British currency is displayed for a photograph in London on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. Queen Elizabeth II’s image is ubiquitous. But before long, the visage of King Charles III will replace his mother’s in official and unofficial capacities. (Alexander Coggin/The New York Times)
Queen Elizabeth II’s image is ubiquitous. Her face is on British money — the blue 5-pound notes, the bronze 1-pound coin. It’s on post boxes and stamps. The royal arms is on condiment jars and jackets. Since her death this month, Elizabeth’s face has been all over nonstop news coverage. But before long, the visage of King Charles III will replace his mother’s in official and unofficial capacities.
A lot will be changing. But there is a silver lining of sorts for this royal makeover.
“The cost of the monarchy, which is significant, comes with the ongoing costs which ought to be reined in and haven’t been reined in,” said Norman Baker, a former government minister and the author of the book “ … And What Do You Do? What the Royal Family Don’t Want You to Know.”
In other words, everything is already so expensive that replacing one royal with another isn’t a major investment.
It is not uncommon to come across mailboxes adorned with the insignia of monarchs who served long before Elizabeth. There are around 115,500 mailboxes throughout the United Kingdom, and 61.4% of those, which date back as far as the reign of Queen Victoria, bear Elizabeth’s royal cipher, according to the Royal Mail Group. All mailboxes and those already in production with Elizabeth’s initials will remain intact, the service’s website says.
When a new mailbox is created, however, it will bear the insignia of Charles, according to Baker, who pointed out that the country sends less mail than it used to. Charles’ insignia will eventually adorn the nation’s post boxes. There just won’t be as many of them.
“The cost of a post box is not related to whether it’s a change of monarchy or not,” Baker said. “The cost of Charles being on there rather than the Queen is minimal. I mean, it’s nothing.”
Also read: Queen Elizabeth II: Major milestones from the life of the longest serving monarch
The Royal Mail Group has not yet announced the plan for King Charles stamps, but, of course, stamps with Elizabeth’s image are still valid. One change that has nothing to do with their royal highnesses: The Royal Mail is in the process of adding bar codes to stamps, a move it said would enhance security and allow people to access videos through the Royal Mail app. Stamps without the bar codes — which happen to feature the queen — will be valid only until early next year.
“All of a sudden, I suppose, just the everyday stamp has become a collectors’ item, and that’s quite interesting,” said Laura Clancy, a lecturer in media at Lancaster University. “It changes the meaning of the object, right? From an everyday object to something that is more special.”
There are over 4.7 billion Bank of England currency notes in circulation worth around 82 billion pounds (about $93.5 billion.) Elizabeth was the first monarch to appear on Bank of England bank notes in 1960 — so there is no precedent for what will happen during a turnover in the monarchy.
The cost of creating new molds to accommodate Charles would be “relatively negligible,” said Mauro F. Guillén, dean at Cambridge Judge Business School, who estimated that phasing out the currency with Elizabeth will be a two- to four-year process.
Charles’ ascension is occurring as the Bank of England continues to replace paper bank notes with polymer ones to prevent fraud and reduce the transmission of germs. In 2016, the bank introduced a 5-pound polymer note that featured Elizabeth and Winston Churchill, the former prime minister.
One other factor in the timing of Charles currency, according to Baker: The king gets to approve the image. British currency is displayed for a photograph in London on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. Queen Elizabeth II’s image is ubiquitous. But before long, the visage of King Charles III will replace his mother’s in official and unofficial capacities. (Alexander Coggin/The New York Times)
There are 29 billion British coins in circulation with Elizabeth’s visage, and on all of them, she faces to the right. Since Charles II’s reign in the 17th century, new kings and queens have faced the opposite direction of their predecessors on coins, with the exception of Edward VIII, who preferred to face left. Unless the new king expresses a different preference, he will be facing left.
Guillén said the coins are more expensive to produce than bank notes since they are more durable. He was reluctant to put a figure on what production of the new coins might cost — estimating around $600 million — but noted that it would take multiple years to phase out older coins, and the total tab could fluctuate significantly.
Companies as different as Heinz and Burberry use Elizabeth’s coat of arms on ketchup bottles and coats, but that will change. To be eligible to use the Royal Arms, a business must have provided products and services to the royal family for at least five of the past seven years. More than 600 enterprises, including Barbour, Command Pest Control and Swarovski, currently have warrants granted by Elizabeth, according to the Royal Warrant Holders Association.
Now that Elizabeth has died, companies like Heinz, which received warrants from her, have two years to continue to use the coat of arms. After that period is up, Heinz must update ketchup bottles that circulate in the United Kingdom, though it may not be a significant cost.
“We’re not talking about changing the ketchup,” Guillén said. “We’re talking about changing a very, very small, tiny part of the packaging.”
Other unofficial goods are seeing the market effect of the queen’s death, too. Silk Road Bazaar, for example, makes felt ornaments it sells on Etsy and to wholesale clients, catering to Anglophiles. Its designs include Elizabeth, an orange and white corgi, Big Ben, and now, Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort.
In August, Silk Road Bazaar sold just three Elizabeth ornaments on Etsy and one of then-Prince Charles, said Andrew Kuschner, the company’s founder. So far this month, however, it has sold 60 Elizabeth ornaments and eight of King Charles.
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