Saturday, 22 September 2007
I've thought for a while that the current definitives - those with what we might now call the classic design - should be called Matthews and not Machins.
After all, there are three design elements of these stamps - the portrait, the denomination or service indicator, and the color. For most of the current stamps, Jeffery Matthews has designed two out of the three.
And Royal Mail agrees with me. For some definitives, Royal Mail has given the credit "Designed by J. Matthews based on a portrait by A. Machin" or something like that. In one announcement of new definitives, Royal Mail didn't list a designer but credited "Colour palette - Jeffery Matthews".
Those of you who have been collecting Machins for some time have, I'm sure, at least heard of Jeffery Matthews. Those of you who are new to this wonderful collecting area should know about him.
Arnold Machin developed the original design during 1965-67, and the first of his stamps was issued on June 5, 1967. He then did some work for the high values - the requirements were a little different for the recess printing (also known as engraving or intaglio) used for the high values than they were for the photogravure low values. He also created a modified head that could be used in a small size on commemorative stamps.
It must not have been long after Machin completed his work that Jeffery Matthews, an artist who had already designed two sets of British commemorative stamps, was brought in to work on the definitives. His first task was to design the emblems used on the regional Machins issued in 1971 at the time of decimalization. He has continued to work on the Machins right up to this year.
Here's a summary of what Matthews has done for the Machins:
- Designed the emblems for the regional Machins. He actually did that twice. The first time, he designed them for photogravure printing. Later, when Royal Mail brought in new printers, the regionals were then printed by lithography. So he redrew the symbols so that they would look good regardless of the method of printing.
- Designed the large-size photogravure high values that were issued starting in 1977. I didn't know this until I saw the Thematica souvenir sheet pictured at the top of this post. At least, I'm assuming that it means Matthews designed the issued stamps, though it doesn't specifically say that. I will find out.
- Designed a new typeface, or font, for the denomination. The font originally used for the decimal Machins was too big for denominations such as 20 1/2p. Matthews designed a new, narrower font that is now referred to as the "Matthews font." It was implemented gradually, starting in 1983.
- Designed a new color palette for the Machins. Machin himself helped choose the colors for the original 1967 issue. A lengthy study was done to develop the colors for the initial decimal issue in 1971. However, with many new values needed in the inflationary 1970s and 1980s, the British Post Office got sloppy with the colors. Matthews was assigned the task of developing a new batch of colors.
He initially developed a group of 30 colors. These were gradually introduced starting in 1988. A few other colors were used as well. In the late 1990s, Matthews was asked to produce an additional three colors. These were grey-blue (first used on the 40p in 2000), orange (first used on the 9p in 2005), and pink (first used on the 16p in 2007).
Most recently, he was asked to develop a new color for the £1 Machin in honor of the 40th anniversary of the design. He chose ruby, since the gemstone ruby traditionally marks the 40th wedding anniversary. His ruby £1 was issued on June 5, 2007.
- Designed the "double-header" issue that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Penny Black (Britain's and the world's first postage stamp). After trying several different designs, he decided to follow Machin's idea of simplicity and just added Queen Victoria's portrait behind that of Queen Elizabeth II. The stamps were in use throughout most of 1990.
- Designed the horizontal format that was used for initial tests of self-adhesive booklets and coils.
- Designed a miniature sheet that highlights his color palette using eight stamps and two labels. The sheet was issued in 2000 as part of the celebration of Stamp Show 2000.
- Designed the two commemoratives that honored Arnold Machin on the 40th anniversary. One stamp shows a portrait of Machin and the other pictures the first Machin, the 4d olive-sepia. He also designed the souvenir sheet that contains these two commemoratives, the new ruby £1 and the old mauve £1. (He did these in collaboration with Katja Thielen of Together Design, though he developed the concept of the stamp-on-stamp design and also the miniature sheet.)
In 2000, Douglas Muir, Curator, Philately of the British Postal Museum & Archive, revealed that an extensive effort was made in the 1980s to replace the Machin portrait. Matthews played a key role in this effort, along with his son Rory (and had it been successful, we might really be using "Matthews" on our mail), but it was ultimately unsuccessful. The full story is described in Muir's recent book, A Timeless Classic: The evolution of Machin's icon.
So the name we collectors give to this series remains the same, and I think that is appropriate. After all, regardless of the color or the font, it is the portrait and the overall simplicity and elegance of the design that make the stamp what it is, and those characteristics are the work of Arnold Machin.
Note: I, with my colleague David Alderfer, had the privilege of interviewing Matthews during The Stamp Show 2000. If you'd like to read it, you can find it on the Great Britain Collectors Club web site.