What Happens to Everything With the Queen's Image on it?

Updated: Oct 13

Cash, passports, stamps... introducing new royal iconography is going to take a very long time. But it will be important for Charles III, as new iconography is arguably even more crucial for him than for his predecessor.

British postage stamp bearing likeness of Queen Elizabeth II

“I, Charles III …” began the new British king, swearing a solemn oath as he was confirmed as monarch at St. James’ Palace in London. But behind him stood an opulent throne - a throne embroidered in golden thread with an age-old and familiar cipher: “EIIR,” Elizabeth II Regina.

When Brits post a letter, not only do the stamps carry the late Queen's image, the postbox will have EIIR embossed within its design. Chances are that the stamps were purchased with cash, with coins and notes all depicting Queen Elizabeth II's face. Furthermore, 53,000 Royal Mail vehicles - from trucks to delivery vans - carry the queen’s cipher.

The Royal Mails says that a few hundred new postboxes are installed every year and it is only on new ones that Charles III’s iconography will be introduced. Bear in mind, some postboxes still have Queen Victoria's cipher on them! Rather aptly illustrating that there's unlikely to be any rush. In the meantime, happily, both stamps and cash in their existing form will remain valid.

But what of the new Carolean age? Particularly as few people in history have been depicted or symbolised as widely as Queen Elizabeth II. And not just within the UK but across the 14 other Commonwealth realms of which the British monarch is head of state. With her passing come immediate questions as to how the new monarch, Charles III, will assert himself through iconography and design. It is a millennia-old means of establishing authority. But for the new king, it won’t happen overnight. Particularly as Charles III, with his strong environmental credentials, will not want any unnecessary waste or expense.

The public will notice iconographic changes as they unfold. For most, in the end, the transition is likely to be little more than a curiosity. But the person to whom all of this upheaval will really matter is the king himself, since all monarchs live through their image. The late queen famously remarked that, as sovereign, she felt she had “to be seen to be believed.” She certainly was, frequently pictured in brightly coloured outfits with matching hat and carrying her trusty handbag. At once noticeable - and recognisable.

While there may be nothing in principle preventing Charles III from donning lime green suits or tangerine lounge wear, it is highly unlikely. It means that his iconography, and the insistence of his authority via everyday objects, in official buildings and across more than a dozen nations, is arguably even more crucial for him than for his predecessor. The king may not want institutions to be wasteful in adopting a new cipher or distributing the royal likeness. But without such things, there is a possibility that his profile will feel even more diminished in succeeding a colourful, long-reigning queen whose image more or less conquered the world.



Will Charles be a Climate King? Will King Charles III turn his back on a lifetime of environmental campaigning? As Prince of Wales, he spent decades campaigning, cajoling, and convening meetings to drive action on environmental issues. As king he is subject to different rules - the monarch is obliged to remain politically neutral. Read on...


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