50th Anniversary of an Icon

05 June 2017

Fifty years after the introduction of the Machin design, Assistant Curator Georgina tells us more about the artist who created one of the most recognisable designs of the 20th century.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Arnold Machin’s design for British definitive stamps. Here we’ll look at his life, work and importance in British Philately.

A sheet which consists of different colour Machin stamps and images of or Arnold Machin

40th Anniversary of The Machin Definitive, Generic Sheet, 2007

Arnold Machin was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1911, as one of 12 children. He was apprenticed to decorate china and would later go on to work at the Old China Works and Wedgwood. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art and was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1956. He was a skilled sculptor and used this craft to produce the portraits used on both coins and stamps.

An image of Arnold Machin working on one of the plaster casts of Queen Elizabeth II.

Arnold Machin at Work

After Machin became a member of The Royal Academy, himself along with other artists were asked to submit designs for the new decimal coin. His portrait of the Queen featured on coins from 1968 to 1984. He was awarded an OBE for his work on the coin design. It was due to his work and success in creating the image for coinage that Machin was asked to submit designs for definitive stamps.

An image of the plaster cast portrait of Queen Elizabeth II produced for stamps

Arnold Machin, Queen Elizabeth II Plaster Cast with Diadem, 1967

The image that you see on a standard definitive stamp in current circulation was produced by Arnold Machin in 1966. He was one of five artists asked to submit designs along with David Gentleman, another prolific stamp designer. The design that you see takes great inspiration from the Penny Black with its simplistic regal design. In Machin’s design, the Queen was originally wearing a tiara but he was asked to change this to the diadem that you now see. His final image, which you can see above, was produced in plaster and will be on display in our new museum when it opens in July.

An image of the front cover of the Machin Anniversary First Day Cover

Machin Anniversary Edition, First Day Cover, 2017

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Machin design The Postal Museum are issuing a First Day Cover and Presentation Pack for the Post & Go Commemorative designs. The Presentation Pack features text written by our Senior Curator of Philately Douglas Muir RDP, including images of the Machin casts in our collection. If you are interested in purchasing any of these products there are available in our online shop here.

An image of the Machin Anniversary Edition Presentation Pack with both stamps and inside text

Machin Anniversary Edition, Presentation Pack, 2017

Before I worked at The Postal Museum the Machin design was what I associated with British stamps. Even now, when I have a better understanding of stamp design I am still drawn back to this classic image. We can only hope that such a dignified and majestic image will be produced for our next monarch.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Assistant Curator (Philately)