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 Jeffery Matthews at Eighty


Last autumn (2007), the British Postal  Museum & Archive held its annual lecture series which offered in October a fascinating insight into the world of stamp design when leading graphic designer Jeffery Matthews MBE spoke about his work to an audience of enthusiasts.

Publication of this expanded report is based on the lecture and additionally serves as a tribute to Jeffery, who celebrated his 80th birthday in 2008.

For over an hour Jeffery recalled some of the stories behind his commissions for the Post Office that had started with submissions in 1959. It was in 1965 that his first accepted stamp designs appeared, which were for the 20th anniversary of the United Nations issue. This set him on a lifetime’s association with Royal Mail that has continued to this day. There can be few collectors of British stamps who are unfamiliar with his work and those seeking a further insight into his career can consult my article in the Philatelic Bulletin, Volume 43, Number 2, October 2005.

Jeffery explained that he had not only worked for Royal Mail, but had designed the logos for the Inland Revenue and the Forestry Commission, produced the masthead for the Sunday Times, created the Millennium coin design for the Royal Mint and had undertaken many other projects, some of which involved calligraphy and heraldry which are two of his favourite graphic treatments.

The lecture then focused on his stamp design work and all commissions were discussed and illustrated in chronological order, which is how I will treat the remainder of this report.

1965 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Organisation
The apparently unsteady edges to both designs were intentionally done that way to assist the printers, who were still coming to terms with obtaining perfect registration of colours at that time. The large ‘20’ and ‘UN’ were hand-drawn.

1968 British Bridges
Three designers had been commissioned to produce artworks for this issue. Unusually, Jeffery had two of his designs accepted (the 4d and 1s9d values) and the other two designers had one each, producing a set that was less cohesive than would have been the case had one designer produced all four stamps.

Just prior to submission of the designs, Jeffery became concerned that the bridges might no longer be in service, so he telephoned the Automobile Association, who sent out patrolmen on bikes to check that they were all still standing. Fortunately they were!

1971 ‘To Pay’ Labels (Postage Dues)
This set gave Jeffery the opportunity of fully exploiting the tonal range possible with photogravure printing. The designs were created in monochrome, with the chosen colour for each stamp being added at the printing stage. Creation of the artwork was somewhat unconventional in that he cut-out of masking film the shape of the relevant numeral, stuck this onto white art board, sprayed the tonal gradations* and finally peeled away the mask to reveal the white numeral.
* Defined as a gradual passing from one tint to another or from a darker to a lighter shade.

1971 Regional Definitives

The Regional stamps used heraldic devices that required repositioning and resizing of the Machin head. It was the first time Jeffery had used heraldry in stamp designs, creating white-painted devices on a mid-grey ground.

This ongoing series proved complex and here is not the place to produce a catalogue of all variations, but the four basic evolutionary stages are recorded in the table below. (Note that some changes cross-over as new printings were often released as-and-when needed.)












Original Matthews artwork

Original Machin




Waddington / Questa


Presentation Pack

Unknown source






Presentation Pack

Rory Matthews






Revised Matthews artwork

Rory Matthews


1972 Royal Silver Wedding Anniversary
Stamp-sized sketches of these stamps had been produced, which were liked by the Post Office who subsequently approached Her Majesty for permission to hold a photo session at the palace. Jeffery managed to convince the Queen to pose with and without a tiara. Seeing the finished photographs he favoured the more informal approach, but the best image had included the tiara.

When Her Majesty visited Harrison to see the stamps being printed, she queried why her hair looked as it did on the glass negative. Jeffery explained that the tiara had to be painted-out in order to utilise the best portrait. The Queen smiled and said: “Oh well, one cannot win them all”.

High Value Definitives Redesign
There was a desire by the Post Office to move away from the Castles high value stamps and Jeffery was commissioned to produce at least 50 single and bi-coloured colour trials for larger sized Machin head stamps. The bi-coloured stamps were chosen as they offered greater security against counterfeiting.

1978 25th Anniversary of the Coronation
The Queen’s head at top right of each stamp was intentionally produced larger than normal and a younger looking image was chosen to highlight how Her Majesty had acceded to the throne at such a young age. As the designs had dark coloured backgrounds, the white outer margins were made bigger than normal to ensure that there would be a strong phosphor reading by the automated sorting equipment.

1978 British Architecture and 1979 Rowland Hill (Miniature Sheets)
Around 1977 Jeffery had designed the logo for the London 1980 stamp exhibition and was subsequently briefed about the three miniature sheets that were to be issued in the lead-up to the show.

He produced the sheet margins for these two issues, plus the 1980 London Landmarks miniature sheet, using a Letraset rub-down moiré effect, but he was not responsible for designing the actual stamps contained within the sheets.

1979 Enschedé 8p Definitive
Jeffery was involved with a project that saw security printer Joh. Enschedé of The Netherlands being invited to produce a test run of the 8p definitive stamp. He went over to Haarlem to set things up and to offer his considerable know-how in the field of stamp design and production.

The project had occurred because of Royal Mail’s concerns about continuity of stamp supply if the British printing industry was to withdraw its labour force en-masse. Despite there never being a need to invoke contingency arrangements, this printer was later to become a regular producer of stamps for Britain, a relationship that continues.

1980 Country Stamps by Lithography
In 1980, Royal Mail added Waddington and Questa to its roster of stamp printers, both of whom utilised lithographic instead of gravure printing. When both printers came to print their first Regional stamps they appear to have created their own stamp artwork…

Back in 1976, the Harrison printed revised tariff Regionals had appeared in presentation packs, for which Jeffery had created black and white drawings of the heraldry. These had been drawn to a different scale and with different degrees of fineness than would be used for stamp production. Despite this, they amazingly took the presentation pack artwork and used it on the original printings of their litho stamps. This happened before Jeffery had been able to redraw the heraldry for this different printing process.

The source of the Machin head used is also uncertain.

1980 ‘London International Stamp Show’ (Counter Sheets of Stamps and Miniature Sheet)
Jeffery had been told that this issue could be engraved and printed by intaglio instead of by the more normal photogravure. Concerned that the Stamp Advisory Committee might not fully appreciate how the stamp might look by this process, he drew the artwork as if it was an engraving.

A London commercial engraver, Geoffrey Holt, did an exact facsimile of his rough without adding any interpretation. Unfortunately, the rendition of the Queen’s head proved to be a disappointment to Jeffery because the engraver had also slavishly copied what had only been intended to be a rough rendition of the head for SACs benefit. Jeffery was planning to redraw the head, but a shortage of time prevented this.

1980 80th Birthday of HM The Queen Mother
This issue depicted Her Majesty the Queen Mother wearing a hat, a string of pearls and a broad smile – the three things that most people would associate with this popular old lady. The lettering surrounding the photograph was hand-drawn.

1980 Christmas Decorations
Jeffery received a specific brief for this issue, which was to produce a secular design. This did not stop him including Christian elements and a close examination of each stamp will reveal those features.

Early 1980s New Definitive Stamps
There was a growing desire in some quarters for a new definitive series that would provide an updated look to the stamps and Her Majesty. The Post Office was prepared to consider everything from a totally new portrait and different formats, through to adaptations of the existing Machin head.

A brief was issued to Jeffery and other artists to work on this project and many printing trials were produced. One idea was to change the appearance of the Machin head by cutting away the shoulders of Her Majesty and as a courtesy to Mr Machin he was consulted over this work-in-progress. Suffice to say that he most definitely did not find favour with any of the ideas that had been proposed.

In the end, none of the work undertaken was deemed to be an improvement to the existing design and the project was dropped. However, Jeffery’s idea of turning the format 45 degrees to create a horizontally-shaped stamp did eventually lead in 1993 to the creation of the first Machin self-adhesive stamp in 1st class booklets.

1981 Royal Wedding, Charles and Diana
This is Jeffery’s least favourite pair of stamps that he has ever been associated with. Roughs were produced using two separate photographs of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer which had worked fine, but then Lord Snowdon was commissioned to produce an image exclusively for use on this pair of stamps. Unfortunately, only one photograph was ever made available, which included them both standing together, giving Jeffery no opportunity to construct a suitable composition.

Incidentally, all the time that early preparatory roughs were being created for this stamp issue, the name of Prince Charles’s future wife was unknown, so she was referred to as “the lady of his choice” until the Spencer name was made public.

1981 Facsimile Machin Head
Royal Mail needed to standardise on the artwork given to each printer, so Barry Robinson made requests of Harrison in 1981 to have the origination material for the Machin head, but was eventually told that it no longer existed.

Jeffery advised Barry that the image would have to be recreated, but there was no record of how the original Machin bust of Her Majesty had been photographed. The special lighting that had been used could not be replicated due to the complexities of the multiple angled lights and so an alternative solution was needed. He suggested that an artist could recreate the image in tone so as to be an exact facsimile, claiming that no-one would ever spot that it was not a photograph.

In May 1982 Jeffery’s son Rory, a consummate draftsman in his own right, set about drawing the facsimile Machin head in pencil. This image had the desired photographic quality to it and, as Jeffery had predicted, no-one was aware that the head had been hand-drawn until it was made known in 2002. This facsimile head was also understood to have been used on postal stationery.      

The Rory Matthews facsimile head stayed in use until work started on the 150th Anniversary of the Penny Black series, when Barry again mentioned to Harrison that he needed a definitive head image and a chap went off and came back with a negative! Barry made haste to photographically copy this image and supplied it to each printer for their use on all reprinted Machin stamps henceforth.

1981 Definitive Numerals
The ‘Matthews Palette’ is discussed next month, but collectors should perhaps also be referring to the ‘Matthews Typeface’. Jeffery took the existing Perpetua font* and gradually redesigned each of the numerals (except the 9, which is simply an upside down 6), together with the £ symbol, making subtle changes along the way until we have those used to this day.

The zero in particular was in need of change as it was very wide and perfectly round resembling a letter O and difficulty was being experienced when having to fit into the available stamp space values such as ‘20 1/2p’. The 10p stamp was the first to use the new narrow zero. At a later time Jeffery also designed the service indicators ‘1st', ‘2nd' and ‘E’ used on the NVI stamps. His involvement with this process ceased just prior to the introduction of the new Country Definitive range.
* Perpetua had been designed by Eric Gill in the early part of the 20th century and had been based on the designs of classical Roman lettering, using Arabic forms for the numerals.

1984 Definitive Colour Changes
It has always been Jeffery’s desire to reaffirm and strengthen Arnold Machin’s original concepts for the Machin definitives, namely a light head appearing against a dark ground. For many reasons, this concept had been violated on many occasions and so in 1984 work started on creating what soon became known as the ‘Matthews Palette’.

Originally, 30 colours (supplied in two separate tranches of 15 colours) were submitted to Royal Mail, with three additional colours supplied around 1997/8.

The 2007 Ruby-coloured £1 stamp is also the work of Jeffery, but, instead of using coloured pigments as previously, coloured films were utilised to get the desired shade.

1984 College of Arms Quincentenary (English Heraldry)
This set had lots to include within the design – the Queen’s head, explanatory text, face value and a complicated design. Jeffery therefore asked Royal Mail whether it would be possible to introduce a new format for British stamps. Trials undertaken at Harrisons revealed that this was feasible and the now familiar square shape was born.

Originally, gold and silver metallic inks were going to be included on the heraldic elements, but with the high number of colours already needed for each stamp design, yellow and white/grey was substituted. This is deemed to be perfectly acceptable in heraldic terms.

1986 60th Birthday of HM The Queen
Initially favouring a calligraphic approach for this set, the idea emerged that one monochrome image from each of the six decades of the Queen’s life would be an interesting treatment. Clearly, six images on a single stamp would not have worked, so Jeffery obtained permission from Royal Mail to produce two se-tenant stamps with three images on each, along with his hand-drawn text.

Jeffery had a friend who worked at a repro-house, so he discussed the possibilities of using a computer to create the designs. He set about selecting the black and white photographs, made his layouts, drew the titling and then handed these component parts to his friend who manipulated them on screen, enabling Jeffery to instantly make alterations to the position of the heads, size and colour. This is quite possibly the first time that CAD (Computer Aided Design) techniques had ever been used to produce a British commemorative stamp.

Jeffery chose the computer route because he had been concerned that if visuals were produced by hand in his normal manner the portraits would not be true likenesses and the Stamp Advisory Committee would be distracted by this. He therefore chose to produce as near-perfect finished designs as was possible, which the committee clearly appreciated because he later learnt that he had received a round of applause from them.

Following approval of the designs, the data file containing final artwork was made available to Harrison, but it soon became apparent that the equipment was incompatible. It was therefore necessary to revert to the creation of traditional artwork after all!

1986 Royal Wedding, Andrew and Sarah
A black and white photographic approach with monochrome colour tinting was favoured by Jeffery, together with the use of a horizontal format. Various roughs had been produced, which had found favour with Royal Mail and so further development work was undertaken in readiness for creation of final artwork.

However, quite late in the day Prince Andrew offered an attractive colour photograph of the couple that he ‘suggested’ could be used. This meant a total rethink because the image was not only in colour, but was portrait in format.

An insignia was devised by Jeffery to clearly identify the two different face values for the benefit of postal staff and customers alike. The solid coloured band across the foot of each stamp was the treatment that he used to solve this design problem, resulting in a pleasing pair of stamps.

1987 Flower Photography
Jeffery was responsible for the composition of this set of stamps to show the photographs of Alfred Lammer to best effect.

1987 Tercentenary of the Revival of the Order of the Thistle (Scottish Heraldry)
The style was the same as had been used for the highly successful English Heraldry set. Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, the 34p crest incorporates a strand of DNA within its design. Whilst heraldry is deemed to be an ancient art, it is fascinating to see how it can symbolise a modern discovery like DNA

1990 150th Anniversary of the Penny Black
Many different treatments were made for the adaptation of the Machin stamp for this important anniversary, including use of elements from the original 1840 stamp. Eventually it was the simpler approach that worked best, stripping out all the unnecessary embellishments and leaving just the two Monarch’s heads. Producing the correct composition was apparently far harder to achieve than the end result might imply.

1990 Stamp World Exhibition £1 (Miniature Sheet)
Jeffery’s ‘double head’ anniversary 20p stamp was used, but he did not design the margins of the sheet.

1993 Self-Adhesive Definitives
See New Definitive Stamps (last month), for details about the work that resulted in this redesign that first appeared in stamp booklets and afterwards in coil boxes.

1998 The Queen’s Beasts
This issue saw Jeffery interpreting the shapes and angles of the shields and moving the angle of the animals to bring some life and movement to the designs.

2000 The Stamp Show ‘Matthews Palette’ (Miniature Sheet)
Jeffery and Royal Mail’s design director of the day Barry Robinson were walking to Trafalgar Square one afternoon following a luncheon at St James’s Palace discussing the forthcoming stamp show and what Royal Mail intended producing to mark the event.

Barry mentioned use of the JM logo, Jeffery’s artists’ palette, that there would be eight current definitive stamps together with a couple of labels in a souvenir sheet format, using colours chosen from the palette by the designers of the Royal Mail exhibition stand. By the time that Jeffery had arrived home it had become obvious that Barry had been commissioning him to produce something, despite his somewhat laid-back approach.

The next day he rang Barry who confirmed his intentions and so Jeffery set about designing a sheet. When the item came out it was apparent to him that he had, in effect, designed something commemorating himself, for it was marketed as a commemoration of Jeffery’s contribution to British stamp design. This was a rare honour for a living person and is probably without equal anywhere else in the world.

2005 End of the Second World War (Miniature Sheet)
This commission required Jeffery to include the 25p ‘Searchlights Over St Paul’s’ stamp from the Peace and Freedom set of 1995 (re-valued as 1st class), together with five gold 1st class Machin stamps, which he positioned in a V (for Victory) shape. These were shown against a background of British troops and locals celebrating the end of the war, the image of which had been used on the 2nd class stamp of the same series.

He expressed his pleasure at being involved with such an issue.

2007 40thAnniversary of Machin Definitive Stamps (Miniature Sheet)
We are now up to date with Jeffery’s latest issue for Royal Mail. It is so appropriate that a person who has been such a major influence on the appearance of our definitive range of stamps through his work on the typeface, heraldic devices, colours and layout for more than three decades should have been involved.

He worked in conjunction with Katja Thielen, a Director of Together Design, to create the composition for the Miniature Sheet on-screen as had been done with the 1986 Queen’s Birthday issue. The embossing idea for the central imagery of Arnold Machin and for the 4d stamp was by Katja. Jeffery expressed both surprise and disappointment that the Smilers sheet had omitted this subtle but enhancing feature.

With time fast running out, there was little opportunity for questioning but Jeffery advised that he had no future work planned for Royal Mail at this point and that, ‘yes’, he had produced designs that were not proceeded with down the years. When asked how he manages to balance the ‘aesthetic with the operational’, he confirmed that this is always difficult, but essential to overcome and often involves compromises, long drawn-out discussions and printing trials.

He finished by stating that he hopes that there is no need for further colours in the ‘Matthews Palette’, as he feels that he has run-out of ‘paint’! This is partly because there are parts of the colour spectrum that are simply unsuitable for use on stamps, such as light yellow, where there is insufficient tone.

A few days after the event I was able to ask a question that I had often wondered about, namely had he every designed stamps for other countries. It transpires that he had produced for Harrisons a piece of artwork depicting a building for use within a Trinidad and Tobago stamp design in the early days of his career.

In 1990 he produced artwork to mark the 150th anniversary of the Penny Black. This issue comprised six stamps and a Miniature Sheet in a stamp book for the Marshall Islands on behalf of Unicover Corporation, the American stamp agent for this US Trust Territory. A large block of Penny Black’s was selected as the background for the MS and it was purely good fortune that the stamps scaled-down exactly to fill the space available for the chosen sheet size.

Despite being as busy as ever, Jeffery is really in retirement. Notwithstanding, I hope that he will be commissioned by Royal Mail to produce additional new stamp issues to grace our albums – especially if they were to depict Welsh and Irish heraldry, which have yet to be covered by the Special Stamps programme.

On behalf of Bulletin readers, Royal Mail, the stamp printers and the many philatelic admirers of his work, I wish Jeffery a “Happy 80th Birthday”.

(3900 words. Published in Philatelic Bulletin, 2008)

 Page Version: 1.1, 2012.  All material Copyright  © 2000-Date Glenn H Morgan FRPSL.