Mary Gillick Designer of Queen Elizabeth II First Portrait

Author: Adam Hopkin - Numismatic Editor

Published: 21 Oct 2019

Last Updated: 27 Dec 2022


Designer of the classic 1st portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Gillick honed her craft in Nottingham where she met one of the most influential figures of her career, Ernest Gillick. Mary's famous engraving was featured on all UK coins between 1953 and 1967 with the design having beaten 16 others to the press. Despite suffering from arthritis in her later years, Mary continued to work on various royal commissions with her iconic first portrait of Elizabeth still being used on Maundy Money to this day. 

commemorative £5 coin featuring Elizabeth II First Portrait

Early Career 

Born in Nottingham in 1881, Mary Gillick, designer of Queen Elizabeth II first portrait, studied at the city’s High School for Girls from 1890 to 1898, progressing to the art school until 1902 and perfected her craft as a scholar under Lanteri at the Royal College of Art from 1902 to 1904. 

Queen Elizabeth II first portrait by Mary Gillick

The Royal College of Art

 Mary's hometown would also introduce her to a major source of inspiration, her future husband Ernest Gillick. Ernest’s meticulous standards and professional scrutiny held a profound influence on the work Mary produced, with their working relationship lasting 46 years.    

The Elegant First Portrait

Competing against 16 other artists, the elegance of Gillick’s design earned the portrait a place on the reverse of all UK coinage from 1953 to 1967, with the approachable nature of the monarch’s depiction absent of a crown being hailed as innovative and fresh by The Royal Mint Advisory Committee.  

Gillick's First Coin 

This was not only Elizabeth’s 1st portrait to be displayed on coinage, but also Gillick’s first work on coin which earned her an O.B.E for her efforts in celebration of Elizabeth II’s coronation.  

Design for Elizabeth II First Portrait By Mary Gillick

Later Works

In the years following her first regal representation, Mary was repeatedly commissioned for additional royal portraiture.  

Maundy Money Reverse With First Portrait of Elizabeth II by Mary Gillick

A Timeless Design

These later workings saw the engraver complete military medals commemorating royal visits of the era, featuring new portraits of The Queen, Prince Philip and The Duke of Edinburgh. Despite battling arthritis into her later years, Mary continued to work until her passing in 1965. As a testament to the capability of its designer and execution of the engraving, Elizabeth’s first portrait is still struck on Maundy Money today at the request of the Queen.  

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