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Cash change: What will Australia’s King Charles coin look like?

Australian coins are about to change, but how and when?

A coin with Queen Elizabeth II and a second with a question mark over it signifying the mystery around King Charles effigy.
Coins bearing the effigy of King Charles III will circulate in Australia this year. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

Coins featuring King Charles III will start circulating in Australia by the end of 2023, a transformation changing the face of ‘heads or tails’ more than a year after Queen Elizabeth II’s death.

We were told the 74-year-old would grace our gold and silver “sometime in 2023” shortly after his mother’s passing on September 8 last year.

There had been radio silence on the effigy’s progression until Assistant Minister for Treasury Andrew Leigh revealed this week the slightly less vague timeframe of “before the end of the year”. However, he still stopped short of announcing a specific date, noting it was a “complicated process”.

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So, what will the coin look like? And what are the key differences to when the late monarch was first imprinted on Australian pocket change at the significantly younger age of 27.

What you need to know

  • Differences: The King will face left, and not right like the late Queen, marking protocol to switch the direction of the portrait profile between monarchs, which dates back to the 17th century

  • What will it look like? We still haven’t seen the official effigy and the mint “does not speculate about the design” but it’s likely to be similar to the one Buckingham Palace approved in the UK (pictured below)

  • There’s no major cost in changing the effigy, we’ve already done it six times for Queen Elizabeth II

  • When? There’s no solid date, but soon

  • Do we have to? There’s no legal requirement to have the sovereign on the coin, it’s simply tradition and the minister’s decision whether to follow it

A coin released in the UK featuring King Charles effigy.
Australia's effigy of King Charles is likely to be similar to the one approved by Buckingham Palace for use in the UK. (Source: Royal Mint)

🤔 Should I be worried?

No. Nothing will change for the coins currently sitting in your piggy bank, or wedged behind the couch pillow. All existing coins bearing the Queen’s effigy will remain legal tender forever.

⏭️ How does it work?

The government needs to get approval for the design from Buckingham Palace, or as Leigh said: "Put simply, the King needs to approve his own face being on Australian coins."

The mint then needs to develop tools to print the coins (dies), test them for likeness and reliability (needs to be able to print up to 300,000 coins in its lifetime), release a currency determination (document stating all the coins about to be made), print and then finally release the coins.

🔢 The story in numbers

  • The mint has produced more than 15 billion decimal coins bearing the effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

  • The Queen had six effigies during her 70-year reign

  • It’s been 145 days since King Charles's coronation

  • A die that forges a coin needs to last for 200,000-300,000 coins

  • Australian coins stay in circulation for about 30 years

💬 Conversation starter

King Charles may be following in his mother’s footsteps on to the flipside of our coins, but he won’t end up on the $5 banknote, as she did.

The government supported the Reserve Bank’s decision this year to instead “feature a new design that honours the culture and history of the First Australians”.

Like the effigy, we still don’t know what the new design will look like and the Reserve Bank has said it could take years before we do.

The call to dump having a royal on the note was met with controversy (described as “woke nonsense”), but interestingly there was actually a hubbub when the Queen was put on the 'Stuey Diver' in the first place.

When Australia converted to decimal currency in 1966 (and names like the ‘royal’, ‘austral’ ‘kanga’ and ‘dinkum’ were suggested ahead of ‘dollar’ being locked in), Queen Elizabeth was featured on the $1 note, which was discontinued in 1984 and replaced with a coin.

Queen Elizabeth dollar note
Queen Elizabeth featured on the first $1 note until it was decommissioned, and controversy sparked when designs for her to replace an Australian on the $5 were released in the 1990s. (Credit: Royal Bank of Australia).

So, when new polymer banknotes were introduced in 1992, it was announced the Queen would be put back in the mix on the $5 - a move both Labor prime minister Paul Keating and the opposition Liberals argued against.

But, in creating the $5 we know now, Australian woman Caroline Chisholm - known for her work with immigrating families and girls - was shafted.

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