Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Back to the Beginning and the Pre Decmal Machin

With the arrival of the 40th Anniversary last year ( 2007 ) once again pre decimal Machins were bought to the forefront of our attentions as part of the 2007stamp program. Royal Mail introduced clever special stamps in the form of 1st class reproductions of the pre decimal 4d Machin, these were issued in miniature sheets. They also appeared in the anniversary Prestige Booklets.

We welcomed a new 40th anniversary £1 Machin stamp in Ruby Red and to cap it off we had 1st class special issue in the form of a portrait of the original creator, the number one man himself, Arnold Machin, who as we all know was the brilliant designer of the bas - reliefs / plaster casts .

This 40th anniversary was a event that many Machin collectors looked forward to in anticipation and the pre issue publicity was described at the time as " this will be the philatelic event of the year " .
I personally think that Royal Mail could have made a better job of it, but that's me, I have to have a gripe at the powers that be. I wanted more Machin values in different formats, I can only put my disappointment down to the fact I am a complete Machin Maniac, or the greed for new values must be buried somewhere in my nature.

The 40th Anniversary Generic (Smilers ) sheet was a great disappointment to many, although it was colourful and had the added aspect of printed labels depicting reproductions of the basic pre decimal range. Although this was was a neat idea, many did feel something was missing or could have been added. Admittedly were 20 1st class special stamps depicting Arnold Machin printed by a different process, but so many were looking forward to a few new Machin definitives to add to their collections. One thing in Royal Mails favour was that the printed stamp labels from this sheet did show every basic pre decimal value ( including the high values ).


With everything that was written during the 40th anniversary period most of the ground work has already been covered in one way or another so it will be difficult to add to these accounts without some sort of repetition, but here goes.

I think the best method of starting this task is to go back to the very beginning and try to give out some information on the very first pre decimal printings. It is now well known by most that the first values ( a set of three ) were issued on 5th June 1967, these being the 4d ( sepia ) ; 1/- ( bluish Violet ) and the 1/9d ( orange & black ).


To start this task my attention seems to drift to the date of issue 05/06/67 as this was the topic of an interesting debate I once had with a fellow collector. Whilst we were discussing pre decimals the topic came up in the conversation of Machin first day covers. I learned from this close friend that pre decimal covers are known with all of the original (three) values pre released. These are covers that are dated 25th May 1967. The envelope(s) having been posted in Gravesend Kent.

I also learned that the paper for the initial first issues, which is described as OCP (Original Coated Paper) was of a milky white appearance compared to printings which appeared a few months later. This fact alone just goes to show we can learn something new about Machins every day, even stamps that have been on the curcuit for 40 years.

When I first received my copies and covers of the new pre decimal definitive stamps I was very surprised to discover that they were printed on a paper without the usual watermarks that we all had accustomed our selves to during the Wilding era. My first thought being, Wow !, " these stamps will be easier to study" - my thoughts today - looking at Machins now with different directions of printing and with all the changes over the last 40 years, "was I so wrong there" !!.

One thing that did not change was that once again Harrison & Sons were the chosen printing company for the new stamps. Stamps were printed in continuous master sheets on the web, each individual sheet of 480 stamps had a margin down the middle and margins surrounding the printed pane.

The master sheets were then guillotined into two separate half sheets ( left and right ) at the printers prior to distribution. The left and right portions of the sheet are known to collectors as the dot or no dot sheets, as each half sheet showed a cylinder number in the left margin, one half sheet of 240 stamps with a dot following the cylinder number and the other half sheet without the dot.




4d Value

The ink cylinders used for the initial 4d value were 4 and 8. Stamps in half sheets were arranged in 20 rows of 12 and the original adhesive for the first issues was gum Arabic *.

They were perforated 15 x 14 which was the same comb perforation as the Wildings . Two 9.5mm violet phosphor bars ( tags ) were applied over the printing ink which in turn make 2 x 4.5 mm bars, one left and one right on single stamps.

The portrait on the original 4d stamps were classified later by philatelists as head A, the negative having a flat base at the bottom of the drapery.

* Note : PVA gum was used on later printings of the 4d ( sepia ) and more values were released and added to the list. We also saw the first colour changes for the 4d values from sepia to vermilion ( red ) and a change to the phosphor layout to single phosphor band.

One of the later printings, the 8d value originally had the colour vermilion, so this was changed accordingly to duck egg blue. More about additional pre decimal values will be dealt with in a follow up to this at at later date.

1/- Value

As with the original 4d value, the 1/- values also had 2 x 9.5 mm bands applied over the printing ink. The style of the colour of the 1/- value differed slightly to the 4d as it was printed with a graduated ( light and dark background), it was noticeable later that the hair had only one curl compared to head A and B which both have two curls.

Eminent philatelic experts who had studied the first head types of several printings decided to classify these stamps as having a different head types. By this time as I pointed out above the original 4d printings with a flat base had been classified as Head A.

Other values stamps with a certain rounder (shadowed) base that were issued at a later date were classified as Head B, so it was only logical that the head type for graduated colours was given what is now known to Machin collectors as Head type C.

The only cylinder number used for the 1/- value printed in double panes was cylinder 3 this produced the dot and no dot panes in a layout described for the 4d values above. *

* Note : This 1/- value with Gum Arabic was also produced on a single pane, ( cylinder 11 ) so only the no dot sheets and blocks with cylinder 11 are known. The 1/- value was also released in 1968 as single pane with PVA gum. The gum change can affect the catalogue value of cylinder blocks by a considerable amount so It pays to check all the 1/- value stamps in your collection.

1/9d Value.


The third value is one of the stamps that was voted on in a recent poll ( by certain collectors ) as their favourite Machin. The bi - colour of orange and black used for this printing makes it a striking stamp to look at. The head type reverting back to the same head used to print the 4d ( head A ). As with the other values of the original first printings these stamps have 2 x 9.5 mm phosphor bars over the printed image and the adhesive was gum Arabic.


Cylinder Blocks have always been a favourite of mine, not only do they give the printing information, I find they are very nice to display and to look at. The 1/9d values were printed from two separate colour cylinders. 1A Black and 1A Orange. Both dot and no dot cylinders are available to collect.


Thanks to Dennis Stevens for continued permission to use the images from his great website

1 comment:

Larry said...

Good post, Roy, and good idea to go back to the pre-decimals, a topic that is all too often ignored in the face of the 37-year onslaught of decimal issues.

I, too, have some gripes about Royal Mail's celebration of the 40th anniversary. My primary one is the large number of ancillary products - all too common these days - such as the pin badge, commemorative medallion, commemorative document, stamp medal cover, etc. Who thinks up all these things?

The actual postal issues weren't too bad, if you don't count the press sheet of the miniature sheet. I thought the generic sheet was rather nice, that is, until Royal Mail's paranoia got them to deface the stamp images and remove the value for the £1 stamp. Now it just looks very strange.

And, frankly, I wasn't looking forward to any additional new Machins. The new £1 was bad enough. Having gotten deeply into the ATN printings, I now collect a cylinder block, date block and color block (plus a single) of each issue. That's 23 stamps, and doesn't count the prestige booklet or souvenir sheet. At US$2 per pound, well, you can see why this was enough for me. Of course, RM could have chosen a lower denomination for the ruby color, say maybe the 10p, but then that wouldn't have met their reveue target, would it?

Overall, I'm glad of the celebration and the attention it drew to the stamps and Machin's excellent portrait, but my budget doesn't want to see anything similar until the 50th anniversary!