Royal Mail: Machin 50

Spring & Summer 2016
Graphic Design

In June on 1967, an icon was born. Measuring just a couple of centimetres high, this image has been printed more than 220 billion times and is responsible for representing Britain in the corner of envelopes throughout every corner of the world. This image is, of course Arnolds Machin's definitive.

Whilst at Atelier Works, we were tasked by the Royal Mail to produce a set of six stamps that celebrated the meticulous process that Arnold Machin went through in creating a stamp design that is still being used 50 years later.

Stamp Design

A great deal of research led us to narrow down key pivotol moments in Machin's process. Machin, who was a sculptor by trade, took him from the initial brief to the final result. As each of these moments had amazing imagery associated with them, it was only right to make these images the hero.

What we ended up with, through a good process of iteration and exploration, was essentially a time line in miniature.

Preliminary sketches At the start Machin drew over 70 sketches, many of which were inspired by the Penny Black.

Coinage head Machin was also working on the new head for the coinage. He used this as the base for the design.

Stamp design from coinage head Photographing his sculpture and adding designs, he began to produce a stamp.

Simplification With comments from the Stamps Advisor Committee, Machin began to simplify the stamp design.

Hedgecoe photo This photo by John Hedgecoe formed the basis for Arnold Machin to produce the final works.

Diadem head The penultimate stage, showing the icon form of the Queens head but without the corsage.

As we were celebrating a classic piece of scultpural history, we not so subtly suggested to the Royal Mail that the definitive head on each stamp should be embossed.

As with most stamp designs the process also involves producing a 'minisheet' - whish is a decorative sheet of paper that the stamps are perforated.

The design is used as space to help explain Machin's design process and offers up another visually interesting moment in the story.

The coinage head bas-relief on the left is also embossed.

Each stamp issue normally involves two cancellation marks: one from a relevant town (in this case High Wycombe) and one from Talents House in Edinburgh.

High Wycombe was selected due to its relevance to the print testing that Machin under took with Harrison & Sons, who were based in the town. The illustration on the mark depicts the Queen's head design being printed on a print roller.

The Talents House design celebrates the tools that Machin would have used to have drawn his sketches and create his bas-reliefs.

The majority of the cancellation mark has to work within a 33mm circle.


For each commemorative stamp issue, the Royal Mail usually releases a set of products and collectables that aid in telling the story in a lot more detail.

The First Day Cover The Olive brown 4d stamp on show, this being the first Machin definitive that was issued.

Filler Card Detailing the moulds and the casts of each stage of Machin's design process.

The Presentation back is a standard portrait design that fold down to a DL size.

The copy, supplied by someone from the Postal Museum, talks through the design process, from the early Wildling photographs all the way to the lighting experiments that Machin underwent in order to obtain highlight and shadows just perfectly.

We decided that the casts that Machin made should be the heroes, and everything else acting almost as a footnote to the story.

Presentation Pack A clear plastic sheet is used to hold the minisheet.

Royal Mail also had a minisheet celebrating the varying stamp designs in which Machin's definitive has appeared throughout the five decades, with an additional gold embossed £1 stamp.

Additionally, we were asked to look in to the design of the minisheet and the minisheet holder. We very simply allowed the layout of the minisheet to dictate the content of the holder.

Minisheet holder We felt that the quote from the Postmaster General at the time truly reflected what was trying to be achieved with this commemorative issue.


The Royal Mail also wish to celebrate Machin's work on the commemorative head by replacing the standard dressed head on the Post&Go stamps.

We were asked to look at a set of colour options for these stamps.

Post&Go stamps featuring the Gilick inspired bas-relief which formed the base for Gentleman's commemorative silhouette.

Taking the colours that were used from the original 1967 issue was the best way to commemorate both the work Machin did on press and the golden anniversary event. It also created an interesting dialogue between the classic set and this contemporary form of postage stamps.

There were also additional products for this issue including another Filler Card and this Presentation Card which on the front visually explains the colourisation of the stamp design, whilst the reverse explains the design story of the commemorative head.

Medal Cover

As Machin was also involved with the head on the Royal Mint's decimal coin, the Royal Mail and the Royal Mint released a limited edition medal with both of his head designs on either side.

Furthermore, as this was a joint project between the two organisations the style could be a little laxer,. However, we wanted to keep the relationship been this product and the other stamp based Machin products.

Again, by making the two protagonists in the story - the stamp and the coin, take centre stage, it allowed the other images to be used as footnotes to the dialogue.

Medal Cover

The front of the Medal Cover graphically highlighting the Coin and Stamp design process.

There was a last cancellation mark that was needed for the Medal Pack.