The November Philatelic Bulletin makes it official: the Jeffery Matthews color scheme for the Machins is being retired after over 20 years of service. The Bulletin says, “a broad revision of all the colours used for UK definitive stamps of 2013 is being finalised.”
Three new colors have been announced and will see the light of day in early January: Royal Mail red for first-class stamps, wood brown for the £1 and slate grey for the 50p. These are shown on the Norphil blog. However, we also know that the low values (1p through 20p) are being reissued in their existing colors with the addition of iridescent overprints. Presumably these will be on sale for at least few months before any color change is introduced.
Douglas Myall indicated something similar in his most recent “Deegam Report,” although he didn’t indicate that the changes would totally replace the Matthews palette. We can probably expect the next batch of new colors when the rate change values are issued in the spring.
I don’t think we need to ask why. Two decades is a long time (even though there have been many Machins that were not printed in Matthews colors, including the current second-class blue that was first used in 1989, less than two years after the Matthews colors began appearing). Rather, inquiring minds want to know who and how. Hopefully, Royal Mail will release the full story after all the arrangements are complete.
Here’s a brief history of Machin colors:
Initial issue in 1967 - Not very much has been published on how the original colors were chosen, as far as I know, except to note that Arnold Machin was involved in the selection and, of course, the Queen indicated her preference of the olive sepia color used for the original 4d because it was reminiscent of the color of the Penny Black.
Decimal issue in 1971 - The development of these colors has been very well documented, most recently by Tony Walker in a series of articles in The GB Journal, the publication of The Great Britain Philatelic Society. In the articles a couple of years ago, Walker detailed the evaluations and trials that led to the original 14 colors.
1972 - 1988 - Color selection was unplanned and haphazard. Some colors were successful, others less so. The introduction of lithographic printing was one reason for a wide variety of shades appearing during that time.
1988 - 2012 - In 1984, Royal Mail decided to settle on a permanent range of colors that showed off the Queen’s head to best effect and were distinguishable from one another. Jeffery Matthews developed a set of 30 colors that were introduced over a five year period starting in 1988. He subsequently developed four more colors that appeared starting in 2000 and ended with the ruby £1 in 2007.
As I noted above, exceptions to the Matthews colors started appearing soon after. The ones I can think of off the top of my head:
- Light blue and black in 1989 for the 1840 anniversary of the Penny Black. The black was used for first-class and discontinued after a year, but the light blue has remained the color of the second-class stamp until now (with a brief interruption in 1990 for a darker blue).
- Gold for the first-class stamp in 1997 (for the Queen’s Golden Wedding Anniversary) and again in 2002 for the Golden Jubilee (and remaining in use into 2012).
- Brownish olive on a white background for the millennium first-class Machin in 2000.
- Diamond Blue for the Diamond Jubilee first-class Machin in 2012.
And now we enter a new phase in the Machin color story. I am eager to see what awaits us.