The second interleaf shows a portion of a sheet of Penny Blacks, the
world’s first adhesive postage stamps, issued in Great Britain in 1840. The Penny Black is considered
a masterpiece of postage stamp design, and few subsequent British stamps came close to achieving that same quality.
An enlargement of one of these images appears on the next page.
When Arnold Machin was looking to return dignity and elegance to the design of British definitive stamps,
it is not surprising that he turned to the Penny Black. The text on the interleaf is
The sculptor Arnold Machin was one of the five artists and designers commissioned to produce a new profile
rendering of The Queen's head. He based his work on studies he had made previously for coins, but his true
inspiration derived from the celebrated Penny Black. Machin felt that the simplicity and elegance of
Britain's first postage stamp gave it a timeless quality. Though it featured a portrait of Queen Victoria
as a young woman, it remained unchanged throughout her reign, never appearing incongruous. Machin pared
down his new design; unnecessary embellishments such as the traditional floral emblems and words
postage and revenue were dispensed with. He also eschewed a photographic portrait
in favour of a sculpted relief; photographed and printed, this would produce a striking 3D cameo effect.
The stamps postal value was the only other detail to appear on the finished design.
The back of the second interleaf has several photos. In the center,
Machin is shown working on the mold he took from the sculpted head of the Queen. Also shown (from left
to right) are two of his pencil sketches of the portrait, a cast showing the profile in relieft, and a
die such as the one used to create the embossed stamps which are on the next pane (shown on
The text below the photos is
Machin created his sculpture in clay, working from pencil sketches. A plaster mould was taken from
the completed model, which he refined by hand, before taking another plaster cast to bring the
features back into relief. Then, the arduous task of photographing the artefact began. Numerous
trials, using both natural and artificial light, were conducted at the printers Harrison & Sons.
Finally, a photograph taken using north daylight with a precise amount of cloud over the sun was
settled upon. The embossed stamps (right) were produced using a die from the original Machin cast.
Embossing is a “relief” process: details are achieved by variations in the depth of
the master sculpture. A working die is made from the original, which is mounted opposite a
counter die. Paper is placed between the two and pressure is applied, creating an impression.