Saturday, 8 September 2007

The Hedgecoe Mystery

Last April, Roy posted an entry about Professor John Hedgecoe. Hedgecoe has been a slightly controversial figure in the history of the Machins.

Hedgecoe first came to my attention in 2001 when he won a suit against Royal Mail. Royal Mail had denied that Hedgecoe played any part in the development of the Machin. Hedgecoe claimed he did participate and therefore Royal Mail’s statement was libel. The court agreed with Hedgecoe and Royal Mail settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

The question for us collectors is exactly what role Hedgecoe played. Unfortunately, this question is not likely ever to be answered with certainty. However, more information has come to light since Roy’s post – specifically in Douglas Muir’s book, A Timeless Classic: The Evolution of Machin’s Icon. Also, Hedgecoe was interviewed in the July, 2007 issue of Stamp & Coin Mart magazine, providing some additional information.

In the interview, Hedgecoe claimed his important role was based on two things he had done: taking the photos of the Queen on which Machin based his plaster cast and taking the photos of the final cast that were then used to create the stamp.

The first claim is partly true. Hedgecoe’s photographs were used by Machin, but they were not the only ones. Machin started working on the stamp before Hedgecoe took his photographs. Most of his initial work was done using photographs of the casts that he made a few years earlier for the decimal coins (and those were done based on his own sketches created during four sittings with the Queen).

As Machin was developing his design, some members of the Stamp Advisory Committee and some artists, including David Gentleman, thought that a design based on a photograph, rather than a sculpture, should be seriously considered. None of the existing photographs of the Queen was considered suitable, so Hedgecoe was brought in to take new photographs. David Gentleman then produced some designs based on Hedgecoe’s photographs. One of the photographs and some of Gentleman’s designs can be seen here on the British Postal Museum & Archive’s web site.

After further evaluation, it was decided that Machin’s approach was the best. However, Machin was working with photos that had the Queen wearing a tiara. Hedgecoe’s photographs were taken with the Queen wearing a diadem, the same one that Queen Victoria wore on the stamps of her reign. It was decided that Machin should change his design to include the diadem, and he used Hedgecoe’s photographs as reference material when he did so.

Hedgecoe’s photographs, then, did play an important role, but they were certainly not the sole photographs used by Machin.

Hedgecoe’s second claim, that he took the photograph of the cast that was then used for the stamp, may also be partly true. Machin himself, in his memoirs, says that the photograph used for the stamp was taken outdoors, outside the office of Harrison and Sons, the printer. That photograph was taken on a “misty autumn” day “using a mahogany Victorian camera and a photographer with a black sheet over his head.”

In the interview, Hedgecoe claims that any photograph taken outdoors would be too dark, and it was his photograph, taken indoors, that was used.

Muir notes that the first batch of Machins had two different portraits, one for stamps with a solid background and one for stamps with a gradated (gradually changing from dark at left to light at right) background. Therefore, there must have been at least two final casts and at least two photographs that were used. It is possible, but not known for sure, that Hedgecoe took one of the two photographs.

Muir did extensive research on the history of the Machins, and sadly he could not verify which photographs were actually used for the stamps and who took those photographs. Unless some document is discovered in the future, we will never know for sure.

I very strongly recommend Douglas Muir’s book to all Machin collectors. The image at the top of this post is the cover of the book. You can buy it directly from the BPMA. There are also two related displays on the BPMA web site, Elizabeth: Queen and Icon and Timeless and Classic: Elizabeth Queen and Icon.


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