Sunday, 23 November 2008

Regional Machin Symbols - Part 1

When you look at the listings of regularly-issued Machins (that is, excluding errors) in any of the catalogs, you find most of them are reasonably priced. There are a few selling at a modest premium, and then there are a handful in the range of $50 to $100 or more. The most famous of these is the 1/2p with left phosphor band, from the 1972 Wedgwood prestige booklet.

Then, among the many Machin regionals selling for a few dollars each you’ll find four at pretty steep prices. This series of posts explains what those issues are, how they came about, how they are listed and how to identify them.

With the regular Machins, changes in characteristics such as paper, perforation, gum, phosphor/fluor and gum are enough to keep any collector busy. The regional Machins have an extra element – the symbol in the upper left corner. The symbol, too, varies and is one of the keys to the scarce and costly varieties.

Royal Mail celebrated the anniversary of the regionals in 2008, and we were all reminded that they were first issued in 1958 in response to nationalist sentiment in the various parts of the United Kingdom. The earliest issues featured the Wilding portrait of the Queen, the central feature of the regular definitives of the time, along with various symbol that represented each region.

When the Machins were introduced in 1967, the regionals didn’t follow along. The old design was kept until decimalization in 1971.

In keeping with the simplified design of the Machins, Jeffery Matthews developed a single heraldic symbol for each region that would have its own stamps. He reduced the size of the Machin portrait and put the symbol in the upper left corner. His symbols were the crowned six-pointed star with the red hand of the O’Neills for Northern Ireland, the Scottish lion rampant, the Welsh red dragon and the triskelion ([pronounced try'-skel-ee-on], also triskele [try'-skeel], the three legs of man) for the Isle of Man.

Harrison and Sons had been printing all of the low value Machins using photogravure, and they were to print the regionals as well. Matthews designed the symbols knowing that photogravure would be used to print the stamps.

On July 7, 1971, about five months after decimalization, four values were issued for each of three countries in the U.K. – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and one Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man. The stamps were sold only in their respective region, but they were valid for use throughout the U.K.

The Isle of Man began its own postal service in 1973, so no further British stamps were issued for them. The regionals would be issued for the three countries from then on. Over the next several years, new values of the regionals were issued as needed to meet new postal rates.

The late 1970s was a period of rapid inflation and frequent postal rate changes. To insure that it would always have an adequate supply of stamps, Royal Mail decided to use two new printers to complement Harrison and Sons. John Waddington of Kirkstall and The House of Questa both began producing regular Machins in 1980. Both firms used lithography to print stamps, rather than the photogravure process used by Harrisons.

The next year, the two firms began producing regionals – Waddington printed Scotland and Questa printed Northern Ireland and Wales.

Not long afterwards, it was noticed that the symbols on the lithographed stamps were different than those on the photogravure ones, and the design of these symbols was not satisfactory. Later it was discovered that the printers had used the symbols from artwork developed for the 1976 presentation packs (souvenir folders) of the photogravure regionals.

Jeffery Matthews was again brought in, and he designed a new set of symbols that was suitable for stamp-size lithographic printing. The printers switched to the new symbols gradually over the next few years, but without always announcing exactly when they were doing so. The result was a few varieties that were not noticed and/or were not widely distributed.

To be continued.

A previous post on the subject of regionals is here, and the article on Roy's web site is here.


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