On a cold, wet evening
last November, the Postal Heritage Trust
held its third lecture of the season. Douglas
N Muir, Curator, Philately at Royal Mail
Archives treated a large audience to a detailed
history of the pre-production stages of
the Machin definitive design.
Now in its 38th
year, this iconic image by the late Arnold
Machin (1911-1999) is believed to have been
reproduced more than any other image in
history. Around 170,000 million individual
stamps are thought to have been printed
so far and there is no reason why they will
not continue to be produced in the coming
years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Admittedly
Her Majesty no longer looks like the image
created almost 40 years ago, but it is instantly
recognisable, therefore continuing to serve
Douglas started by recounting the story
behind the One Penny Black of 1840 - a project
completed in a mere five months and probably
still the best stamp design ever in his
opinion. The replacement to the Wilding
definitive series took around 18 months
to produce and went through many stages
of development. The full story would take-up
all of this Bulletin and more, so only edited
highlights are feasible here.
It was interesting
to learn how the Penny Black and the Machin
stamps share several similarities. The dimensions
have lasted 165 years, both stamps utilise
the same diadem and the Monarch continues
to face left. Also, both initial stamps
were of a similar colour (the 4d Machin
colour was chosen by Her Majesty to intentionally
mimic the Penny Black) and both stamps were
replaced by a red version due to operational
Three routes were taken in the creation
of the new design. Firstly, the Stamp Advisory
Committee (SAC) commissioned five artists
in 1965 to produce renderings of the Queen's
head in profile from photographs by Snowdon.
These were the official preliminary designs,
of which Machin produced well over 70 drawings.
Tony Benn and David Gentleman were also
essaying, apparently without SAC’s knowledge.
Finally, the Fellowship of Miniscule
Design employed artist Andrew Restall to
generate yet more unofficial essays.
At this point in
the lecture a section of the GPO film Picture
to Post was screened. We learned that the
film had been reconstructed and shot after
the stamps had been issued, so was a fake!
Early in 1966
Machin was officially commissioned by
the Post Office to develop his designs in
sculptured relief. From this point onwards,
frequent re-sculpting, plaster cast production,
photography sessions and essaying was undertaken.
This work included the gradual elimination
of all ornamentation, use of a diadem instead
of tiara and the removal of the words
'Postage' and 'Revenue', leaving just the
simplified portrait and value against a
Majesty was shown various essays and expressed
a preference for a corsage. Once this had
been incorporated, a large number of fresh
essays were generated in different colours
and shades with varying value positions.
Following approval, production commenced
at Harrison’s and the first stamps appeared
on 5 June 1967 to widespread acclaim.
By the early
1980s there was a view that a change was
due and that the Machin head should be replaced,
perhaps to tie-in with the Coronation anniversary
of 1983. Jeffrey Matthews was invited to
produce alternatives and Snowdon took a
new range of full-face photographic images
of Her Majesty. Rory Matthews (Jeffrey's
son) produced drawn versions of the head
in 1982 and these were all essayed. None
of this work found favour, so four more
artists were approached in 1983, but this
work was also rejected.
Not prepared to let the matter
rest, the following year saw SAC establish
a working party and Jeffrey produced a range
of new options, including landscape format.
Again, essays were generated, but not progressed
further and there the matter appears to
have come to rest, for how does one beat
such a timeless image as the Machin head?
At the end of
the lecture, questions were responded to
by Francis Machin (Arnold‘s son) and Jeffrey
Matthews. These questions covered the origin
of the surname Machin (French Huguenot,
with most British Machin’s now based in
the Potteries district around Stoke on Trent)
and there were several questions relating
to colour (whether UPU colour standards
should have been adhered to, one persons
dislike of the gold coloured Machin and
the use of the Matthew's colour palette).
We also learned
that the Queen's head cameo used on commemorative
issues from around 1968 was especially created
by Machin, as the standard head did not
reduce down to such a tiny size. Incidentally,
production issues also existed when it came
to replacing the Castles high values, as
the relief needed highlighting more, so
a new head was sculpted.
Visitors were given an excellent
six-page A4 hand-out in colour which was
Douglas. Entitled The Machin
Head of The Queen, it gives a detailed analysis
of events. It illustrates several developmental
designs, several photographs of Her Majesty
and records the genesis in depth.
It made a fine souvenir of a fascinating
Philatelic Bulletin, January
Version: 1.1, 2012. All material Copyright ©
2000-Date Glenn H Morgan FRPSL.