The pictorial definitives shown in this section of the Virtual GB Album are important for a number of
reasons. First, they herald a departure from a 159-year tradition, starting with the Penny Black,
of using the monarch as the main design element in low value definitives. Second, they probably indicate
a movement towards colorful pictorials for all definitives, possibly eventually bringing an end to the
ubiquitous Machin series.
Starting with the
Penny Black in 1840, all definitives during Queen Victoria’s reign featured her portrait.
The portrait was not only a symbol of Britain, it also acted as the identifier of the issuing country, since
British stamps have never had a country name printed on them.
Although commemoratives were introduced in King George V’s reign in 1924, definitives retained the
monarch’s portrait until 1951. At that time, during the time of King George VI, pictorial high values
were introduced. Low values, however, retained the central portrait of the monarch.
Regional issues were originally suggested in 1946, but the first such
issues did not appear until 1958. At that time, stamps were issued for six regions: Scotland, Wales,
Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. (Royal Mail refers to these as
All of the regionals featured the Wilding portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that was then in use on
national definitives. The portrait was surrounded by various symbols of each region.
Although the Wilding national definitives were replaced in 1967 with the simplified Machin design, the Wilding
regionals continued in use until decimalization in 1971.
At that time, designer Jeffery Matthews adapted the Machin design for
a new series of regionals. Matthews shrunk the Queen’s portrait and shifted it to the right.
A single symbol at the upper left identified the region.
By then, Guernsey and Jersey had become postally independent, so decimal regionals were issued for the
other four areas.
This basic design continued over the years, with stamps being issued as needed for new postal rates.
The Isle of Man became postally independent in 1973, so no further regionals were issued for it after
the initial group in 1971.
On June 8, 1999, Royal Mail discarded the Machin-Matthews design for Scottish and Welsh regionals.
The long tradition of picturing the monarch on low-value definitives was abandoned.
The new stamps recognized the increasing self-government of the two regions. Earlier in the year,
Wales elected its first National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament met for the first time in nearly 300 years.
On March 6, 2001, Royal Mail recognized the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly with the
release of pictorial definitives for Northern Ireland. On April 23, Royal Mail issued the first
regional stamps for England, so citizens of each of the U.K.’s four major countries can use stamps
for their own region. If a customer does not ask for a specific stamp, Royal Mail staff members are
instructed to provide the new regionals to their customers.
The multicolored stamps each display a symbol of the region. A small cameo of the Queen in the upper right
corner identifies these as British stamps, as it has on commemoratives since the 1960s.
There is no text on the stamps.