The sudden death of Queen Elizabeth II has startled people around the world into grieving and mourning. With the need to uphold the monarchy, King Charles III would be the next king of the United Kingdom and its commonwealth realms.
For some of us, the impact and spirit of the Queen will live forever. Being a British colony for over 100 years, the companionship of Her Majesty took over half of the century. Even after 25 years, footprints of the former British colony are still scattered around Hong Kong, mainly through the representation of the kingdom–the queen herself. Images and names of the queen are still active in different aspects of the city through the media, infrastructures, and everyday objects.
This Cantonese song, “Queen’s Road East”(pronounced as “Wong Hau Dai Dou Dung”), was released in 1991. It was written as a memorial of the British colonial-era before the handover in 1997. The lyrics of the single mention a few key elements and landmarks in Hong Kong. Queen’s Road West”, Queen’s Road East”, Queen’s Road Central”, and “the Queen”. The chorus of the song was built by repeating the names of the 3 avenues named after the Queen on Hong Kong Island.
Music video of “Queen’s Road East”
Besides the roads, a segment of lyrics mentioned, “There is a noble lady on the back of the coin; her youth is long-lasting and she is named the queen.” It has introduced another object which is more closely associated with our daily lives — the currencies we use to pay for goods. Since 1955, portraits of the queen have been displayed on coins in various forms. Coins released at different times reflect the growth of her majesty throughout the years.
“Noble faces” of the queen were minted on 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 50 cents, 1 dollar, 2 dollars, and 5 dollars. There were at least two distinct images of the queen on the coins. The first type of coin featured the queen at a younger age with a smaller crown; for the second type, the queen looked more mature and was wearing a larger crown.
Since Hong Kong was no longer a colony of the United Kingdom, coins could no longer be a mirror reflecting the growth of her royal highness. For Hongkongers born before 1997, these coins represent the history of the unique era they once experienced; for those born after the handover, these currencies are the leftovers from another world that they can only imagine.
The passing of Her Majesty has reopened the sentiments of some people in Hong Kong. The prices of products featuring the queen, such as coins, stamps, and banknotes, have skyrocketed since the tragic news.
While some pay tribute to her majesty by collecting historic goods, a few choose to carry the legacies by resurrecting and uniquely transforming those objects.
Mankit, the owner of “Mankitation,” has been fond of redefining the value of coins by shaping different silhouettes on them. He is keen on crafting pendants, earrings, and decorations. One of his favorite coins to work with is the local currency with the queen’s portraits due to the extreme challenges and special meanings.
Fate linked the coins and him together 10 years ago when he saw a pendant in his mother’s drawer. This accessory was neither made of pearls nor diamonds, but a humble 2-dollar coin cut and polished by his father. The loving gift has become the sprout of Mankit’s passion for recreating these tiny circles.
The principle of making these accessories is by using a string to cut off the unwanted parts inside the coin. By following the 3D lines crafted around the edges of the queen, Mankit can redefine the impression of coins within an hour.
Video of Mankit cutting a coin at his studio on the 12th of October,2022. (Video Credit: Rachel Mok)
Having experience working with thousands of old Hong Kong nickels, Mankit is still obsessed with the aesthetic and delicate designs of coins. $2 coins were first created in 1975. He mentioned the wave-like curvy edges are what make the coins so unique.
Apart from the lines around the coins, Mankit thinks the portraits on the coins have made them “masterpieces which were mass produced.” Despite the limitations of technology decades ago and the size of the coins, details such as symmetry, lines, facial expressions of the queen, and even the layers of her highness’ hair are easily noticed.
What made the artist fall in love with these old nickels was not only their aesthetic values. “The scratches and traces on the coins have made them antiques that deserve to be treasured,” he said. The biggest ground rule in Mankitation is that no coatings and colors are added to every accessory to cover the marks of history.
For him, the queen was a close friend he had never met. She was a stranger he met while shopping; she was his parents’ love letter; she was the beginning of his life-long passion. Every time he cuts currency minted with her face, he thinks the queen is still here as a companion witnessing his growth. What he would do in return for her favor would be to pursue perfection every time he made artwork about her majesty.
In honor of her death, Mankit has crafted an art piece to express his gratitude. It is a decoration surrounding the queen with flowers, saying “thank you”, wishing the legacies of her majesty would continue to prosper.
The connection between her royal highness and Hong Kong is inseparable and goes beyond time and space. The noble lady on the copper circles will always represent a timeless sign of the time.