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The King’s new portrait is right on the money

28 October 2022

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The day Rakewell has been waiting for has finally arrived. The first coin bearing the image of our new monarch, King Charles III, has been struck. The King is depicted – unlike his mother, but like previous kings – without a crown and, in keeping with tradition, he will be facing in the opposite direction from Elizabeth II.

The King’s first appearance is on your roving correspondent’s favourite coin, the 50p piece. Not only does it have a satisfying heft in one’s pocket, it also provides the greatest surface area for a portrait. The actual coin may be heptagonal, but there is a pleasing circularity about the process of its design. When he was still the Prince of Wales, King Charles III visited the Poet Laureate John Betjeman on his deathbed. He has long been a fan of the poet’s work (and, presumably, architecture criticism), so it seems only appropriate that Martin Jennings, the man charged with producing his portrait for the coin, should be the sculptor responsible for the statue of Betjeman that lucky tourists can stumble upon in St Pancras station (it might yet be a better work of art than Tracey Emin’s neon addition to the station).

In another circular turn, the reverse of the coin (NB in coins, the side bearing the monarch’s is always referred to as the obverse), bears the same decoration as the coins designed to celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

The coins themselves are being stamped in the Royal Mint’s site at Llantristant, a far cry from the Tower of London where the mint began but, pleasingly for the former Prince of Wales, in… Wales. Operations moved here in 1968, as part of the UK’s preparations for going decimal three years later. Still, symbols of continuity are pleasing even if, at heart, they are a means of coping with change.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.