In 1981, Arnold Machin gave a talk at the National Postal Museum
on the occasion of the opening of an exhibit about the Machin definitives:
The Penny Black is remarkable for its simplicity and elegance, and if it is thought that
my design has captured something of these qualities I have cause to be flattered by your
remarks. After 141 years the Penny Black still remains the one unchallenged masterpiece
of the philatelic world, and so when I was asked to submit designs for the present stamp
I thought it would be helpful to me in solving the design if I could discover why it was
so satisfactory and so lasting.
One of the things that intrigued me was the fact that the Penny Black, as you know,
is a portrait of the very young Queen Victoria yet it remained unchanged throughout her long
reign without at any time appearing incongruous. If this youthful portrait had been a
photograph, no matter how beautiful or how well designed, I am sure it would have had to
have been changed from time to time as the Queen grew older.
But this portrait was, in fact, skillfully engraved from a very fine sculptured coin
relief by Wyon, and this method produced not only a good portrait but created a classical
and timeless symbol of Royalty. See the next page for
a larger image of the medal.
It was this observation that made me realize that the best result would be achieved by
a similar approach and so I based my design on a sculptured relief rather than a photograph
from life; but because the technique of stamp production has changed from the days of the
Penny Black, which was engraved, the modern photogravure technique makes it possible to
produce a more convincing three dimensional cameo effect, and this was what I was aiming for.
This three dimensional effect varies, of course, according to the colours used, and some
of the colours bring out this effect more than others.
Another point of interest in the design of the present stamps is that as far as I know
it is the first that has not incorporated lettering as well as the value.
This came about because when I went to Harrisons to finalise the design and supervise
the photography, I worked in close co-operation with Mr. York and we both decided that
there was no point in considering any other aspect of the stamp until the portrait was
satisfactory; consequently all the first trials were made using the portrait alone.
Finally, when we were satisfied with the portrait it was only then that we started
to think about the lettering, and because the portrait looked so distinctive on its own
I wondered whether any lettering was really necessary. The Post Office was consulted and
it was agreed that lettering need not be incorporated, so that the only thing that remained
to complete the design was to add the value. See the next page for
a larger image of the portrait.
Three values were issued on June 5: 4d (four pence) olive sepia, 1/-
(one shilling) bluish violet (called aconite violet) and 1/9 (one shilling and nine pence)
orange and black. The 1/9 was a new denomination for the low value definitive series
and the first bi-colored definitive for over 50 years, since the reign of King Edward VII.
Other denominations were issued periodically. The full set of 14 was
available on July 1, 1968.
The 4d is shown above on the left. The Queen selected the color herself because it
was reminiscent of the color of the
Penny Black. At the time it was issued, 4d paid the basic letter rate within Britain
and the surface rate to the Commonwealth. On September 16, 1968, the two-tier mail service
was introduced. The rate for the usual service, now called first-class, became 5d. The
new, slower second-class service, was 4d.
The very dark color of the 4d soon proved to be a problem. It was very hard to see
the date when the cancel fell directly on the stamp. This was a problem for the post office
when they tried to study the time it took to deliver letters. Promoters of football pools
also complained because they needed to see the date to tell whether an entry had been
posted before the results were known. The dark color also made it hard for postal clerks
to distinguish the 4d stamp from the dark blue 5d.
The post offices solution was to reissue the 4d in vermilion, as shown on the
right above. Since that color was already used for the 8d, that denomination was reissued
in a light blue shade. Both stamps were released on January 6, 1969.