Chorney from coin specialists A.H. Baldwin & Sons.

"I don't imagine there'll be a concerted effort to remove her coins," Chorney told CNBC.

"The coins will be lost over time, but I imagine there'll be coins of Queen Elizabeth circulating for decades," he said.

Pound coins can typically circulate for around 30 years without becoming too worn for use.

Before decimalization happened in early 1971 — the process which saw the pound sterling shift from denominations of pounds, shillings and pence to just pounds and pence — it was commonplace to see images of previous monarchs on money.

"[There] would've [been] coins in circulation of Queen Elizabeth II, George VI, George V. Maybe even some really, really old coins featuring Queen Victoria," Chorney said.

And now as the coins bearing the late queen's portrait are still legal tender, there's no real reason to try to remove them, he said.

"It means you'll have coins of King Charles III circulating with coins of Queen Elizabeth II, which is unique in modern history because nobody remembers seeing two different monarchs in circulation," Chorney said.

Which way will King Charles III face?

Using imagery of the monarch on coins is a tradition that dates back thousands of years. It symbolizes power and also guarantees a currency, according to Chorney.

"A currency can be trusted if it's backed by the state," Chorney said, "and the most obvious symbol of the state, since the Roman times, is the emperor, the ruler, the king."

Ever since 1659 at the end of the Protectorate — a time when the U.K. head of state was the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell rather than a king or queen — monarchs' portraits on coins have faced opposite directions with each new coronation. 

When Charles II took to the throne in 1661, he opted for his portrait to be facing his left — the opposite way to Cromwell, who had his father Charles I executed. 

Five different portraits of Queen Elizabeth II have featured on British coinage since she ascended to the throne in 1952.
JUSTIN TALLIS / Stringer / Getty Images
Five different portraits of Queen Elizabeth II have featured on British coinage since she ascended to the throne in 1952.

Rumor has it that the move represented the new monarch turning his back on Cromwell's republican version of Britain, and the tradition continued each time a new monarch took the throne.

The only break from tradition almost came from Edward VIII. His coins were to face the same way as his father's, to capture his more flattering side, but as he abdicated less than a year after he became king his coins were never issued. His brother and successor, George VI, opted to face the opposite way to his father, and so the tradition was restored.

Five different portraits of Queen Elizabeth II have featured on British coinage since she ascended to the throne in 1952. The most recent was designed by Jody Clark, and it was the first to be created solely from photographs rather than a sitting with the queen.

The Royal Mint, the official producer of the U.K.'s coins, declined to comment on the new money set to be minted with King Charles III's portrait, but it provided the following statement via email:

"The Royal Mint worked with Her Late Majesty throughout her reign – detailing her journey from new Queen to respected head of state across five coin portraits, and ensuring each new UK coin received her personal seal of approval. The remarkable legacy of Britain's longest serving monarch will live on for many years to come."

The Bank of England, which issues the U.K.'s banknotes, confirmed bank notes featuring the image of the queen would continue to be legal tender and said further announcements about the currency would be made "once the period of mourning has been observed."

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