Royal Mint commemorates artist of first Queen’s portrait

The Royal Mint has revealed when the eagerly awaited fifth coinage portrait of Her Majesty The Queen will be unveiled to the world.

The news was announced to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Mary Gillick – the first artist to capture The Queen’s portrait for her nation’s coins.

The new fifth definitive portrait of The Queen and its designer will be officially announced at a special ceremony on Monday, March 2, 2015 and will begin to appear on UK coins from that date onwards.

Jan. 27 marked 50 years since the death of the sculptor Mary Gillick, whose first coinage portrait of The Queen appeared on the coins of the UK and some commonwealth countries from 1953 until decimalisation took place in 1971.

Gillick’s portrait, which is still struck on Maundy Money, portrays The Queen wearing a wreath on her head and was considered to be fresh, evocative and reflective of the nation’s optimism as it greeted a new monarch in the post-war years.

There have been just four official UK definitive coin portraits created during The Queen’s 62 year reign, with the most recent portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS acting as a familiar presence on our coins since 1998.

The fifth definitive portrait has been chosen by a closed competition commissioned by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC) where a number of specialist designers were invited to submit designs under anonymous cover, before a winner was selected by the RMAC.

Adam Lawrence, Chief Executive of The Royal Mint, said, “This change of Royal portrait will make 2015 a vintage year for UK coins, and it will be hugely exciting for us all to see the new design appear on the coins we use every day. All newly issued 2015 year dated coins will continue to be struck with the current portrait of The Queen until the new portrait and its designer are announced on 2 March, when the new design will be struck on coins made after that date. It seemed fitting to confirm when the new design will be revealed at a time when many are paying tribute to the first artist to produce a coinage portrait of The Queen, and we wanted to mark the occasion by reminding people of one of Gillick’s great accomplishments as a sculptor.”

Graham Dyer OBE, Senior Research Curator in the Royal Mint Museum, first joined The Royal Mint in 1961 and is the sole remaining employee from The Mint’s days at Tower Hill in London.

He says, “I remember very well the revealing of the Gillick effigy for Queen Elizabeth’s coins in the newspaper in late 1952; the photograph caught my eye and I can remember my reaction to it quite clearly. The Queen’s portrait looked beautiful – radiant was the usual description of the Queen at that time – and it was so entirely right, so charming. I remember the sense of contrast with coins of previous reigns – George V, George VI, Edward VII– all handsome gentlemen in their own way, but here we had such a young and attractive Queen, and with such an historic name, reminiscent of the first Elizabeth and the strong leadership of her reign. There was the general feeling that this was going to be the start of a new Elizabethan era, an age of hope after the struggle of the war and post war years. We were now moving on to a new age, and the Mary Gillick portrait seemed to convey that, tug at the heart strings somehow – she got it just right.

“The Mary Gillick image is charming and conveys hope, but by the time decimalisation came along in 1968 it was decided to commission a new portrait, to avoid any confusion between the old £sd coins and the new decimal ones, so the Machin portrait was selected.

“I am particularly fond of the Mary Gillick head for its fresh portrayal of the beautiful young Queen; it is believed that the Queen and Prince Philip like the Gillick head too, which is one of the reasons why it has been retained as the portrait that is still seen on Maundy Money, the coins that are given to as many elderly men and women as there are years in the sovereign’s age, every year on Maundy Thursday.”

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