It may be that if you have any interest in stamps from Great Britain you will be familiar with the name ‘Machin’.
Arnold Machin was the man who made the plaster cast used for the image of Queen Elizabeth II for definitive stamps issued by Great Britain from 1967 until the present day,
and it has been reproduced more times than any other image in history, with more than 200 billion copies having been printed.
Born into a family of 12 in Stoke-on-Trent, England, on the 30th September 1911, he grew up in a family heavily involved in the pottery industry that prevailed in that area of the country.
His father was a freelance modeller and made Arnold his first set of modelling tools. His elder brother, Will, worked with his father after leaving school, and they both worked in a shed at the bottom of their back yard. They both tried to survive by producing small models for the pottery industry, but they couldn’t make a living from it and eventually had to find more reliable jobs. Will found work as a modeller at a local factory, and their father worked as a turner at Buller’s Porcelain Factory.
Arnold Machin started work at the age of 14 as an apprentice china painter at the Minton China Factory, where he stayed for seven years. During the Depression he learnt to sculpt at the Art School in Stoke-on-Trent.
He later moved to the Derby School of Art, and in 1937 to the Royal Academy in London. After spending the Second World War as a conscientious objector, he returned to modelling and sculpture.
Machin was retained by Wedgwood as a designer in 1940, but work for Voluntary Service for Peace in London during the Second World War led to Machin’s imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs for twelve months as a conscientious objector. In 1943 he returned to his beloved modelling and sculpture, initially at Wedgwood, with many of his creations becoming prized collectors items, such as his sculptures “St. John the Baptist”, “The Annunciation” and “Spring”.
Taurus, the Zodiac Bull, considered to be Arnold Machin’s most
successful Wedgwood design, incorporated simplified moulding
techniques for production by unskilled potters during the years of World War II
Around 1945, Arnold decided he would like to teach art and taught part-time at Burslem School of Art.
In 1946 he was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy. Then in 1959, Machin became Master of Sculpture at the Royal Academy School, a position he held until 1967 – the longest-serving member of the Academy.
He was elected an Academician in 1956 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
Arnold Machin was a quiet man with strong beliefs, witnessed by his refusal to fight and his subsequent imprisonment during the Second World War and a later incident in 1956 involving a protest which saw him make newspaper headlines.
At that time he and his wife were living on an estate of particularly attractive houses and ……….. well, the reproduction of the following article which appeared in the Daily Mail in July, 1956, explains the story well:
Mr Machin accepts a lamp-post
(Curlicues and all)
HIS WIFE CHAINS HIM TO IT TO DEFY SUBTOPIA
THERE’S a gas lamp at the bottom of sculptor Arnold Machin’s garden. A very fine example of early Victorian ironwork, complete with curlicues and a one and a half hundredweight chunk of stone firmly attached to its base.
Mr. Machin “won” it at Stoke-on-Trent yesterday after his wife had chained him to it. It was all part of his protest against the encroachment of subtopia into the Victorian backwater in which he lives. The lamp-post used to stand In the middle of the estate of 24 Victorian houses called “The Villas.”
Yesterday Mr. Machin, who lives in one of the villas, heard that a gang of workmen were coming to pull it down and replace It with an electric standard-concrete, pre-stressed, streamlined.
I forbid you
So for six hours Mr. Machin – 46 years old, a little thin on top – sat with his back against the lamp. Beside him sat his artist wife, 34-year-old Patricia. They held an umbrella over their heads to shield them from the sun. They read a book: “The Seven Lamps of Architecture,” by Ruskin.
Mr. Machin proclaimed to the workmen: ” I forbid you, as a token protest on my part, to remove this ornamental gas-lamp centrepiece.”
Politely, the workmen withdrew. They held a conference. They sent for the city surveyor, Mr. D. F. Brewster. Mr. Machin turned to a chapter called ” The Lamp of Beauty.”
A police car arrived with a chief-inspector and a sergeant. Mr. Machin reacted to that by embracing the standard with his arms. Patricia slipped a padlock and chain over his wrists.
Photo of the gas lamp taken in the year 2000 and now standing in its original position
Enter the crane
Mr. Machln proclaimed to the police: “This is my protest against the destruction of all the beautiful things which is going on in this country.”
There was another conference, and Mr. Machin announced: “I am to be allowed to have the gas lamp put up in my garden.”
Patricia unlocked him. A mobile crane hauled the lamp out of the ground, trundled it 40 yards to Mr. Machin’s house; and dropped it neatly outside his front gate.
“I shall put a plaque on it recording the events of today.” said Mr. Machin. -” It will be a memorial to the stupidity of the modern Subtopian age.”
“We will grow roses up it, too,” said Patricia. But that 1½cwt. chunk of stone on the bottom is going to cause them some trouble. The sculptor, whose art work stands in the Tate Gallery, has got to start digging.
Said Patricia: “It’s going to need a pretty big hole, but we’ll get it up somewhere.”
Daily Mail, 12 July 1956
Coins and Stamps
As an accomplished and acclaimed sculptor Machin was asked in 1964 to design a new effigy of the Queen for the decimal coinage, which was to be introduced from 1968; this effigy was used for all British coins until 1984 (it was still on coins of New Zealand and Australia in 1985 and it remained on Canada’s coinage until 1989.)
In 1965 Machin was asked, with four other artists, to submit ‘renderings’ of The Queen’s head for a new stamp design. Machin beat the competition and produced the final portrait of The Queen.
When examples were shown to The Queen the head was cut off at the neck. She said that she would prefer a corsage and Machin obliged, creating the final, classic bust. The Queen chose a dark olive-sepia shade for the inland letter rate, deliberately to emulate the colour of the Penny Black. The first stamps with the new head were issued in June 1967.
Machin had been successfully working on the head for the new, as then yet not issued, decimal coinage. Photographs taken by Lord Snowdon were the source for the new coins, and were now used for the new stamp profile.
Issued by GB in 2007
It is very rare that we ever get to see stamps that feature the image of a person who has helped to design them. This makes the miniature sheet of stamps issued in 2007 (see above) particularly significant, as it bears the face of Arnold Machin, the artist behind the iconic image of the Queen that has graced Great Britain’s stamps since 1967.
“Arnold Machin created probably the world’s most reproduced work of art with his classic sculpture of the Queen,” said Julietta Edgar, head of special stamps at Royal Mail when the stamps were issued. “Like many examples of great design, simplicity was the key to its success. We wanted to celebrate this important milestone in the life of a true British icon.”
Arnold Machin died on March 9, 1999 – ironically on the day that a new Machin head high value set of four stamps was released by Royal Mail – but his work still lives on.
8,633 total views, 1 views today