Why is there no crown on the new King Charles stamps?

S:Drums featuring King Charles III are now officially on sale to the British public. But while the introduction of new stamps to mark a new monarch is a nearly two-century-old tradition, the latest ones are a significant break from the past. This is at least in one important respect. none of the stamps feature a crown.

“Her preference for a plain image is more modern,” royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams tells TIME. “The Queen wore a tiara and her image was recognized internationally. In another era, the king wisely chose a more human figure.’

The final first and second class stamps, produced by the British Royal Mail in a range of colours, depict the soon-to-be-crowned king in profile to his left. This visual tradition dates back to the world’s first self-adhesive postage stamp featuring Queen Victoria, known as the Penny Black stamp, which went on sale in 1840.

Last month, the Guardian reported that Royal Mail’s director of external affairs and policy, David Gold, said the desire for simplicity in the new stamps was a measured choice by Charles. “There is no decoration, no crown, just a human face against a plain background, almost saying: rather humbling.”

Read more: Breaking down the new line of succession for the royal family

There is precedent for male monarchs to eschew the crown. Male sovereigns, for example, usually do not wear royal regalia on coins. However, the decision to exclude the crown from all depictions of his likeness is unusual; the last male monarch, King George VI, wore a crown in the shot.

So far, Charles has shown he is aware of the changing role of the monarchy in Britain and the Commonwealth. In a statement announcing details of Charles’ May 6 coronation, Buckingham Palace said the historic event would “reflect the role of the monarch today”. As such, the celebrations will be more modest than his mother’s.

Its reduced guest list is limited to 2,000 dignitaries, almost a quarter of the number of guests who attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. The service is also expected to last just over an hour, as opposed to the three-hour overrun experienced by the Queen.

The first official portrait of Charles as monarch, painted by artist Alastair Barford, is similarly drawn backwards. The portrait shows Charles in a dark pinstriped suit, pink tie and pink handkerchief, wearing a bracelet given to him by indigenous Amazonian leader Domingo Peace.

The first portrait of King Charles III by artist Alastair Barford is unveiled in London, United Kingdom on April 4, 2023.

The first portrait of King Charles III by artist Alastair Barford is unveiled in London, United Kingdom on April 4, 2023.

Rasid Nejati Aslim-Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“The image helps define the ruler, and we see that as one of the roles of royal portraiture throughout the ages,” says Fitzwilliams.

Official portraits of past kings and queens instead offer an image of regal glamour; the queen was often depicted wearing the crown jewels, while her father, king george, was mostly depicted in ceremonial uniform and royal regalia.

In an effort to minimize the “environmental and financial impact” of the new stamps, Royal Mail announced that the King had instructed retailers to use any stamps featuring the late Queen Elizabeth before new ones were allowed to be sold.

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Write Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com.

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