Heads or Tails

Ever wondered about the different sides of our coins?

Heads or Tails is a great way to let fate make a decision for you. A coin toss tells AFL teams which end of the ground they’re playing, and a flip of a coin can settle family arguments over pizza or Thai while watching the game at home.

But of course, each side of the coin tells its own story.

Heads

The face you’ve seen a thousand times

The ‘Heads’ side, technically known as the ‘obverse’, is struck with an image of the reigning monarch. For us, that’s Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. But as time goes on, faces change. Since her coronation in 1953, six effigies of Her Majesty have appeared on the obverse of Australian coins.

Things to look for

Her Majesty never goes out of style, so previous portraits remain in circulation. See how many of these you’ve got in your wallet or collection!

As you look through the various designs, you’ll notice all the portraits face to the right. This is because of a tradition said to have started with Charles II (way back in 1660–1685). The tradition states that the new Monarch’s portrait faces in the opposite direction of their predecessor. Some might say they’re turning the other cheek…

Her many faces

Circulated

Designer

The coin

The story

1953 – 1965

Mary Gillick

Mary Gillick designed the first portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Australian pre-decimal coinage.

The portrait of the uncrowned Queen was featured on Australia's coinage from 1953.

The effigy of the Queen was Gillick's first coin work. She beat 16 other artists in a competition conducted by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee.

Her portrait of an uncrowned queen was considered fresh and approachable and is still struck on coins today at The Royal Mint, LLantrisant, although not on current circulating coins

1966 – 1984

Arnold Machin

On Australian decimal coinage, the first portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Australian decimal coinage was designed by Arnold Machin OBE RA in 1964 for the British Royal Mint.

This portrait was used for the obverse design of Australia's new coinage.

It was released in Australia on C-Day (Conversion Day to decimal coinage), 14 February 1966. This preceded its first use on British coins in 1968.

1985 – 1997

Raphael Maklouf

In 1982, the British Royal Mint conducted another competition for the design of a new effigy.

Seventeen artists submitted 38 models, with Raphael Maklouf’s chosen as the most promising.

The Royal Mint Advisory Committee recommended a revised model, which was accepted by the Queen for use on circulating United Kingdom coinage from 1 January 1985.

That same year, the Maklouf effigy was adopted for use on Australia's coinage.

1998 – 2019

Ian Rank-Broadley

In 1986, the British Royal Mint invited designers and engravers to design a new portrait of Her Majesty.

Three designs were submitted for approval, including portraits by Ian Rank-Broadley.

A portrait by Rank-Broadley was chosen and appeared on United Kingdom coinage in 1998. Following earlier conventions, Australia adopted this effigy on some collector coins in 1998 and generally from 1999.

2000

Vladimir Gottwald

In 1996, it was time for a new effigy. The British Royal Mint invited designs and submitted three to Her Majesty for approval.

Ian Rank-Broadley’s design was chosen once again but this portrait, by Vladimir Gottwald, was approved for a once-only use. It commemorated the Royal Visit in 2000.

Vladimir Gottwald, now retired, was a member of the Royal Australian Mint's Design and Engraving Section.

With this minting, Vladimir Gottwald became the first Australian designer to have his work on the obverse of an Australian coin, since Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal KCVO RA who sculpted the 1910–1936 effigy of King George V.

2019 - 2023

Jody Clark 

The sixth coin portrait to have been created during the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was designed by Jody Clark, an engraver for the British Royal Mint living in Wales, UK.

Jody Clark’s original effigy was chosen in 2015 through a closed competition commissioned by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee.

Following the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022, the Royal Australian Mint transitioned to the Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Obverse. Featuring British engraver Jody Clark’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, the Memorial Obverse has one notable addition – the Queen’s years of reign – reading “Elizabeth II 1952-2022.

The Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Obverse will feature on collectible and investment coins from 1 January 2023.

2024 Daniel Thorne

Transition holds that Australian coins bear an effigy of the reigning Monarch on their obverse. Reflecting the recent succession of His Majesty King Charles III, Australia’s coins are undergoing a transformation not seen for seven decades and one that has not been experienced in the history of our decimal currency.

As an era comes to a close, the new effigy of His Majesty King Charles III by Daniel Thorne will assume its place on the obverse or Australia’s legal tender coins. In keeping centuries-old tradition, as the successor, the effigy of His Majesty faces left, the opposite direction from his predecessor.

Tails

The ‘Tails’ of a coin is technically called the reverse side. For Australian coins, it’s most commonly struck with the designs created by Stuart Devlin.

In 1966, Stuart Devlin designed the reverses of the One Cent, Two Cents, Ten Cents, Twenty Cents and Fifty Cents.

But Devlin wasn’t done yet.

In 1984, the Dollar coin was introduced and Devlin designed the reverse of that too.

Not every reverse is a Devlin design, however. Including the Two Dollar coin, by Horst Hahne, and the numerous coloured commemorative designs used on the One Dollar and Two Dollar coins.