Fifty years ago, the Royal Mail issued new regular stamps featuring a stylized image of Queen Elizabeth II. Sculptor Arthur Machin created an icon. Today his portrait is one the most reproduced images in the world. So it’s no surprise that the stamps are now called Machin Definitives.
By the Numbers
- 4d (fourpence): The pre-decimal value of the Royal Mail’s design classic, when initially released on June 5, 1967.
- 220 billion: Number of portrait reprints since first issued.
- 130: Minimum number of colours used in Machin Definitive stamps. The current “Jubilee Colour Palette” was introduced in 2013, and like the previous hues, are selected to show off Machin’s sculpture
- 550: The number of basic varieties of stamps issued in the last 50 years, including different values, shapes, printing methods and security features.
Charting the evolution of Machin’s image of Queen Elizabeth II
In 1966, Royal Mail asked for new ideas for its stamps. At the time, they featured an image of Queen Elizabeth II taken by photographer Dorothy Wilding. In an era of the Beatles and the miniskirt, it was outdated.
Arthur Machin, master of sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools who would also design the coins used by the Royal Mint from 1968 to 1984, created some 70 sketches and six full preparatory images. All featured Queen Elizabeth II wearing a tiara (which would ultimately be replaced by the King George IV state diadem). Slowly, he refined and simplified the image, finally creating a profile as a bas-relief cast. It a photograph of that final cast that is the image used to his day.
A timeline from the Royal Mail
- January 1966: Machin’s preliminary sketch inspired by the Penny Black (the first adhesive stamp, which featured the image of Queen Victoria)
- February 1966: Work by Machin on the mould devised for the coinage head
- April-May 1966: A proof of the coinage head with symbols
- August 1966: John Hedgecoe’s photograph was then used by Machin to model the King George IV state diadem worn by the Queen (also worn by Queen Victoria, the present monarch’s great-great grandmother, on the Penny Black).
- October 1966: plaster cast with the diadem but without corsage, which was the final design element, as seen on the final image of Queen Elizabeth II.
- October 1966: Simplified and cropped coinage head