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The 20p Machin welcomes you to the Machin FAQ


All About Machins – The Machin FAQ

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1. What’s a FAQ?
2. Okay, so what’s a Machin?
3. How do you pronounce Machin?
4. Can I impress my friends with Machins?
5. Isn’t the design a bit sparse? With just the Queen and a number, it looks incomplete.
6. How come there’s no country name or abbreviation, like “USA”?
7. So, we’ve got plain-Jane, or rather plain-Elizabeth, stamps in lots of colors. What’s the big deal?
8. Well, then, how do I go about collecting Machins?
9. What reference works are available?
10. How can I find out about new issues?
11. Are there many dealers who sell Machins?

1. What’s a FAQ?

FAQ is an acronym for Frequently Asked Questions, a friendly way to impart information. FAQ’s are popular on the Internet. They got started many years before the Internet, however, on those old American cop shows when the harried policeman told the blabbering witness, “Just the FAQ’s, ma’am!” top


2. Okay, so what’s a Machin?

The current low-value definitive stamps of Great Britain are referred to as “Machins” because they were designed by Arnold Machin, a sculptor. The 35p stamp at left below and the 20p stamp at the top of the page are typical Machins.

35p Machin   1d Downey Head George V stamp   4d Wilding Queen Elizabeth II stamp

Several series of British stamps are informally named after people involved in their design: the first King George V definitives (1911-1912, Scott 151-158B) are known as “Downey Heads” after W. & D. Downey, the Court Photographers. The Downeys took the photograph used for the portrait on the stamps. (Image in the center above.)

The Wilding definitives (1953-67, Scott 292-308 et seq.) are named after the firm of Dorothy Wilding, Ltd. which took the photograph of the Queen used as the basis for the portrait on the stamp. (Image on the right above.) top


3. How do you pronounce Machin?

It is pronounced may’-chin. In French, the word “machin” roughly translates to “thingy-ma-jig,” a trivial fact that you can use to impress your friends. top


4. Can I impress my friends with Machins?

Absolutely! The easiest way to impress them is to gather a collection of Machins of different colors. Since the original issue in 1967, dozens of different colors have been used. Because the design of every Machin is essentially the same, color is the main way people differentiate the various denominations available at any time. Over the years, Royal Mail has tried many colors. Some worked, some didn’t. In the mid-1980s, they settled on a standard range of 30 colors created by Jeffery Matthews. In 1990, another shade of blue was added, making 31. That group is still in use today, with some additional ones added from time to time for special occasions.

If your friends are more impressed with subtlety, get one copy of each of the 26 different 1p Machins (according to the Deegam Handbook) and form a mini-collection, writing up the characteristics of each. Your friends will bow down in awe of your philatelic knowledge. top


5. Isn’t the design a bit sparse? With just the Queen and a number, it looks incomplete.

What else do you need for a stamp? (Oh, I forgot. You are asking the questions, and I am answering. Sorry.) All the necessary information is imparted by the elements of the design. The denomination of the stamp (or the service indication on non-denominated versions) is right there in plain sight. The Queen’s portrait shows who issued the stamp and gives it a mark of authority. top


6. How come there’s no country name or abbreviation, like “USA”?

When Great Britain issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp in 1840, the portrait of Queen Victoria served as the identifier and there was no country name on the stamp. This practice was continued on future issues. When the Universal Postal Union came into being later in the century, it made a rule that any stamp used for international mail had to have a country’s name or abbreviation on it. However, they made an exception for Great Britain and allowed them to use the image of the current monarch as the stamp’s identifier. That exception remains valid today, and all British stamps and postal stationery continue to use the Queen’s portrait on them to indicate that they are from Great Britain. top


7. So, we’ve got plain-Jane, or rather plain-Elizabeth, stamps in lots of colors. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that over the years, advances in technology as well as changing postal rates have led to a constant stream of new varieties. Nearly every philatelic property has changed at least once - paper, gum, luminescence, printer, printing method, perforation gauge, and so on. A moderately comprehensive collection of Machins is a lesson in nearly every aspect of modern philately. The exception is the watermark - no Machin has carried a watermark. top


8. Well, then, how do I go about collecting Machins?

Predecimal 9d Machin

There are nearly as many ways to collect them as there are individual Machins. One good way to start is to narrow the scope of a beginning collection to make it more manageable. You might stick to the Machins issued before the conversion to decimal currency (1967-71). The low value stamps can be distinguished by the use of a “d” to indicate the currency (as shown at left). Decimal stamps have a “p” instead. If you prefer newer issues, you can stick to those with the elliptical perforation on each side (since 1993). See the 20p Machin at the top of the page for an example of elliptical perforations.

You can start by collecting a single denomination. If you select one with a long life, such as the 1p, you can learn a lot about the whole series with a relatively small number of stamps.

Alternatively, you can purchase an inexpensive mixture of Machins and work through it, seeing if you can identify what you have. Most mixtures will have primarily recent stamps, so that will limit the range of your sample. Whatever method you choose, a good reference work is essential.

For some other thoughts on collecting Machins, see Albert Farrugia’s editorial on the subject. top


9. What reference works are available?

This is an admittedly subjective answer. In my opinion, the best reference work is The Complete Deegam Machin Handbook. This tour de force by Douglas Myall contains just about everything there is to know about the Machins. It is oriented towards the identification of single Machin stamps.

There are over 100 pages of illustrated, clearly written descriptive material. Topics covered include printing processes, papers, gums, phosphor development, design variations in the head and values and many more.

The Deegam listing is organized by denomination, lending itself to identifying individual stamps. The handbook is broken into three sections - basic, intermediate, and specialized. You can start at whatever level is appropriate to your knowledge and interest and move on to the other levels as your experience permits.

The expanded third edition was published in July, 2003. See the news story and this page for more details. The Handbook was published on CD-ROM in April, 2005 and the first supplement to the printed edition was released in August, 2005. See this news story for details and the Deegam web site for more information and how to get the Handbook and other Deegam publications.

I can no longer recommend the Machin Collectors Club Specialised Machins Catalogue. Although there is much helpful identification material as well as comprehensive listings, and the catalogue has a broad scope that includes cylinder blocks and booklets, the latest edition suffers from poor organization and an obvious lack of editing.

The Stanley Gibbons Great Britain Specialised, Volume 4 includes much information about the stamps but is not oriented towards identification. Much of the writing is terse and not always easily accessible.

The Gibbons catalog contains many illustrations and is the only reference to illustrate and price flaws. However, many of the illustrations are blotchy, the originals probably having degraded over the years. Gibbons also has its own naming and numbering schemes which are not widely used. The other three works use generally accepted terms and numbers.

Volume 4 only covers the decimal issues, those issued since decimal currency was introduced in 1971. To get information about the 1967-1970 pre-decimal issues, you will also need to get Volume 3, which also includes the Wilding definitives and commemoratives.

I consider the Connoisseur Catalogue of Machin Stamps unsuitable because of its unusual and awkward organization scheme. It separates the stamps printed by Harrison and Sons (now De La Rue Security Print) and groups those of the other printers together.

This made sense until about 1990, since Harrison produced most of the Machins until that time. Since then, though, other printers have produced a large number of stamps, and this scheme makes little sense today.

There are other quirks to its scheme as well. The last edition of the Connoisseur was printed in 1995, though a supplement appeared in 2001. The organization may be improved in the future, but the catalogue is tied to a deluxe album produced by the same company, and changing the catalog would leave the album owners without a compatible reference work.

Many collectors do use the Connoisseur catalog, so your opinion of it may be different than mine. But I turn to the other three reference works much more frequently. top



10. How can I find out about new issues?

Keeping up with the Machins is a challenge, but fortunately there are so many Machin collectors that much information about them is published. About the stamps, that is.

Royal Mail has an excellent general monthly journal, the British Philatelic Bulletin. New issues are announced there, and articles cover many of the details. Douglas Myall writes an outstanding regular column on Machins and other topics; the readers have voted him best author several times.

Myall publishes the Deegam Reports that contain information about new issues and other topics relating to the Machins. The reports are available to purchasers of his Handbook.

Members of the Machin Collectors Club receive a monthly newsletter with new issue information.

Gibbons Stamp Monthly covers new issues and has a regular Machin column by John Deering. This is now available on the web by subscripton. Go to http://www.gibbonsstampmonthly.com.

Finally, most, if not all, Machin dealers publish information about new issues. These bulletins are generally offered to their customers but are often available on a subscription basis as well. top



11. Are there many dealers who sell Machins?

There are a few dealers in the United States who specialize in Machins and many in Great Britain. I’m sure there are also dealers in other Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia. In order to avoid favoratism, I will not mention any here, but many advertise in the Machin catalogs and publications. A few advertise in more general periodicals such as Linn’s Stamp News and Gibbons Stamp Monthly. top



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