50 years ago in 1964 Her Majesty the Queen approved a new portrait for her coinage, and set in motion a chain of events that led to the creation of the most reproduced image in the world.
The portrait in question was designed by Arnold Machin RA – and if you look in your pocket now you’re still likely to find a coin bearing the distinctive profile.
But even though millions of coins are struck every year – it was when the design was adapted for use on our stamps that it really took off…
300 billion and counting
Best estimates suggest that the Arnold Machin RA effigy of Queen Elizabeth II has now been reproduced on our stamps over 300 billion times – a staggering number.
In fact, amongst collectors, UK definitive stamps are now simply referred to as ‘Machins’ because the image is so ubiquitous.
But who is Arnold Machin RA, and how did he come to design this instantly recognisable image?
From pottery to sculpting the Queen’s portrait
Arnold Machin was born in 1911 in Stoke-on-Trent. Modelling and sculpture was in the family, but his father struggled to make ends meet with his freelance modelling job. Consequently Machin started work aged 14 at the Minton China Factory, as an apprentice china painter.
But he could not keep away from sculpture, and after a working for many years in the arts was appointed an associate member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1947.
As if this wasn’t enough of an honour, in 1964 Machin was approached to design an effigy of the Queen for the new decimal coinage to be introduced in 1971. So, despite never having designed a coin before, Machin was granted four sittings with the Queen.
Cleverly using the bas-relief technique, which creates a raised sculpture from a plaster base, Machin came up with a design the Queen appreciated so much she has insisted it be used unchanged on our stamps for the past 40 years.
An £18,000 plaster cast
Perhaps testament to the enduring popularity of the image, and the design process behind it, one of Machin’s original plaster casts recently sold at auction for the princely sum of £18,000.
And I don’t think this will be the last we’ll hear of record breaking Machin sales – as time goes by the power of the image will not diminish, yet the availability of collectables will.
And now we are due to see a new portrait of the Queen on our coinage in 2015, this is bound to be an area to watch.
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The Westminster Collection is proud to present the first ever officially licensed silver philatelic set featuring Arnold Machin’s famous effigy of the Queen.
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On 14th October Royal Mail issued the first ever set of special stamps to honour eight former British Prime Ministers of the past 200 years.
Together they create an intriguing snapshot of Britain’s political history over the last 250 years.
Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, 1st Class Stamp:
Nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’, Thatcher was Britain’s first female Prime Minister. She was elected MP for Finchley in 1959 and entered Downing Street in 1979. As Prime Minister she won three elections and implemented policies that became known as Thatcherism.
Harold Wilson, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, 1st Class Stamp:
He first became Prime Minister 50 years ago and went on to win three further general elections, making him the only Prime Minister in the modern era to have won four general elections. As Prime Minister he implemented social reforms in many areas including education, health, housing and child poverty.
Clement Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, 1st Class Stamp:
As the winner of the 1945 landslide election Attlee was the first head of a majority Labour government. Under his leadership Labour launched the National Health Service, extended unemployment insurance, and nationalised the railways.
Sir Winston Churchill, 1st Class Stamp:
Churchill famously led Britain to victory during the Second World War. He served as Conservative Prime Minister twice – from 1940-1945 and 1951-1955. He was known for his rousing speeches and quotations, including the iconic ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ in 1940. Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.
William Ewart Gladstone, 97p Stamp:
Dubbed the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Victorian politics, Gladstone was Prime Minister for four separate periods – more than any other Prime Minister. During this time he reformed the army and civil service, extended voting rights and introduced the first national system of primary education.
Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, 97p Stamp:
During his time as Prime Minister Peel founded the Metropolitan Police Force and put through legislation allowing Catholics to become MPs. Other landmark legislation included the Mines Act of 1842 that banned the employment of women and children underground, and The Factory Act of 1844 that limited working hours for children and women in factories.
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, 97p Stamp:
Grey led the Whigs for almost 30 years, and was Prime Minister for just 4. During this time he passed the the ‘Great’ Reform Act of 1832 to reform the electoral system and abolished slavery throughout the British Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.
William Pitt the Younger, 97p Stamp:
William Pitt was an MP at 21, Chancellor at 23 and Prime Minister at 24 – making him Britain’s youngest ever Prime Minister. During his time as Prime Minister he led Britain into the Napoleonic Wars, reformed the government of India, and passed the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland.
Alongside each stamp you’ll find informative narrative about each Prime Minister. Each stamp is postmarked 14th October 2014 – the first day of issue.
Royal Mail will issue many thousands of stamps but only 495 sets have been earmarked for this unique presentation book.
I was lucky enough to be in Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
For years veterans have travelled to Normandy on the 6th June to remember their comrades who never made it back from the beaches.
However for many of the veterans in attendance, it would be their last visit, as this year’s commemorations are the last to be officially marked by the Normandy Veterans Association which is disbanding in November.
I had previously visited the area ten years earlier for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, when my family and I had taken my grandfather over to collect his 60th anniversary medal.
This time around, everything was on a much larger scale, there were events all along the Normandy coast and politicians and dignitaries from all over the world would be in attendance. With so many events and ceremonies taking place it was impossible to attend them all. Our first stop was Colleville-Montgomery, where a ceremony was to take place at Monty’s statue.
At 11am the veterans marched in with standards held high, the response they got from the crowd and townspeople was amazing.
After taking their seats, the Mayor of Colleville-Montgomery addressed the crowd and relayed his thanks to the veterans.
Next were speeches by George Batts and David Baines of the Normandy Veterans Association.
The following day we headed for Arromanches, site of Gold Beach, where British troops arrived on D-Day. When we arrived the town was packed, it seemed like the whole of Normandy had come out to show their gratitude to the veterans!
After a late lunch we made our way down to the square in front of the D-Day museum for another ceremony.
Unless you had a pass it really was standing room only, luckily my pass had arrived from the Ministry of Defence just a few days earlier and I headed for the seating area in the middle of the square.
Before the ceremony started, the crowds were entertained by flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The planes looked spectacular with their distinctive D-Day markings.
Around 5pm, the Brass band started and the veterans marched once more into the square.
This was followed by a speeches by the Mayor of Arromanches and the Duke of Cambridge. Although it was a memorial service, the mood was upbeat and included sing-alongs like “We’ll meet again” and “Auld Lang Syne”.
We will remember them
As the ceremony came to a close, it dawned on me how lucky I was to be there for this historic event and to be able to show my appreciation to these brave men. And although the NVA will not be in attendance in the future, the people of Normandy, the family of veterans will continue to honour the memory of these men in the years to come.
To mark the 70th anniversary we are proud to announce we have worked with the Normandy Veterans Association to produce an exclusive brand new limited edition set of commemorative covers personally signed by 12 Normandy veterans.
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