Jeffery Matthews’ Color Palette

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The Machin series started out in 1969 with a palette of dark colors that provided a nice contrast to the lighter Queen’s portrait. However, decimalization in 1971 and inflation later in the decade required many new Machins. The British post office wasn’t very careful about selecting new colors for the series.

By the early 1980s, the Machin colors had become “insipid and dull,” according to Angela Reeves, Royal Mail’s design manager. She hired Jeffery Matthews to create a range of colors that would return to Arnold Machin’s original idea, a light Queen’s head on a solid, dark background.

(There’s more about this at the beginning of the Matthews interview and in a post I wrote on the Machin Mania blog.)

Matthews developed a set of 30 colors that were gradually introduced during 1988 to 1993. A few were very similar to colors already in use, such as the 2p dark green. Most, however, were different from colors used previously.

Subsequently, Royal Mail decided they needed some additional colors and Matthews designed three more in the late 1990s. Finally, Royal Mail wanted a new color for the 40th anniversary of the Machin series in 2007, and Matthews chose ruby, the color of the gemstone that is traditionally associated with the 40th wedding anniversary.

A few other colors were introduced from time to time, but the Matthews palette continues to be used for most Machins today.

The colors are shown below by year of introduction, alphabetically within each year. The stamps shown are not always the first ones issued in that color. The names are those used by Douglas Myall in his reference works. Myall generally uses names assigned by Royal Mail, except in a few cases where these are not suitable. These are explained in notes below the table. Other catalogs such as Scott, Stanley Gibbons and Machin Collectors Club, sometimes use different names.

Note: Color reproduction varies from monitor to monitor, so the images you see may vary from the actual colors of the stamps.

5p Ash Pink 4p Cobalt Blue 'E' Dark Blue 35p Dark Brown 2p Dark Green 37p Dark Grey
Ash Pink Cobalt Blue (1) Dark Blue Dark Brown Dark Green Dark Grey
40p Dark Turquoise 1st Flame 20p Light Green 49p Rust 50p Sand 47p Sea Green
Dark Turquoise Flame Light Green Rust Sand Sea Green
72p Red 34p Purple 42p Sage 39p Shocking Pink 34p Slate Blue 24p Terracotta
Red Purple Sage Shocking Pink Slate Blue Terracotta
43p Emerald 10p Light Tan 27p Mauve 68p stone 44p Ultramarine  
Emerald Light Tan Mauve Stone Ultramarine  
39p Amethyst 1p Dark Maroon 34p Lime Green 8p Old Gold    
Amethyst (2) Dark Maroon Lime Green Old Gold    
39p Light Grey 37p Olive Green 14p Salmon      
Light Grey Olive Green Salmon      
40p Grey Blue 9p Orange 16p Pink 1 pound Ruby    
Grey Blue (2000) Orange (2005) Pink (2007) Ruby (2007)    

Note 1: The naming of the blue colors of the Machin series is a complex topic because of Royal Mail’s inconsistency (dare I say sloppiness) in assigning names. The color of the 4p was originally called dark turquoise in the British Philatelic Bulletin, although that name was also assigned to another color (see the 40p in the second row of the chart). Later this color was called light blue, but that name was (and still is) used for the color of the second-class non-denominated (NVI) stamp (illustrated here), a color not developed by Matthews.

As a result of the confusion, Myall assigns the name Cobalt blue to the 4p, based on the Methuen Handbook of Colour. The Scott catalog uses bright blue and both Stanley Gibbons and the Machin Collectors Club use new blue for this 4p.

Perhaps because of its similarity to the color of the second-class NVI (first introduced in 1989 and used continuously since then except for a period during 1990-91), this color has not been used again since the 4p was withdrawn from sale on April 1, 2004.

Note 2: Royal Mail calls this color rhododendron. Myall notes that this flower name is not a generally accepted color (the way that rose is a single color although roses come in many colors). He uses the name amethyst instead. The Scott catalog calls it bright pink, and Gibbons and MCC call it bright mauve.

At Stamp Show 2000, Royal Mail issued a special souvenir sheet that highlighted several of the Matthews colors. Designed by Matthews himself, it features a palette with his monogram. There’s more information about the sheet in the interview.

Matthews miniature sheet

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Last update: Sunday, November 15, 2009   Macintosh!
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