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A royal milestone, a life in portraits

On April 21, 2021, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II becomes the first British monarch to reach the age of 95. It’s another historic milestone in a life full of exceptional moments and great achievements, and we’re celebrating the occasion by issuing our newest Tiara coins, as well as the new Royal Celebration Set.

Many of those royal milestones and special moments have been enshrined on our coins, and Her Majesty herself is well represented on them. Always facing right on the “heads” side of our coins, each of Her Majesty’s portraits – known as effigies – represent different eras, and there is plenty of history behind each one.

1953-1964 – The “laureate” effigy by Mary Gillick

Our first effigy of Her Majesty was selected by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee and designed by British sculptor Mary Gillick.

Youthful and uncrowned (Her Majesty is wearing a wreath), this effigy remains popular with collectors. It’s a simple design that captures the optimism of the time – the Second World War was over, and the newly crowned 27-year-old monarch brought youth and the promise of modernisation to a centuries-old institution.

Canada’s coins weren’t the only ones to feature this effigy: we produced our own master tooling, but the artist’s model was provided to other Commonwealth nations too, including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

1965-1989 – The “tiara” effigy by Arnold Machin

In 1964, the Royal Mint commissioned British sculptor Arnold Machin to design a contemporary royal portrait for its first decimal coins. That prompted change in Canada too (but we’ve had decimal coins since 1858).

His effigy is a more regal head-and-shoulder bust. It shows Her Majesty wearing the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara—a wedding gift from her grandmother, Queen Mary, who also commissioned the inspiration for our 2021 Tiara coins.

In 1965, Canada became the first of the Commonwealth nations to adopt this effigy. It was accompanied by the inscription, “ELIZABETH II D G REGINA”—a shortened version of “ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA” (“Elizabeth II by the grace of God, Queen”) seen on previous coins.

On a side note, if you collect stamps or have ever received a stamped letter from the United Kingdom, you’ve probably seen another famous Machin portrait of Her Majesty—it’s the one that has appeared on British definitive stamps since the late 1960s.

1990-2002 – The “diademed” effigy by Dora de Pédery-Hunt

The third likeness represents a break from tradition: it was the first effigy of a reigning monarch designed and sculpted by a Canadian.

Canadian-Hungarian artist Dora de Pédery-Hunt was commissioned to create an updated portrait exclusively for our coins. Mind you, it wasn’t our first collaboration with the sculptor: she designed the $100 gold coins issued in 1976 in honour of the Montreal Olympics.

The third effigy is perhaps the stateliest one. It shows Her Majesty wearing a string of pearls and an imposing, sparkling headpiece known as the Diamond Diadem (you might also know it as the George IV State Diadem).

2003-present – The “uncrowned” effigy by Susanna Blunt

A more mature and less formal portrait of Her Majesty has graced Canada’s coins since 2003.

Back in 2002, several artists were invited to take part in a design competition for a new effigy. The winning submission came from Vancouver-based artist Susanna Blunt, whose portrait was introduced the following year to mark The Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

Simplicity makes this one stand out from the rest. Like her father, King George VI, The Queen chose to be portrayed without a crown, instead wearing a simple string of pearls and pearl stud earrings.

The effigy exudes both poise and strength—two qualities that have defined Her Majesty’s reign. It’s a more modern representation of the long-reigning Queen of Canada, an extraordinary person who was not born to rule, but who, on another birthday 74 years ago, dedicated her life to duty and to the service of the Commonwealth. That dedication has never wavered, and we are proud to celebrate Her Majesty’s 95th birthday in 2021.

Haxby, James A. Striking Impressions. The Royal Canadian Mint and Canadian Coinage, 1984.

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