The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth II

... as they appear on World Banknotes


Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of the House of Windsor has been Queen of the United Kingdom since 1952, when she succeeded her father, King George VI, to the throne. Queen Elizabeth II, as the head of the Commonwealth of Nations, is also Head of State to many countries in the Commonwealth. Although She remains Head of State to many countries, over the years many member nations of the Commonwealth have adopted constitutions whereby The Queen is no longer Head of State.

Queen Elizabeth's portrait undoubtedly appeared more often on the banknotes of Great Britain's colonies, prior to the colonies gaining independence and the use of her portrait is not as common as it once was. However, there are a number of nations who retain her as Head of State and she is still portrayed on the banknotes of numerous countries. The Queen has been depicted on the banknotes of thirty-three issuing authorities, as well as on an essay prepared for Zambia. The countries and issuing authorities that have used portraits of The Queen are (in alphabetical order): Arguably, there is some duplication in this list, depending on how it is viewed. Should British Honduras and Belize be counted as one issuing authority? If not, then perhaps Belize should be broken into 'Government of Belize', 'Monetary Authority of Belize' and 'Central Bank of Belize'. Similar arguments can be made for the amalgamation of British Caribbean Territories and the East Caribbean States, or for splitting Southern Rhodesia into 'Southern Rhodesia Currency Board' and 'Central Africa Currency Board'. Such decisions can be made by collectors for their own reference, but this list of countries should satisfy most collectors.

In total, there have been twenty-six portraits used on the various banknotes bearing the likeness of Queen Elizabeth. This study identifies the twenty-six individual portraits that have been used and also identifies the numerous varieties of the engravings, which are based on the portraits. The varieties of portraits on the banknotes are due, in the main, to different engravers, but there are some varieties due to different photographs from a photographic session being selected by different printers or issuing authorities.

The list that follows this commentary identifies the twenty-six portraits, the photographer or artist responsible for the portrait (where possible), and the date the portrait was executed. Portraits used on the banknotes come from one of several sources. Most are official photographs that are distributed regularly by Buckingham Palace for use in the media and in public places. Some of the portraits have been especially commissioned, usually by the issuing authority, although, in the case of the two paintings adapted for use on the notes (Portraits 9 and 19), it was not the issuing authority that commissioned the paintings. In the case of the portraits used by the Bank of England, a number of the portraits have been drawn by artists without specific reference to any single portrait.

It is interesting to observe that many portraits of Her Majesty have been used some years after they were originally executed. There is often a delay in presenting a portrait on a banknote that is to be issued to the public, because of the time required to produce a note from the design stage. Therefore, it is unusual to see a portrait appear on a banknote in less than two years after the original portrait was executed.

However, some portraits are introduced onto banknotes many years after they were taken. Portrait 9, which is based on the famous painting by Pietro Annigoni, was completed in 1955 but did not appear on a banknote until 1961. The last countries to introduce this portrait to their notes were the Seychelles and Fiji, who placed the portrait on their 1968 issues. Similarly, Portrait 17 was taken at the time of Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee in 1977 and made its first appearance on the notes of New Zealand in 1981, but it was only introduced to the notes of the Cayman Islands in 1991. Perhaps the longest delay in using a portrait belongs to Belize. Portrait 13 was taken in 1960 and first used on the New Zealand banknotes in 1967, which is in itself a reasonable delay. Belize introduced the image to its banknotes in 1980, some twenty years after the portrait was taken.

Apart from the portrait of Queen Elizabeth as a young girl on the Canadian 20-dollar notes of 1935, the earliest portrait used on the banknotes is Portrait 6, which appears on the Canadian notes issued in 1954. The portrait used for the Canadian notes was taken in 1951 when Elizabeth was yet to accede to the throne. Undoubtedly there was a touch of nationalism is the choice of the portrait, as the photographer, Yousuf Karsh, was a Canadian. Karsh was born in Turkish Armenia but found himself working in Quebec at the age of sixteen for his uncle, who was a portrait photographer. Karsh became one of the great portrait photographers of the twentieth century and took numerous photographs of The Queen, although this is his only portrait of Her Majesty to appear on a banknote.

Portrait 6 is particularly famous because the original engraving of The Queen, which appeared on the 1954 Canadian issues, showed a 'devil's head' in her hair. After causing some embarrassment to the Bank of Canada, the image was re-engraved and the notes reprinted. Notes with the modified portrait appeared from 1955.

While there have been some very famous photographers to have taken The Queen's portrait, Dorothy Wilding is the photographer to have taken most portraits for use on world banknotes. Wilding had been a court photographer for King George VI and many of the images of the King that can be found on banknotes, coins and postage stamps throughout the Commonwealth were copied from her photographs. On the accession of Queen Elizabeth, Wilding was granted the same duty by the new monarch. Shortly after Elizabeth became Queen many photographs of the new monarch were taken by Wilding. These photographs were required for images that could be used on coins, stamps, banknotes and for official portraits that could be hung in offices and public places.

In her autobiography, In Pursuit of Perfection, Wilding says of the images she created:
'Of all the stamps of Queen Elizabeth II reproduced from my photographs, I think the two most outstanding are the one-cent North Borneo, and our own little everyday 2d. It is interesting to see that the Group of Fiji Islanders have chosen to use for some of their stamps the head taken from the full length portrait of Annigoni ... and for the others, one of my standard portraits which have been commonly used throughout the Colonial stamp issue of the present reign.'
From her description of the postage stamps, it is possible that Wilding was unaware her images were also being used on banknotes. The image on the North Borneo stamp, preferred by Wilding, is very similar to Portrait 3 but taken at a slightly different angle. The image on the English 2d stamp is similarly akin to Portrait 4.

Anthony Buckley was another prolific photographer of The Queen, and his work is well represented in the engravings of Her Majesty on the banknotes. An English photographer, most of Buckley's portraits were taken in the 1960s and 1970s. His work has also been adapted for use on numerous postage stamps throughout the world.

One of the interesting aspects to the portraits of Queen Elizabeth, which appear on world banknotes, is the style of portrait chosen by each issuing authority. How does each issuing authority wish to portray The Queen? Some of the portraits are formal, showing The Queen as a regal person, and some show her in relatively informal dress. While most issuing authorities have chosen to show The Queen in formal attire, the Bank of Canada has always shown The Queen without any formal regalia and always without a tiara. It has been suggested that this may be due to a desire to appease the French elements of Canada.

Australia originally opted to show Her Majesty in formal attire. Portrait 5 shows a profile of The Queen wearing the State Diadem and Portrait 12 shows Her Majesty in the Regalia of the Order of the Garter. When preparations were being made to commission a portrait for the introduction of decimal currency into Australia, the Chairman of the Currency Note Design Group advised that, for the illustration of The Queen (Portrait 12), the 'General effect [is] to be regal, rather than "domestic" ...' However, the most recent portrait used on Australian banknotes (Portrait 21) shows The Queen in informal attire, perhaps even displaying a touch of 'domesticity'. This is possibly a reflection of changing attitudes to the monarchy in Australia.

While Canada and Australia may opt to use informal images of The Queen, most issuing authorities continue to depict Her Majesty regally. In many portraits she is depicted wearing the Regalia of the Order of the Garter. In other portraits she is often dressed formally, wearing Her Royal Family Orders. In most portraits she is wearing some of her famous jewellery. In the following descriptions of the portraits, various tiaras, diadems, necklaces and jewellery worn by Her Majesty are described, although not all items have been identified.

Of interest, in the following descriptions, are the differences observed in the same portraits engraved by different security printers. In several instances the same portrait has been use by different security printers and the rendition of the portrait is noticeably variant for the notes prepared by the different companies. Portrait 4 gives a good example of the different renditions of the Dorothy Wilding portrait by Bradbury Wilkinson, Thomas De La Rue, Waterlow and Sons, and Harrisons.

Another example can be seen in Portrait 16, which is used on banknotes issued by Canada and the Solomon Islands. In the engraving used by the Solomon Islands, prepared by Thomas De La Rue, The Queen looks severe, but on the Canadian notes prepared by the British American Bank Note Company and by the Canadian Bank Note Company there is a suggestion of a smile. The Canadian notes achieve the difference by including a subtle shaded area on Her Majesty's left cheek, just to the right of her mouth.

While there have been thirty-three issuing authorities to have prepared banknotes bearing The Queen's portrait (excluding the Zambian essay), Fiji has used the most number of portraits, being six in total. Three issuing authorities have used five portraits: the Bank of England, Bermuda, and Canada.

The following list of portraits is ordered by the date on which the banknotes, on which the portraits appear, were first released into circulation, rather than the date on which the portraits were executed. Where the portrait was used by more than one issuing authority, the list of issuing authorities is ordered by the date on which the authority first used the portrait. Next to each issuing authority are the reference numbers from the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money (SCWPM, Volume 2, Ninth Edition and Volume 3, Eighth Edition) that indicate those notes of the issuing authority which bear the portrait.

© Peter Symes 2003 and 2004


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