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The Virtual Machin Album

Profile on Print

Page 5
The second interleaf


  The front of the second interleaf,showing part of a sheet of Penny Blacks.  
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 stamp’s postal value was the only other detail to appear on the finished design.

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  The back of the second interleaf, showing Machin at work.  
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 page 6).

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.

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Last update: September 25, 1999 This virtual album is dedicated to Arnold Machin, 1911-1999 Macintosh!
Copyright © 1999 by Larry Rosenblum, all stamps and philatelic products Copyright © Royal Mail