Queen of Canadian Paper Money
Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning British monarch in Canadian history. In 2015, she broke the previous record set by Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother. Throughout her reign, and in fact, even before she became queen, her portrait has been prominent on Canada paper money. As the queen has aged, her portraits on Canadian banknotes have been updated to reflect her maturity. There are some remarkable stories about the Queen’s portraits on Canada’s paper money.
What Denomination Does the Queen’s Portrait Appear on?
Altogether, the Queen’s portrait has appeared on 18 different designs for Canadian banknotes. In the 1954 Canadian Landscape series, the first released following Her Majesty’s accession to the throne in 1953, every denomination of Canada paper money featured her portrait. The next series of paper money was released in 1969, and the plan was for each denomination of bills to feature the Queen’s portrait once again. In the end, however, Her Majesty only appeared on the one-dollar, two-dollar, and 20-dollar denominations of bills because of a decision by the minister of finance at the time to also feature some notable Canadian prime ministers.
The tradition of featuring Queen Elizabeth on the 20-dollar bills has continued through each subsequent series of bills. It is set to continue in the future even as the Royal Canadian Mint plans to highlight Canadian achievers in the next series of bills.
When Did Queen Elizabeth First Appear on a Canadian Bill?
Interestingly, the first time Her Majesty’s portrait appeared on Canada paper money was long before she became queen. The Bank of Canada’s first series of banknotes was produced in 1935 and included not only George V, who was the reigning monarch at the time, but members of his extended family. One of these included then-Princess Elizabeth at the age of 8. It was the first time she appeared on Canada paper money and, as would become tradition, her portrait graced the 20-dollar bill. With her curly hair and round face, the portrait of the child Elizabeth has sometimes been compared to Shirley Temple, a child star who became famous in films at around the same time.
What Is Involved in Reproducing Her Majesty’s Portrait on Canada Paper Money?
Whenever Queen Elizabeth’s portrait has appeared on any of Canada’s banknotes, the first step is to choose an official photograph. This photograph is then engraved onto a steel plate. Therefore, every one of the Queen’s portraits on Canadian bills has had two main artists behind it: the photographer and the engraver. The steel engraving process is no longer strictly necessary since such portraits can be produced by a computer. Nevertheless, the Queen’s portrait is still engraved using the traditional methods.
What Is the Story Behind the So-Called Devil’s Head Notes?
The Canadian Landscape Series of 1954 was the first to feature the official portrait of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth, despite the fact that the photograph on which the portrait was based had actually been taken two years prior when she was technically still a princess. Controversy arose when some people saw a pattern in the curls of hair behind Her Majesty’s ear that resembled a leering face with a hook nose and bulging eyes. The effect was probably unintentional on the part of engraver George Gundersen, but monarchists nevertheless decried the so-called “Devil’s Head” notes as a covert sign of disloyalty to the new queen. Prior to the next printing of the Landscape series, the plate was altered to darken the areas in which people saw the face. With the new printing, the face disappeared, the complaints stopped, and the controversy died down.
Her Majesty has been queen for over 70 years now, and it is interesting to look back at her portraits on Canada paper money and track the course of her reign. You can find collectable banknotes for sale at Colonial Acres Coins.