50 not out!

The Machin definitive is 50 years old this month. What are the qualities that has allowed this series to enrapture so many enthusiasts, and how might you go about starting a collection?

Helped by almost constant evolution, the Machin definitive design has endured for 50 years. 
This is the 2009 1st class gold


Nobody could know it at the time, but a huge new field of philately was started on June 5, 1967, when Great Britain launched an apparently simple definitive series.

Replacing Dorothy Wilding’s photograph as the face of Queen Elizabeth II on the nation’s stamps, Arnold Machin’s sculpture was to become one of the most recognisable portraits in the world.

It began with the issue of just three stamps, a 4d sepia, a 1s violet and a 1s 9d orange and black. Five decades later, more than 225 billion Machin definitives have been printed, and there are many hundreds of collectable varieties.


Arnold Machin putting to finishing touches to his bas-relief portrait of Queen Elizabeth II


Simplicity of design

As with many examples of great design, simplicity is the key to the success of this series.

Machin admired the design of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black of 1840, with its classic profile of the monarch and its effective use of a light image against a dark background. When he was commissioned to create a new stamp design, early in 1966, he worked from a photograph of the coin mould he had designed a year earlier, in an attempt to achieve something similar.

Carefully photographing a plaster bas-relief in different lighting conditions created a three-dimensional effect, and the bold decision to abandon the traditional decorative frame, and indeed all inscriptions bar the denomination, added to the dignity of the portrait.

Despite this simplicity of concept, several different photographs were used as the basis for the issued stamps, to accentuate the image depending on the darkness of the background colour. Specialist collectors can also distinguish between three different dies used for the portrait.

Read the full article in Stamp Magazine June 2017

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