Tag Archives: Machins

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.

Virtual Advent Calendar – 19th December

In the lead-up to Christmas we are showcasing some of the festive items in our collection across our social networks. Behind the door of our virtual advent calendar today is…

Rejected stamp artwork by Arnold Machin (1968)

Rejected stamp artwork by Arnold Machin (1968)

One of several designs submitted to the GPO by Arnold Machin for Britain’s 1968 Christmas stamps. Machin is best known as the designer of the Queen’s Head definitive stamps (known as Machins) still in use today.

See larger images of all the items in our Virtual Advent Calendar on Flickr.

We Love Your Blog

I Love Your Blog awardToday one of our favourite blogs, Quad Royal, declared us a blog they love. As part of accepting this award it is now up to us to name some of our favourite blogs. Here they are, in no particular order:

Pakistan Philatelic Net Club
A regularly updated blog with articles on stamps, coins, banknotes and major auctions.

World Stamp News and Philately News
These blogs are updated all the time, and are a great way to find out about the latest stamp issues around the world.

Machin Mania
An interesting and well-researched blog with Machin enthusiasts (and newcomers) in mind.

AKPhilately
Adrian Keppel, a regular contributor to various stamp magazines, blogs about stamps from all over the world, but with a focus on Europe and former British colonies.

Norvic Philatelics
The blog of stamp dealers Norvic Philatelics is a great news source for the latest British issues, and often documents errors.

My Philately
Eric in France collects mint stamps from France and China, all stamps issued in 1966, stamps about frogs and toads, and rugby-themed stamps. He regularly displays gems from his eclectic collection on this blog.

Post Secret
Something a little different (and strictly for adults)…a fascinating art project inviting people to confess their secrets on a handmade postcard.

So Much Pileup
A graphic design-focused blog which celebrates 1960s-1980s stamps on Fridays.

The Philatelic Database
A website and blog with the serious philatelist in mind.

The Stamp Collecting Round-Up
A favourite of many stamp collectors which always offers something different and interesting.

The Wandering Genealogist
John Gasson’s blog chronicling his research into his family tree. John also blogs about postcards, maps and walking.

Pushing the Envelope
The Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s blog – well written and informative.

Letter Writer’s Alliance, Bashfully Designed and The Missive Maven
Stamps, mailart, ephemera, design, stationery…these three creative blogs will inspire you to send beautiful, handmade letters and cards to your friends.

Postcardese
An exploration of vintage postcards.