King Charles' Unique Portrait On British Stamp Is Missing A Traditional Detail

The U.K. has the distinction of creating the first postage stamp back when Queen Victoria appeared on a stamp known as the Penny Black in 1840, per The Times. Since then, British stamps have featured some time-honored traditions over the last 183 years. For instance, all stamps feature the monarch facing left, and none of the stamps have the country's name on them.

In keeping with these traditions, King Charles III will also face left on his upcoming stamp. He's also using the same colors for different classes of mail that Queen Elizabeth's stamp uses, such as purple for first-class stamps. "The guidance we got from His Majesty was more about continuity and not doing anything too different to what had gone before," said Royal Mail's director of external affairs and policy, David Gold told The Guardian. Known as definitive or "everyday" stamps (to contrast them from any commemorative issues), Queen Elizabeth's stamp has looked the same since 1967, per Tatler.

Also in keeping with continuity, this new stamp has a similar look to new coins that feature Charles. Both used a sculpture made by Martin Jennings as their source material, per Express. Even so, the monarch is making choices that reflect his personality. "The Definitive stamp has become a recognizable symbol of each reign," says Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson (via Country Living). Accordingly, Charles decided to forego one traditional feature.

King Charles doesn't have a crown on his new stamp

According to The Telegraph, British kings haven't typically worn a crown on their stamps. Even so, a crown was included as part of the design. For example, on his stamp, George VI, Charles' grandfather, is depicted with a crown is floating above his head on the stamp's top border, per BBC. What sets King Charles III's new stamp apart is its minimalist aesthetic, with no crown appearing anywhere. "This design shows a human side to Charles which reflects its subject extremely well," royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams told Express. "The portrait has a cerebral look which suits this thoughtful monarch."

Speaking to The Guardian, David Gold, Royal Mail's director of external affairs and policy, also voiced his approval of Charles' unadorned design, describing the stamp as denoting a message of "'This is me and I'm at your service,' which I think in this modern age is actually rather humbling."

According to Newsweek, it's possible that the king didn't have the option to be depicted wearing a crown. Charles has to wait until after his coronation to don a crown for photos or portraits. Later on, he could decide to change things up with a different stamp design. Queen Elizabeth was depicted differently across multiple stamps and coins, notes Leading Britain's Conversation. Or, he could follow in Queen Victoria's footsteps. According to the BBC, Victoria used the same stamp design (a portrait of her at age 15) from 1840-1901.

Charles is being eco-conscious and thrifty about his stamp's distribution

The new King Charles III stamp will go on sale as an online exclusive starting April 4. In keeping with his emphasis on to reducing waste and trimming costs, Charles wants all the Queen Elizabeth II stamps is be used up before the new version is generally available. This means the queen's stamp may remain in circulation even after Charles' May 6 coronation reports The Telegraph.

Having two monarchs on two different stamps is called "mixed franking," and it's not unique to Charles' reign. According to The Times, this situation has happened three times since 1911, each lasting for two to three years. However, given his enthusiasm for writing letters, the king may do his part to reduce the inventory of stamps that depict the late queen. Between 2021 and 2022, Charles wrote 2,400 letters annually. "Very often when members of the public write to him they may be surprised to see on their doormat a personal letter," a source told People.

Like stamps, coins featuring the king will also slowly make their way into circulation. Since the end of 2022, Charles' 50p coins have been available, and other denominations will be released this year, per Leading Britain's Conversation. Coins with the queen's likeness will remain in use much longer than the stamps. According to CNBC, 29 billion coins featuring the queen were in circulation in September 2022. The pound versions of these coins have an average circulation of 30 years.