Monthly Archives: September 2011

Arnold Machin – The man behind the icon

Today 100 years ago, Arnold Machin was born in Stoke-on-Trent in the Potteries – an area which is now known as “World Capital of Ceramics”. Perhaps it might then come to no-one’s surprise that Machin not only became a sculptor but that this art also influenced his most famous and iconic design: the Machin stamp.

Arnold Machin, OBE (30 September 1911 – 9 March 1999)

Arnold Machin, OBE (30 September 1911 – 9 March 1999)

An apprentice at porcelain manufacturer Minton, Machin went on to attend classes in sculpture at Derby School of Art. He eventually obtained a scholarship at Royal College of Art to study sculpture and completed this course with a silver medal award in 1940. Josiah Wedgwood hired him as a designer in the 1940s and supported him during WW2 when Machin was sentenced to 12 months prison as conscientious objector.

It was after the war when Machin’s career in the arts started off. He gained great recognition for his simple style particularly after he had designed a Queen’s ware bull figure, Taurus, for Wedgwood in 1945, which proved a great success and sold for over 30 years. After creating a terracotta figure for the 1947 Royal Academy summer exhibition he became an RA associate, a full member in 1956 and master of sculpture in 1959.

Machin next to his terracotta figure Spring at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition 1947.

Machin next to his terracotta figure "Spring" at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition 1947.

From coin to icon

Only a few years later, in 1962, he was member of a team of sculptors from the Royal Academy to create a new effigy of The Queen in preparation for the new decimal coinage. Using photographs of Her Majesty by Lord Snowdon, Machin submitted several designs to the Royal Mint Advisory Committee who found them particularly beautiful and very human. Committee member John Betjeman even thought Machin’s portrait of Queen Elisabeth II had “made her look a bit sexy”.

The work he delivered on coins brought him to the attention of Sir Kenneth Clark and the Stamp Advisory Committee (SAC) when they were thinking about new definitives with a more beautiful picture of The Queen. Machin was one of five artists invited to submit ‘renderings’ of The Queen’s head and stamp design at the end of 1965, among them also David Gentleman. Gentleman worked on the 1962 Lord Snowdon photographs, Machin drew a large number of elaborate sketches based on the Penny Black.

Sketch by Arnold Machin based on the Penny Black, January 1966.

Sketch by Arnold Machin based on the Penny Black, January 1966.

The SAC preferred Machin’s approach to the new portrait meaning a light image on a dark background. Building on his background as sculptor, Machin wanted to create a new design from a relief portrait – just like the Penny Black – and started working on a ‘Coinage Head’ plaster cast. The SAC liked Machin’s simple style and eventually chose a plaster cast (the ‘Dressed Head’) which was also preferred by Her Majesty.

Plaster head of HM the Queen made by Arnold Machin for new definitive issue of stamps, third version (POST 118/5373)

Plaster head of HM the Queen made by Arnold Machin for new definitive issue of stamps, third version (POST 118/5373)

The final stamps were issued from 5 June 1967 displaying a design which would remain essentially unchanged for more than forty years – a timeless classic.

Royal Mail Machin centenary miniature sheet (14 September 2011)

Royal Mail Machin centenary miniature sheet (14 September 2011)

- Jana Harnett, Marketing & Development Assistant

Learn more about Arnold Machin and the revolution in British stamp design in the 1960s by viewing our online exhibition Timeless & Classic: Machin’s Icon, and get more insights into Machin’s iconic design with our beautiful book, A Timeless Classic: The Evolution of Machin’s Icon by Douglas N. Muir’s, BPMA’s Curator Philately, with an introduction by David Gentleman.

Postcardese –Coded Love and Tilted Stamps

Back in May we were pleased to welcome Guy Atkins to the BPMA to talk about his passion for Edwardian postcards. Guy runs the popular blog Postcardese, which explores the intrigue and beauty of old postcard messages.

Postcardese

Now available on our podcast is a recording of Guy’s talk in which he reveals the ingenuity to be found on the backs of vintage cards – from their encrypted declarations of love to the curious positioning of stamps.

The podcast is free to listen to on our website, or you can subscribe in iTunes or other podcast aggregators.

50th Annual Postman’s Walk

This Saturday, staff from the BPMA participated in this year’s Postman’s Walk, the 50th annual walk since 1962.

The walk is open to postmen and women across the country, and 80 people participated including teams from York, Isle of Man, Edinburgh and London. It is a speed walking competition – strictly no running allowed, with officials around the circuit to ensure no cheating! The event is a very inclusive one, with all types of participants – from national and international standard athletes to the more novice, such as myself.

Some of the competitors get ready.

Some of the competitors get ready.

In the past, the route was around the City of London, the heart of the GPO but has now moved to a one mile circuit around Coram’s Fields.

All participants must wear uniform -previously postmen had to wear full uniform with no shorts, and carry a sack. As you may see from the photographs, these rules have been relaxed in more recent years. Not wanting to flout the uniform rules, myself and Andy Richmond from the BPMA wore historic styled postal uniforms from the handling collection. Whilst they made us very smart to look at, unfortunately they were not designed with exertion in mind, and did mean we got a little hot under the collar – and the brim – whilst attempting to keep up with the rest of the walkers. As a woman, I had a short walk of 3 miles, which I achieved in 40 minutes and 10 seconds. Andy however had a 6 mile circuit which took him 82 minutes. Compared to most other times achieved by the participants, ours look a little poor – although I am tempted to blame the three piece wool suit, top hat, and leather brogues for that!

Andy and Vyki on the walk.

Andy and Vyki on the walk.

It was a most enjoyable day, and we were delighted to participate and meet postal staff from around the country. Our uniform definitely caused a bit of interest, and we ended up posing for a lot of group photos. We also conducted some snap-shot collecting, collecting a 50th anniversary trophy for the collection, photographs of the event, and short oral history recordings. Together these add richness to our existing collections of sporting trophies, and will we hope prove of interest for future generations. We met a number of very interesting people who helped shape the social and sporting life of the GPO over the last few decades, and we plan to follow that up with more in-depth interviews in the future.

Some of the female competitors with Vyki.

Some of the female competitors with Vyki.

We had heard that this would be the last postman’s walk due to funding reductions, but were delighted to find out on the day that the 51st walk has now been planned for September next year. I hope to participate again next year, and improve my time – if not my attire.

Ray Middleton with Andy and Vyki.

Ray Middleton, winner of the 1st Postman's Walk, with Andy and Vyki.

See more photos from the event on Twitter.

- Vyki Sparkes, Assistant Curator

Photography Competition Finalists

Entries in our photography competition closed recently and the 10 finalists have been selected. Photos by the finalists will be on display as part of our upcoming photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures. The exhibition opens on 6 October at The Post Modern, Swindon, and will showcase a selection of inspiring images sourced from our vast collection.

The two winners of the photography competition will be announced soon. Each winner will receive a Nikon camera courtesy of audiovisual retailer Sight2Sound.

Under-16 Finalists

The Travels of a Postage Stamp by Esina Barber

The Travels of a Postage Stamp by Esina Barber

Last in the Village by Eleanor Leonne Bennet

Last in the Village by Eleanor Leonne Bennet

Country Life by Nik Gaskell

Country Life by Nik Gaskell

2nd Class Stamp by Sacha Onslow

2nd Class Stamp by Sacha Onslow

Post Office in Lyme Regis by Lucy Steele

Post Office in Lyme Regis by Lucy Steele

Over-16 Finalists

Jemimaville Post Office by Gail Johnson

Jemimaville Post Office by Gail Johnson

Old World London by Helen Webb

Old World London by Helen Webb

The Ambassadors by Mark Massey

The Ambassadors by Mark Massey

The Flying Bike by Sue Smith

The Flying Bike by Sue Smith

The Post Office, Antarctica by Dominique Brand

The Post Office, Antarctica by Dominique Brand

You can also see the finalists’ photos on Flickr.

New records released on our online catalogue

Thankfully, our recent problems with the online catalogue appear to be resolved. We apologise for the inconvenience you may have suffered in recent weeks.

The online catalogue service began switching itself off when we upgraded the catalogue system software. We noticed that our web server was having problems with the new software almost immediately. Although we did test the system before we installed it on our web server, a bug in the system did not become apparent until the online catalogue interface began asking for data from the system database. We’ve now reverted to a stable version of the system so hopefully we will not have any more unplanned interruptions to the online catalogue service.

On a more positive note, we can reveal that 4752 records have been added to the online catalogue and these are now available to the public. These include:

POST 91: Buildings, Furniture and Fittings – over 3000 descriptions of plans, blueprints, photographs, illustrations and documents relating to Post Office sites and installations across the United Kingdom between c.1780 and 2002. We’ve digitised a small number of these records and we hope to attach these to their descriptions in the following months.

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

POST 118: Post Office Photograph Library – 450 descriptions of photographs from 1967-1999. These images form part of a series of photographs compiled by library staff during the course of their work. They include many colour medium-format photographs of sorting offices, technical photographs of equipment and postmen and women on delivery. These records often include digital images of the photographs themselves. Further records from this series will be released in the future.

From the museum collection we have added an additional 450 detailed descriptions of textile and uniform, many of which include photographs of the uniforms. Other significant releases from the museum collection include an additional 114 prints and drawings, and a further 210 handstamps.

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

From our philatelic collections, King George VI Overprints are now available, including postage due label overprints. This collection of definitives, commemoratives, high value definitive stamps and postage due label registration sheets include overprints relating to the official use of these stamps in various territories under British control, including the Gulf and former Italian colonies in Africa, occupied by British troops during Word War II.

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

Holding particular political and historical significance today, registration sheets overprinted for ‘British Military Administration’ and ‘British Administration’ in ‘Tripolitania’, a historic region in the former province of Libya are included in the collection. These stamps provide a reminder of British domination of this former Italian colony, both in terms of its military administration and also on a civilian basis. Tripolitania included Tripoli in the old system and these registration sheets document the fact that Britain actually set up the combined state of Libya. The British backed King Idris to become Emir of Tripolitania who also proclaimed an independent Emirate of Cyrenaica in 1949.

Various postal agencies in the Gulf used British overprinted stamps after 1948, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat and Qatar.

- Martin Devereux, Acting Catalogue Manager

Search our online catalogue at www.postalheritage.org.uk/catalogue.

75th anniversary of Night Mail

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.”

Night Mail - artwork for a poster by Pat Keely (109/377)

Night Mail - artwork for a poster by Pat Keely (109/377)

You may recognise the poem by W H Auden, used in the critically acclaimed masterpiece Night Mail from 1936. This much-loved film marked the second of five film collaborations between the Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten.

This year sees the 75th anniversary of the film, and to celebrate we are putting on a special free screening. Auden scholar and author David Collard will explore the work of the GPO Film Unit and show Night Mail, as well as a selection of films by the Unit, including a variety of rarely seen shorts.

Still from Night Mail

Still from Night Mail

The GPO Film Unit was highly innovative and from 1933 until its demise in 1940, many now celebrated talents of cinema and the arts worked for it. The films created had a major impact on British film, especially in relation to documentary film making. Benjamin Britten, W.H Auden, William Coldstream, Humphrey Jennings, Alberto Cavalcanti and John Grierson are just some of the names that appear in the credits.

Night Mail - artwork for a poster by 'ART' (Alfred Reginald Thomson) (POST 109/376)

Night Mail - artwork for a poster by 'ART' (Alfred Reginald Thomson) (POST 109/376)

Films produced include documentary, animation, advertising, public information films, drama-documentary and satirical comedy on a range of subjects, from postal rates to working class pastimes. Budgets were small and rigorously enforced, to the extent that an overspend on Night Mail (1936) nearly signalled the end of the Unit.

Our event Happy Birthday Night Mail: The GPO Film Unit is free and takes place on Thursday 6 October, 6.30pm – 8.00pm, in London. Full details on our website.

A number of GPO Film Unit films are available on DVD. Find these in our online shop.

30 Years of Postman Pat

Postman Pat has been a popular children’s TV series for 30 years. Today marks the show’s 30th anniversary; the first episode aired on BBC-1 on 16 September 1981.

The stop-motion animated series follows title character Pat Clifton on his daily rounds in the North of England. Pat is always accompanied by his black and white cat Jess, and he drives a red vehicle similar to those in Royal Mail’s real van fleet.

Postman Pat Book Toy (2002-616)

Postman Pat Book Toy (2002-616)

For much of Postman Pat‘s history the show was sponsored by Royal Mail, who saw the series as a marketing opportunity. When Royal Mail sponsorship of the programme ceased Pat became an employee of the fictional Special Delivery Service.

Within our collections are a number of items which reflect the breadth of Postman Pat merchandise produced. This includes games, books, toys and badges. Several items are from the Wilkinson Collection, a special collection of pillar box-related items collected by enthusiast Ian Wilkinson. Several badges show how Royal Mail used the Pat character to promote postcode use.

'Postman Pat says Please use your Post Code' Badge, 1982 (2002-618)

'Postman Pat says Please use your Post Code' Badge, 1982 (2002-618)

Today it was announced that a Postman Pat film will be made starring David Tennant, Rupert Grint, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Mangan, so expect to see more Postman Pat merchandise in the shops soon.

You can now see a selection of Postman Pat items from our collection on Flickr.