Tag Archives: Machin

British Design Classics

Newly appointed Philatelic Assistant, Joanna Espin, is tasked with preparing the British Postal Museum & Archive’s philatelic collection in readiness for the move to Calthorpe House in 2015. In her first blog, Joanna discusses her favourite stamp issue: British Design Classics, 2009.

Since discovering the British Design Classics stamp issue in the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) collection, I have questioned what establishes a design as a classic; how design classics are utilised; under what circumstances designs are appropriated and what I would add to the list of icons.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

Good design must first and foremost be fit for the intended purpose: function takes precedence over aesthetics. A classic design is something of outstanding quality and usefulness which outlives the era in which it was produced to become an essential, everyday item which is perhaps overlooked because of its commonplace nature. Jeans for example: born out of labourers’ need for durable clothing in the 19th century American West, symbolising subversion for the 1950s and 1960s American youth and becoming an equalising element of the global wardrobe today. Jeans are undoubtedly a design classic.

The British Design Classics stamp issue celebrates the Mini, Concorde, the Mini Skirt, the Routemaster Bus, the London Underground Map, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Polypropylene Chair, the K2 Telephone Kiosk, Penguin Books and the Anglepoise Lamp as bastions of British design.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

I particularly admire the polypropylene chair for its simple shape, functionality and use of low cost materials. Designed by Robin Day in 1963, the innovative chair pioneered the use of polypropylene, invented nine years before, to create the first plastic shell chair. Due to the benefits of being lightweight, comfortable, stackable and affordable, the chair quickly became ubiquitous in British institutions such as schools; a childhood association which instils the design with nostalgia and classroom memories. I have recently spotted the polypropylene chair in a number of the upmarket coffee shops close to the BPMA which emphasises Zandra Rhodes’s assertion that during periods of austerity “simplification is in fashion.” The ability of a design to be used in a variety of settings is part of the benchmark of good design but it also makes one recognise cases of the appropriation of a design in order to make a fashion statement (as in the case of the polypropylene chair) or comment on society.

An example of the appropriation of a British design classic for a subversive agenda is the punk appropriation of the union jack. The Sex Pistols’ 1977 album artwork, depicting a controversial image of the Queen against the British flag and symbolising rebellion and anarchy, was able to convey a powerful anti-establishment message because of the incorporation of the union jack. The union jack design is immediately recognisable and bold; a design classic instilled with concepts of nation and Britishness. The Sex Pistols album artwork is an example of a classic design which has been subverted in order to criticise tradition and contemporary society.

Conversely the Machin definitive stamp, depicting Queen Elizabeth II in profile, is a design which celebrates British tradition and contemporary society. The postage stamp is a symbol of Britain’s industrial history and social reform. In 1840 Britain issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp which reduced postage costs and radically increased communication. First printed in 1967, the Machin image, of which there are more than 200 billion reproductions, is the most reproduced image of all time. The Machin stamp issue is functional, identifiable, innovative and affordable. Heralding British history whilst remaining an essential component of everyday modern life, the Machin design is the definitive (if you will excuse the pun) British Design Classic.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

British design classics are functional, simple, affordable and innovative. Referencing British culture, subculture, history and contemporary society; British design classics are emblems of the nation which are woven into the essential fabric of daily life.

Which is your favourite stamp in the British Design Classics issue? What would top your personal list of British design classics?

Union Flag design soon available from our Post & Go machine

From tomorrow a new design will be available from the Post & Go machine situated in the foyer of the Royal Mail Archive: the Union Flag.

Union Flag Post & Go stamp from our machine.

Union Flag Post & Go stamp from our machine.

The Union Flag design replaces the Christmas Robin design which has been available since the machine was launched on 3 December 2012. The gold Machin design is still available from the machine, which produces self-adhesive stamps on demand with a special overprint reading “The B.P.M.A.”.

Union flag stamps from our Post & Go machine.

Union flag stamps from our Post & Go machine.

Two different stamp designs are available from our Post & Go machine at any one time, and the designs are changed 3-4 times a year. The machine takes payment by credit and debit cards, and is only available to visitors to the Royal Mail Archive in Clerkenwell.

A limited number of an official first day cover featuring the Union Flag will be available from the BPMA online shop – Philatelic from 25 February 2013.

Visit our Post & Go webpage for more information.

Final Post & Go British Farm Animals stamps issued: Cattle

Royal Mail rounds off its British Farm Animals series of Post & Go stamps with its third and final issue featuring six examples of cattle breeds found in the British Isles.

The Post & Go Cattle stamps issued today include the extremely endangered Irish Moiled, one of Britain’s oldest the White Park, and one world’s best known breeds, the Aberdeen Angus.

Post & Go Cattle issue

Post & Go Cattle issue

The Aberdeen Angus also has royal connections: HRH Prince Charles is the patron of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society and has a successful herd at Highgrove.

The other cattle featured on the stamps are the Welsh Black, Highland and Red Poll.

As with all previous Post & Go pictorial stamps, Royal Mail has commissioned Kate Stephens to oversee the designs, which are illustrated by wildlife artist Robert Gillmor. The British Farm Animals series began with sheep in February, followed by pigs in April.

The Cattle Post & Go pictorial stamps will be available from Post & Go terminals in 146 Post Office branches. The initial design used for the self-adhesive stamps, which are overprinted with the postage on demand, featured the profile of Her Majesty the Queen created by Arnold Machin and used on UK definitive stamps. Pictorial versions of these new kinds of stamps were introduced in September 2010 with the first in the Birds of Britain series.

Post & Go terminals allow customers to weigh their letters and packets, pay for and print postage stamps and labels without the need to visit the counter. The first Post & Go machine was trialled in The Galleries Post Office in Bristol in 2008. Since 2008 over 220 terminals have been installed in 146 branches.

Two First Day of Issue handstamps are available to accompany this issue.

Post & Go Cattle - First Day of Issue handstamps

Post & Go Cattle – First Day of Issue handstamps

The BPMA at Autumn Stampex

Stalls at Stampex, 2010

Stalls at Stampex, 2010

As many of you will be aware this year’s Autumn Stampex will be held at Islington Business Design Centre from 14–17 September. The Friends of the BPMA will be manning Stand 20 throughout the event, where there will information about the BPMA, new postcard packs and a selection of our other products for sale, and this year’s stand will look better than ever – decorated with a range of memorable images from our collection.

Autumn Crocus from the Flower Photographs issue, 20 January 1987

Autumn Crocus from the Flower Photographs issue, 20 January 1987

At the present time were undertaking a review of our activities and services. It is important to us to work with philatelists, philatelic traders and postal history enthusiasts to ensure we develop our services in line with what you want, and to enable us to keep caring for these collections for generations to come – and we need your help! We know Stampex is a date which will be in many of our followers’ diaries and we’d like to meet as many of you as can we while we’re there this September.

Join us for a drink at Stampex and tell us what you think!
11.30am – 1.30pm, Thursday 15 September
Executive Centre, Ground floor – full details on the Friends Stand.

Whether you’d like to find out more about what’s in our philatelic vault, how you can see it, or our other services – or simply wish to tell us what you like about us, or what we could do better, then we’d love to speak to you – please drop by for a drink and say hello!

A Timeless Classic: The Evolution of Machin's Icon by Douglas N, Muir

A Timeless Classic: The Evolution of Machin's Icon by Douglas N, Muir

Win a signed copy of A Timeless Classic: The Evolution of Machin’s Icon by The BPMA’s Philatelic Curator Douglas N. Muir At Autumn Stampex

If you can’t make it for a drink, then we’d still love to meet you – staff from the BPMA will be at Stampex across the 4 day event so please do come and find us. Any visitors to our Friends’ stand also have the opportunity to win a copy of one of our most popular books, A Timeless Classic: The Evolution of Machin’s Icon, signed by the author! Just drop a business card in the pot to enter the prize draw.

Treasures of the Archive

by Zoe van Well, Archives Assistant

Hi, I am Zoe van Well and this is the first time I have blogged for the BPMA. So why now? Well, recently I contributed to the leaflet for the Treasures of the Archive exhibition. It is housed in the Search Room of the Archive and is free for all to view. You can also download a copy from our website.

In writing the leaflet I was able to not only test my knowledge built up over the past year as an Archives Assistant but also to gain more! I found it so exciting to make connections between the themes highlighted by the Treasures of the Archive exhibition.

The Machin Head mould

The Machin Head mould

One item is The Machin Head mould. Other themes include; Stamps That Never Were, featuring a page from David Gentleman’s design book, and also a World Cup Stamp commissioned for the Scotland team; Design in the GPO, The Mail Coach; and the list goes on!

I found that so many pivotal moments of postal history exposed by the exhibition directly influenced each other. The Machin Head, for example, is a mould sculpted and cast by Arnold Machin and was used to create the definitive stamp still in use today. (Everybody will have used one at some point in their life!) After I read some of Douglas Muir’s book on the topic, titled A Timeless Classic and sold in the search room, I became aware of the challenges which arose during the design process. In particular I realised the roles David Gentleman and the then Postmaster General Tony Benn played, given they were questioning the very use of the Monarch’s Head being present on stamps!

Colour trials for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929

Various colours were trialled for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929. Eventually, grey was selected.

This lead to me realising special stamps were very limited in number until the 1960’s, full stop! The Postal Union Congress commemorative stamps featuring George V (of which the £1 Stamp, 1929 is displayed in the exhibition) was only the second Commemorative Stamp to be commissioned. The first were designed for the British Empire Exhibition held in1924 and 1925. These stamps can currently be viewed at the Empire Mail: George V and the GPO exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

I must say though, whilst looking into these stamps I unearthed other research material which can sometimes be overlooked, including supplements issued in the Philatelic Bulletin. The Philatelic Bulletin is a small newsletter published by Royal Mail, and it includes articles on special stamps about to be issued. One supplement in particular does a great job of explaining the difference between definitive and special stamps. We have a complete collection of these Bulletins in the search room and they can be a great starting point for projects undergone by school pupils. They are also a great way for everybody to learn about events in philatelic history. Of course, if you become interested in an event and would like to see original material relating to it, either I or one my colleagues in the Search Room will be pleased to help you locate some if you wish!

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

Getting back to the Treasure of the Archive Exhibition, don’t forget we also have on display a Penny Black Proof Registration sheet (1st April 1840), of which there are only eight and all are cared for here at the British Postal Museum and Archive. We also have a Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box, one of the very first to be made and which were trialled on the Channel Islands during 1852 and 1853.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit us while this exciting and rare material is still on display! Why not make a day of it by browsing our catalogue either online or in our search room after viewing the exhibition. You may also prefer to take inspiration from the search room information sheets such as Travelling Post Offices, Mail Rail, Animals in the Post Office, The Post Office in the Second World War, Women in the Post Office and Airmail. If you find something takes your interest, we can help you find a particular item and produce it for you from the repository.

We enjoy showing you original material as it can often be a thrilling experience; both for staff and visitors, whether it is a time bill, a report or a list of ingredients for cancellation inks!

Treasures of the Archive can be viewed in our Search Room until April 2011. For information on visiting the Search Room please see http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting.

The Accession of King George V

Today is National Stamp Day, marking the anniversary of the world’s first postage stamp, the penny black, first issued 170 years ago; today also marks the 100th anniversary of the accession of King George V – the philatelist king. In celebration, and to mark London 2010 Festival of Stamps, Royal Mail has issued a new miniature sheet.

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet features a 1st Class stamp and a £1 stamp.

The 1st Class stamp features the familiar Machin profile of Queen Elizabeth II, superimposed over the profile of George V, designed by the Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal and used on stamps from 1912-1936 (known as the “profile head”).

The £1 stamp shows the Mackennal profile on the right, while the left hand side shows the three quarter profile of George V engraved by JAC Harrison from a photograph by W & D Downey, the court photographers. Known as the “Downey head”, this profile was used on the first definitive stamps of George V’s reign, until the Mackennal head supplanted it in 1912. These are contained within wreaths with a crown centre top and a couchant lion on the lower edge.

The border of the miniature sheet features a detail inspired by the engraving of St George and the Dragon by Bradbury Wilkinson & Co from the 1929 ninth Universal Postal Union Congress stamps.

Two pictorial First Day of Issue postmarks are available; one features the George V crown, the other George V’s cipher.

The Accession of King George V first day of issue postmarks

The Accession of King George V first day of issue postmarks

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet is available from Royal Mail.

More information on the Downey and profile heads, and the commemorative stamps issued during the reign of George V can be found on our website.

BPMA Curator signs the Book of Scottish Philatelists

Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately at the BPMA, has become the 43rd signatory of the Book of Scottish Philatelists. The ceremony took place during the 81st Congress of The Association of Scottish Philatelic Societies at the Dewar’s Centre, Perth, on Friday 16th April.

The 81st Scottish Congress, Perth

The 81st Scottish Congress, Perth

The Scottish Congress is one of many special stamp shows being organised as part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps by member Federations of the Association of British Philatelic Societies. The next special stamp show will take place in Port Talbot, Wales.

A travelling exhibition put together by the BPMA appears at each special stamp show, but those visiting the Scottish Congress also had the opportunity to see some un-adopted Scottish-themed stamp designs from the BPMA collection.

Unadopted stamps designs with Scottish themes on display

Unadopted stamps designs with Scottish themes on display

Douglas Muir’s citation in the Book of Scottish Philatelists was as follows:

“In recognition of many years of research published in the form of displays at exhibitions, including Glasgow 2000; also for his initiation and encouragement of research into postal mechanisation, and in particular in respect of three major research monographs, firstly on the 19th century reforms surrounding the penny black, secondly on the evolution of the iconic Machin design and most recently on the George V issues of Great Britain”

Douglas Muir signs the Book of Scottish Philatelists

Douglas Muir signs the Book of Scottish Philatelists

At the signing ceremony, Douglas Muir described himself as “dead chuffed”.

Douglas Muir’s book A Timeless Classic: The evolution of Machin’s icon is available from the BPMA Shop. Douglas Muir’s new book George V and the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity will be available from 7th May 2010.

Machins feature in new stamp collection

Gift Republic's Machin merchandise on display at the Spring Fair

Gift Republic's Machin merchandise on display at the Spring Fair

If you’re excited about the philatelic and postal heritage related events and activities underway for London 2010 Festival of Stamps, then how about noting your thoughts on our year-long festival in your own Machin-covered notebook? Perhaps while relaxing with a ‘first class cuppa’?

Just in time for London 2010 Festival of Stamps, the British Postal Museum & Archive is delighted to announce a new range of gift products inspired by the Machin stamp. The new ‘Stamp Collection’ range has been developed by Gift Republic under license from the BPMA and Royal Mail.

A closer view of the some of the Machin-inspired cards, mugs and notebooks.

A closer view of the some of the Machin-inspired cards, mugs and notebooks.

Our head of Access & Development attended Spring Fair (the main annual product launch and purchase event for retail buyers) at Birmingham NEC back in February to see the new product range launched and was delighted with both the quality of product and the positive feedback the items were receiving from visitors to the Fair. Gift Republic have attracted leading retailer interest, so these items should be on sale in various high street shops later this year. In the meantime, you can order your own philatelic accessory mug, notebook or card direct from the Gift Republic website.

Stamps in the 21st Century

Next month the BPMA will host the panel discussion Stamps in the 21st Century, which will look at the use, design and future of the postage stamp.

The panel will be chaired by Brian Goodey, Chair of The Postal Heritage Trust and Professor Emeritus in the Joint Centre for Urban Design at Oxford Brookes University. Brian Goodey will speak about Architecture as Public Art – Buildings on British Stamps at the BPMA in December.

The 4d Carmine, 1855. The first stamp to be printed using the surface printing method.

The 4d Carmine, 1855. The first stamp to be printed using the surface printing method.

The rest of the panellists are:

Jean Alexander, co-author of the British Stamp Booklets series (available from The Great Britain Philatelic Society) and a member of the Stamp Advisory Committee, which advises Royal Mail on the design of British Stamps.

Tony Bryant, who has been with De La Rue plc for over 20 years. De La Rue has been printing stamps since the UK’s four penny Carmine in 1855 and continues to be at the forefront of stamp technology.

Barry Robinson, former Design Director at The Post Office. Barry Robinson estimates he was responsible for over 200 special stamp issues, the ongoing development of the Machin and country definitives, and the full range of support products.

Guy Thomas, editor of Stamp Magazine. Having recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, Stamp Magazine is Britain’s best-selling independent magazine for philatelists.

The panel discussion takes place at the Phoenix Centre, Phoenix Place, Clerkenwell, London, WC1X 0DL on 11 Thursday 11th March from 7.00-8.00pm. Tickets are free. To book for this event call 020 7239 2570 or email info@postalheritage.org.uk.

We are now looking for questions to put to the panel. If you have a question, please send it with your name and contact details to newsletter@postalheritage.org.uk or by post to Laura Dixon, BPMA, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL.

The panel discussion will be recorded for our podcast and will be made available at the end of April.

This event is part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

The man who posted his dog and other reasons to visit a stamp show

by Jennifer Flippance, London 2010 Project Officer

Stamp shows are an important element of philately and stamp collecting, providing an opportunity for collectors to catch up with friends, purchase items, exchange material, attend society meetings and enter their collections in competition.

Visitors and traders at Westbex 2009

Visitors and traders at WestBex 2009

Last weekend, I took a trip out to the first show of the year to be held by one of the regional federations of the Association of British Philatelic Societies, the Thames Valley & District Philatelic Federation stamp show – Westbex 2009.  It was hosted by the Thatcham and District Philatelic Society, a popular stamp club of over 80 members who meet twice a month.  The show took up two halls in a local school, which were mainly filled with dealers, catering for a wide range of tastes and budgets.

In addition there were prize-winning displays from members.  Stamp collecting has an active competitive element.  Enthusiasts collect, write up and display a topic of their choosing and these displays can be entered into a variety of classes.  These range from the more formal classes like traditional philately and postal history, but also include thematic classes and open classes where a much wider range of material, beyond stamps, can be displayed.

The National Philatelic Society also held a meeting where members could present a small selection of their collection.  These covered a broad range of subjects, from Machin stamps to posted autographs, to the history of the Post Office Savings Bank.

Viewing the competition entries, WestBex 2009

I found one prize-winning exhibit particularly interesting.  Its subject was W. Reginald Bray (1879-1939), who experimented by sending items through the post that challenged the postal system, for example, by being unusual objects or through having challenging addresses.

Bray posted himself (he is actually believed to be the first ‘human letter’) and the family dog, along with less animated items such as a turnip, sheep’s skull and bowler hat.

Some of the fascinating items on display from this eccentric individual included postcards made from shirt cuffs and others addressed, ‘to a resident of…‘ followed by an image of the town cut from a picture postcard with no other clue as to where it might be.  Some letters had addresses written in verse or picture puzzles.  Many were returned, officially stamped (and you can imagine the rather vexed postal employee) ‘CONTRARY TO REGULATIONS’ or ‘INSUFFICIENTLY ADDRESSED’. 

Next year, ABPS regional shows like WestBex, will form part of the London 2010: Festival of Stamps, aiming to attract new members to this rewarding hobby.  The dates of 2010 shows are available at www.london2010.org.uk/exhibitions-and-events