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Arnold Machin

Stamps     Paintings etc.

Early 2004 a British collector friend sent me a catalogue from a retrospective exhibition of Arnold Machin's work at The Royal Academy Schools, Burlington House, London, held in the summer of 2001.  Ever since I have wanted to set up a page about this outstanding artist, who is known by all stamp collectors.  

Arnold Machin was, unknown to many, not "simply" a stamp designer, but a quite brilliant artist and designer in many fields. The general public did not recognise this and nor did the Establishment figures in the art world, certainly not during his life time.  His famous design of the Queen's head overshadowed all of his other achievements, and in 2007, Great Britain celebrated the 40th anniversary of the so-called Machin Definitive Stamps. 

Great Britain 2007. Souvenir sheet commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Machin Definitives.

After his death, the "powers that be" were approached and asked to consider mounting an exhibition of his work.  They declined to do so, but did agree that, if his family would arrange such an exhibition, they would be permitted to use the basements of the Royal Academy as its venue!  

His wife and son set out on the amazing journey to collect together as much of his work as possible, and the exhibition was mounted in the summer of 2001.  

An excellent catalogue was produced for the exhibition, richly illustrated with examples of his work in all aspects of art and design, including painting in all media, sculpting and landscape gardening. These pages are based on the information and images given in that catalogue. 

  • Photograph of Arnold Machin, in front of his sculpture "Spring", executed 1947.  Belongs to Tate Gallery, London. See a full size image here.  The link will open in a new window. 

Photograph of Arnold Machin, in front of his sculpture "Spring", executed 1947.

In November 1965, Arnold Machin was one of the five artists invited to submit designs for new definitive stamps featuring a portrait of Her Majesty The Queen.  He based his ideas for the portrait on drawings he had produced for the first decimal coinage, photographs by Lord Snowdon, and the Penny Black, and in two months created over 60 coloured sketches of frames with versions of this head.  

Taking the head and four variations on one of the framed sketches the printers, Harrisons & Sons Ltd, prepared a series of printed essays, or trial stamps, in several colours, The design featured symbols for the distinct parts of the United Kingdom, together with the words POSTAGE and REVENUE and a value.  The desired simplicity and beauty, emulating the Penny Black, were not achieved, however.  The design was then simplified with the head cut differently at the neckline, and subsequently the legend POSTAGE and REVENUE eliminated as unnecessary. 

The simple design was preferred by the Stamp Advisory Committee, but they suggested the use of a portrait of The Queen wearing a diadem, as in photographs by John Hedgecoe, rather than the existing portrait where she was wearing a tiara.  Machin produced a new model with diadem and necklace, this was as the final design, but cut off at the base of the neck. 

As before, photographs were taken in different lighting conditions, and essays (trial stamps) produced by the printers.  

When The Queen saw the essays she expressed a preference for a corsage.  Machin added this by photographing an essay, enlarging it and drawing on the photograph. This formed the basis for the final plaster cast. 

Colours were selected by Machin and submitted to The Queen who chose an olive brown sepia for the basic inland letter rate stamp (4d), consciously imitating the original Penny Black. 

All the low value stamps were printed in photogravure.  The image was created as a photograph and repeated by a step-and repeat camera to create the film of the printer's sheet.  This was etched onto the surface of the gravure cylinder in the form of tiny square cells -- the deeper the cell, the darker the colour printed.  

  • December 1966.  Final Plaster Cast with corsage of The Queen for the stamp.  Image © Consignia plc 2001.

December 1966.  Final Plaster Cast with corsage of The Queen for the stamp.

Paper was reel rather than sheet-fed, and the process was much quicker and cheaper for long printing runs.  

Gravure was the printing method used for all low value definitives until the introduction of offset litho for some in 1980.  

  • Cover photograph from the exhibition catalogue. 

The high value stamps with the Machin head of The Queen were not issued until 1969.  These were printed in intaglio from an engraving, rather than in the photogravure from a photo used for the smaller, low value stamps.  

The final plaster cast was re-photographed to give greater depth to the moulding as an aid to the engravers at Bradbury Wilkinson & Co. Ltd, the printers of the stamps.  A master die was then engraved for each value (2s, 6d, 5s, 10s and £1), the image appearing in reverse.  This steel die was hardened and under considerable pressure an impression (now right-facing) was taken on a roller and transferred 160 times to create the printing plate.  These images on the printing plate were again in reverse.  The plate was then hardened and curved to fit the sheet-fed rotary printing press.  

In the period since the introduction of the design in 1967, approximately 170 billion stamps with this image have been printed.  

Scott # MH 310

Scott # MH 280

Scott # MH 281

Scott # MH 282

Scott # MH 283

The small size stamps were first issued on 9 March 1999 printed by Enschedé of Netherlands.  They were re-issued on 11 April 2000 printed by De La Rue and are still on sale. The Slania die was exhibited at the Stamp Show 2000 held in London.  The space where the value appears was a blank rectangle.  This was filled in with the appropriate figures by Inge Madel at Enschedé. The De La Rue stamps were finished by an unknown engraver at their factory, possibly John Matthews.  

It is difficult to really tell single stamps from the two printers, apart by the way this space was filled. The point is that all four values from both printers used the same Slania die.

The large format NVI stamp was separately engraved by Slania for a pane of four stamps issued as part of the Profile on Print prestige book issued 16 February 1999 as part of the pre-publicity for Stamp Show 2000.  

Because the image on all these stamps was from an engraving, it does not owe its origin to any Machin sculpture.  However, it is believed that a photograph of the Machin head was supplied to Slania for the purpose.

The above information is kindly provided for this site by Mr. Douglas Myall, Great Britain, for my website about Czeslaw Slania's Engravings. 

Sources and links: 

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