On Thursday 8th September 2022, the world received news that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had passed away at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
At 96 years old and with a reign of 70 years and 214 days, most people alive today do not know a world without the queen as the Head of State, the Head of the Church of England, and a key figure for residents of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and beyond. While the Royal Family may seem far removed from the daily life most of us experience, we see the queen’s image and cypher everywhere.
Many of us in the UK have only ever seen our national currency and stamps depicting the queen’s image. Her cypher, E II R, is seen on thousands of Royal Mail post boxes. It’s also seen on army uniforms, navy uniforms, RAF uniforms and police uniforms. Even British passports feature mentions of Her Britannic Majesty. So, what will happen to money, stamps, and uniforms with the queen’s imagery or cypher now that the queen has passed?
Stamps and Post Boxes
Royal Mail has confirmed that current stamps bearing the queen’s image will remain valid – but not for very long. By January 2023, Royal Mail will stop accepting non-barcoded stamps with the queen’s image. But this isn’t because of the death of the queen.
Royal Mail already had plans to start using barcoded stamps as an update to the everyday definitive stamps you will likely be familiar with: a white silhouette of the queen on a coloured background. People who still have regular stamps can swap these for the barcoded versions using the Royal Mail’s Swap Out Scheme.
Once current stocks of stamps are exhausted, Royal Mail has confirmed that new stamps featuring King Charles will enter circulation. For special stamps, the king’s silhouette may appear sooner.
Post boxes are a little different. Existing post boxes will remain as they are and only new post boxes will feature King Charles III’s cypher. This practice has been the case since post boxes were first implemented across the UK. In fact, you can still find the first British post boxes dotted around the country featuring Queen Victoria’s VR cypher from the mid-1800s.
Currency will soon change to feature the portrait of King Charles III. The Bank of England, the producer of English banknotes, made a statement on 27th September that they will “reveal images of updated banknotes featuring a portrait of HM King Charles by the end of this year. The notes are expected to enter circulation by mid-2024”.
However, they also said:
“In line with guidance from the Royal Household to minimise the environmental and financial impact of the change of monarch, existing stocks of notes featuring HM Queen Elizabeth II will continue to be issued into circulation. New notes will only be printed to replace worn banknotes and to meet any overall increase in demand for banknotes”.
As with stamps, the king first needs to approve a portrait for these to go into production. But, with so many notes and coins already in circulation featuring the queen’s image, we will likely see the queen’s face on currency for years to come. The Bank of England has confirmed banknotes featuring the queen’s portrait will co-circulate with new notes featuring the king. They will only be removed from circulation when worn or damaged. As our new polymer notes are designed to be harder to damage or deface, this could be a good while yet.
The Royal Mint is the UK’s official coin maker. The Royal Mint has confirmed that all UK coins “bearing portraits of Queen Elizabeth II remain legal tender and in circulation”. In the coming weeks, The Royal Mint has said it will further information about the coinage of King Charles III.
When it comes to passports, not much will change. Your British passport will still be valid until its expiration date. New passports will be amended to reflect the king’s pronouns.
Service uniforms including the army, the navy, the RAF and the police all feature Queen Elizabeth II’s cypher. It appears on buttons, cap badges, helmets, epaulettes, and even items such as swords. The change to the king’s cypher is likely to be a quick one. This is because when recruits join the British armed forces, they swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch. As King Charles III has now succeeded his mother as Head of the Armed Forces, this change should happen quickly. However, this decision will fall to the new king himself.
What will happen to the old materials?
His Majesty King Charles III, an avowed environmentalist, has already expressed his wishes that the process of updating his mother’s image to his own generates minimal waste.
While the mint can melt down old coins to make new ones, not all items will be suitable for reuse. Therefore, it could be possible that King Charles III may only wish to release these new materials when absolutely necessary.
When older materials are phased out of circulation, they will likely need to be destroyed. This is to avoid them falling into the wrong hands. Methods of destruction could be shredding, recycling or incineration. As destruction specialists across the UK take on this responsibility, we have full confidence that all materials featuring the late queen’s imagery and cypher will be treated with the respect that all reputable shredding organisations across the industry practice every day.
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