What will happen to Australian money when Queen Elizabeth dies?


Seventy years on the throne is a long time, but what would the death of Queen Elizabeth mean for Australia's currency and economy?

Queen Elizabeth can certainly take a bow. She's held the top job since February 1952 making her the world's longest reigning female monarch - though not the longest serving monarch. That spot is reserved for France's Louis XIV, who reigned for 72 years from 1643 until 1715.

Queen Elizabeth could pip Louis from his perch. After all, longevity is in her genes. King George VI, Elizabeth's father, died at age 56 (he was a heavy smoker). But the Queen Mother lived to 101.

what happens to australian money when queen elizabeth dies

Nonetheless, the Queen is now in her mid-90s, and well, none of us live forever.

When Her Majesty does pass away, it will dominate media headlines. Flags will fly at half mast, there will be a period of mourning, usually 10 days, before the Queen's funeral is held, and at the moment of her death, Prince Charles will become King. That will mean Australia has a new head of state, though it could be a year before his official coronation takes place.

How will the Queen's death affect the Australian economy?

As Australia's head of state, Queen Elizabeth is warmly regarded by many of her Aussie subjects. But she doesn't wield much economic clout.

Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist at AMP Capital, says the Queen's death "may cause a brief dip in consumer confidence in the UK, but it would likely be short-lived assuming there is a smooth transition to a new monarch".

"I doubt it would be enough to show up as a significant economic impact."

He adds, "It's hard to see much impact in Australia." So, from a financial perspective it will be business as usual down under.

What happens to coins when the Queen dies?

If the death of past monarch's is anything to go by, people may start hoarding coins featuring Queen Elizabeth in the hope they'll increase in value.

The catch is that collectibles such as coins, require scarcity to become valuable. One of the downsides of having the same monarch for seven decades is that there is no shortage of coins bearing the Queen's image.

royal mint engraver jodie clark with coin portrait of queen elizabeth
Royal Mint Engraver Jodie Clark looks at the new coinage portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at the National Portrait Gallery in London on March 2, 2015. The portrait of the Queen, the fifth to feature on UK coins since 1952, was designed by Clark, who was the first Royal Mint engraver in 100 years to hold this honour. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

Since 1966, when the Royal Australian Mint began producing decimal coins, it has pumped out 15 billion circulating coins featuring the Queen. But her image has varied over the years.

Since her coronation in 1953, six profiles or 'effigies' of Queen Elizabeth II have appeared on Australian coins, each finetuned to reflect her ageing. The sixth and latest design was unveiled in 2018 and can be seen on coins dating from 2019. Coins carrying previous portraits of the Queen remain in circulation.

Despite the abundance of coins bearing the Queen's image, some commemorative coins may rise in value. Purple-striped $2 coins issued in 2013 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation are currently trading at anywhere from $65 to $350. Around one million of these coins were minted so they don't quite tick the scarcity box just yet.

queen elizabeth commemorative coin australia
Michelle Nakamura from the Royal Australian Mint displaying a special $5 coin in 2011, commemorating the 16th visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1754, the Queen became the first reigning monarch to visit Australia, and she has since visited every state and mainland territory. Photo: Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty Images.

That said, picking up a few special edition coins celebrating the Queen's birthday or platinum jubilee in June 2022 may not be a bad idea. Perth Mint sells Queen's 95th birthday gold-proof coins for $999. Obviously, these aren't the sort of thing you'd use to unlock an Aldi shopping trolley.

If you're after a coin with serious collectible value, have a rummage through your small change. You could find a rare 2007 double-headed 5 cent coin featuring the Queen's head on both sides - a production error by the Mint.

The coin currently sells for around $3000-5000 depending on condition. The Queen's passing may just enhance the value of such oddities.

When will King Charles appear on Australian coins?

The bigger question is when will we start seeing King Charles on newly minted coins? And how long will we be able to use coins featuring Her Majesty after she dies?

Money approached the Royal Australian Mint for the answers, but was advised "The Government's policy is not to comment on questions such as these". So it's a case of watch this space.

If we follow the UK process, the Mint could start rolling out coins bearing the profile of King Charles not long after the Queen's death. Sections of the UK press have hinted that Prince Charles has already sat for his coinage portrait in preparation for his mother's passing.

queen elizabeth prince charles
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster on October 14, 2019. Photo: Paul Edwards, WPA Pool/Getty Images.

From there we can expect a slow but steady decommissioning of coins featuring Queen Elizabeth - a process that's likely to occur over a period of years.

A key difference between coins featuring Queen Elizabeth and those with King Charles' image, is that the new King's profile will face to the left. Take a look at any coin, and you'll see the Queen faces to the right.

According to the Royal Australian Mint this reflects a tradition, believed to have started with Charles II back in the 1600s, that dictates a new monarch's portrait will face in the opposite direction of their predecessor.

raphael maklouf queen elizabeth effigy currency
Israeli sculptor Raphael Maklouf pictured in an August 1984 photo with the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II used on the coins of many Commonwealth nations. Photo: John Downing/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

And that brings us to another piece of trivia. When Prince Charles does become king, he will be King Charles III - assuming he chooses to go by that name.

The heir-to-the-throne's full name is Charles Philip Arthur George, so he may pick one of these names to be crowned under as some of his predecessors (including his grandfather George VI) did before him.

When it comes to bank notes, these are produced by Note Printing Australia Limited (NPA), a Melbourne-based company wholly owned by the Reserve Bank.

At present, only the $5 note features an image of the Queen. So, again it's anyone's guess if we'll see an issue of commemorative notes featuring the old or new monarch.

A tidal wave of memorabilia

What is virtually guaranteed to happen when the Queen passes, is an influx of memorabilia flooding the market.

The likelihood of these items rising in value is slim. My own family owned a glass plate dating from 1952 with a double image of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth marking the King's death and Elizabeth becoming Queen.

The plate had been in the family for 70 years, which is remarkable given that we break crockery on an almost weekly basis.

queen elizabeth ii commemorateive plates
Commemorative plates celebrating the reign of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on sale at a gift shop in Windsor on April 20, 2016, ahead of the Queen's 90th birthday. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Sadly, an online check revealed identical plates trading on sites like Etsy and eBay for an underwhelming $9. Realising the plate was never going to form the nucleus of a large inheritance, we recently donated it to the local op shop.

It's a similar story with other collectibles. Cups and saucers, tea caddies and the obligatory tea towels dating from 1953 generally sell for less than $50.

Moves to ditch the monarchy

What of that other issue - the republican movement?

It's been over 20 years since Australia held a referendum on becoming a republic, and at that stage the monarchists snared 55% of the vote.

Fast forward to 2022, and polling by the Australian Republic Movement (ARM) suggests many Aussies are in the dark about the Queen's role in our lives.

National Director of ARM, Sandy Biar says, "Despite 70 years as our head of state, almost two-thirds of Australians are totally unaware of the Queen's role in Australia's system of government."

Among ARM's respondents aged below 34, one in two thought the prime minister was our head of state.

Early 2022 saw ARM unveil a new model for a republic, with its proposed constitutional change published in early April 2022. ARM claims 73% of Australians would vote for the new model if put to a referendum.

That may be the case. But public sentiment can be fickle. The mood could swing in favour of the royals when the Queen's reign comes to an end.

Either way, it's a sure bet the republican debate will ramp up following the Queen's passing. That's likely to mean months of campaigning before a referendum is announced - if at all.

On the plus side, if Australia does become a republic, those tacky souvenirs could start to see an uptick in value. That's when you'll find me rushing back to the op shop.

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A former Chartered Accountant, Nicola Field has been a regular contributor to Money for 20 years, and writes on personal finance issues for some of Australia's largest financial institutions. She is the author of Investing in Your Child's Future and Baby or Bust, and has collaborated with Paul Clitheroe on a variety of projects including radio scripts, newspaper columns, and several books.

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