Tag Archives: Stamp Advisory Committee

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.

William Shakespeare on stamps

In February we marked International Darwin Day by taking a look at stamps commemorating the achievements of naturalist Charles Darwin. Today we celebrate the work of another notable Briton who has been commemorated on stamps multiple times, playwright and poet William Shakespeare, who died on this day in 1616.

Surprisingly, given the importance of Shakespeare’s contribution to world culture, requests to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth on stamps were not immediately approved. At the time the Post Office would only mark Royal or postal anniversaries, and current events of national or international significance. Lobbying followed, and eventually the stamps were approved as a commemoration of the national Shakespeare Festival of 1964, held to mark Shakespeare’s quatercentenary.

Hamlet contemplating Yorick's Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

Hamlet contemplating Yorick's Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

Reynolds Stone and Edward Bawden were amongst those who submitted designs for the stamps, but it was four designs by David Gentleman and a further design by C and R Ironside  which were chosen. The artists had been asked to ensure that if an image of Shakespeare was included in their design that it was not larger than the Queen’s head.

While the Ironside design showed Hamlet rather than Shakespeare, Gentleman’s designs complied with the instructions, but still proved to be controversial. This was partly because Shakespeare’s head was the same size as the Queen’s, giving it equal importance, but mainly because the image of a commoner had never appeared on a stamp before. “This caused a fuss that would be unimaginable now,” Gentleman later noted in his book Artwork. “…And there were jokes in Parliament about the proximity of the Queen’s head to Shakespeare’s Bottom.”

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

Shakespeare on a stamp celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement, 1988

Shakespeare on a stamp celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement, 1988

The rules were much more relaxed by 1988 when Royal Mail and Australia Post released a joint issue to celebrate the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement. Shakespeare joins John Lennon, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a stamp reflecting the continuing links between Australia and Britain through the performing arts. The Bicentenary of Australian Settlement stamps were designed by Melbourne-based designer Garry Emery, who was chosen from a number of British and Australian designers by the Stamp Advisory Committees from both countries. The Australian Bicentenary stamps were the first British stamps to be designed outside of the British Isles.

The National Portrait Gallery: William Shakespeare stamp, 2006

The National Portrait Gallery: William Shakespeare stamp, 2006

Shakespeare’s portrait is one of 10 portraits of well known Britons to appear on the stamps marking the 150th Anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery in 2006. The portrait is attributed to John Taylor and the original can be viewed on the National Portrait Gallery website.

British Theatre stamp depicting Hamlet, 1982

British Theatre stamp depicting Hamlet, 1982

Apart from images of Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s work as a playwright and poet has also been commemorated on stamps. The 1982 set on British Theatre included another stamp depicting Hamlet contemplating the skull of Yorick.

Greetings in Arts: All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, 1995

Greetings in Arts: All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, 1995

In 1947 Sylvan Press published the book All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, with illustrations by Eric Gill. One of Gill’s illustrations was included on a stamp released in 1995 as part of the Greetings In Arts issue. This was not the first British stamp to feature a Gill design. The Coronation stamps for George VI were designed by Gill with Edmund Dulac, and Gill also worked on the Proposed Coronation stamps for Edward VIII.

Also issued in 1995 was a set of stamps to mark the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. The stamps show not only the original Globe Theatre, but many other Elizabethan theatres in which Shakespeare and his plays were performed.

Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

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.

In celebration of Charles Darwin

Today is International Darwin Day, a global celebration of science and reason held on or around the birth anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. Last year Royal Mail released a set of stamps and a miniature sheet to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, but Darwin or Darwin’s achievements have featured on three other stamp issues, making him one of the most celebrated non-Royals on British stamps.

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 2009

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 2009

Charles Darwin Galapagos Islands miniature sheet, 2009

Charles Darwin Galapagos Islands miniature sheet, 2009

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection came about following his journey aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830’s. The main aim of the Beagle’s voyage was to conduct a hydrographic survey of South America, but Captain Robert FitzRoy wanted a naturalist onboard who could investigate local geology and natural history; Darwin, who had recently left the University of Cambridge, was chosen. During the journey Darwin collected the fossils of extinct mammals and noted the slight variations in species from region to region. It was these discoveries which were lead to Darwin’s famous theory.

Darwin made his first appearance on British stamps when Royal Mail issued four commemoratives in honour of his death centenary in 1982. The stamps were designed by David Gentleman and are well known to philatelists, but Gentleman’s original concept for the issue was rather different. Gentleman described it in his book Artwork as “four portrait heads [of Darwin], drawn or photographed in childhood, youth, maturity and age…These Victorian portraits of a growing and evolving person were fascinating in themselves and also suggested the idea of a personal evolution.”

When this concept was rejected by the Stamp Advisory Committee, Gentleman came up with a new idea: “For the second set I used only one head, that of Darwin as an old man, flanked in three of the designs by the three pairs of creatures [iguanas, finches and tortoises from the Galapagos Islands] whose puzzling variations helped to spark off his evolutionary theory…The fourth design shows two anthropoid skulls, one from early in the evolutionary scale, the other from halfway along it, again with Darwin’s own inquiring and thoughtful face between them.”

Death Centenary of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 1982

Death Centenary of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 1982

Darwin's Theory of Evolution stamp from The Scientist's Tale issue, 1999

Darwin's Theory of Evolution stamp from The Scientist's Tale issue, 1999

John Collier's portrait of Charles Darwin as it appeared on a stamp as part of the National Portrait Gallery 150th Anniversary issue, 2006

John Collier's portrait of Charles Darwin as it appeared on a stamp as part of the National Portrait Gallery 150th Anniversary issue, 2006

In 1999, as part of The Scientists’ Tale issue, Darwin’s theory of evolution was again celebrated, with a design featuring a fossilised skeleton and a Galapagos finch. A portrait of Darwin, painted by John Collier a year before Darwin’s death, appeared in the 2006 issue celebrating 150 years of the National Portrait Gallery, London. (For a large view of Collier’s portrait, and for more information about it, see the National Portrait Gallery website.)

At the start of this blog we mentioned that Darwin was one of the most celebrated non-Royals on British stamps. In April we’ll be featuring another famous Briton who has also appeared on British stamps multiple times.

2009 Christmas Stamps

Royal Mail has today released this year’s Christmas stamps, a set of seven adhesive stamps designed by Andrew Ross, featuring stained-glass windows produced in the 19th Century. It has generally been the tradition for British Christmas stamps to alternate between religious and more secular themes, and these stamps come on the back of last year’s Christmas pantomime stamps.

2009 Christmas stamps

2009 Christmas stamps

Perhaps surprisingly, stained-glass windows have only appeared on Christmas stamps twice before, in 1971 and 1992. The 1971 stamps were designed by Collis Clements who had submitted his original designs to the Stamp Advisory Committee for the 1970 Christmas stamps.

Collis Clement's 1970 Christmas stamp designs

Collis Clement's 1970 Christmas stamp designs

While designs by Sally Stiff were chosen in 1970, Clement’s were held over for 1971 and were judged to be better than those submitted by other designers in that year.

Collis Clement's 1971 Christmas stamps

Collis Clement's 1971 Christmas stamps

As Clement’s stamps depicted scenes from a 12th century stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral the Post Office decided to provide a special pictorial postmark at Canterbury. It was circular, 15/16 inches in diameter, with the Cathedral as a central motif.

2009 Christmas postmark from Bethlehem

2009 Christmas postmark from Bethlehem

First day of issue (FDI) postmarks for ‘Bethlehem, Llandeilo, Carms’ had become popular with collectors since the first British Christmas stamps were issued in 1966 and for the Christmas 1970 stamps the Post Office provided a pictorial FDI postmark at this location. The pictorial postmark had been considered a success by the Post Office and was repeated in 1971 with a different design, this time showing a star-shaped snowflake motif to the left of a circular datestamp, 2¾ inches by 15/16 inches. The tradition of a FDI postmark for Bethlehem continues to this day, with a stained-glass window-style “praying hands” design available this year.

The 1992 stained glass Christmas stamps were designed by Carroll, Dempsey and Thirkell who have worked on a number of projects for Royal Mail including the Millennium series (1999-2000), Machin stamp books, the Microcosmos Prestige Stamp Book (2003) and Sounds of Britain (2006). Like this year’s Christmas stamps, the 1992 issue featured stained-glass windows from a variety of churches around Britain.

1992 Christmas stamps by Carroll, Dempsey and Thirkell

1992 Christmas stamps by Carroll, Dempsey and Thirkell

The 2009 Christmas stamps are now available from http://www.royalmail.com/stamps