One of the constants in our lives that will have to change now – the postage stamps, which have carried the same image since 1966. These almost unnoticed works of art – said to be among the most reproduced in history, with 320 billion copies made – have a connection with the pottery industry, having been designed by the eminent Stoke-on-Trent modeller, Arnold Machin.
The image is a photo of a clay bas-relief, reminiscent of reliefs on the ceramics of Wedgwood, a firm Machin once worked for. He also designed the image of the Queen on the decimal coinage introduced in 1968 and seen on all British coins until 1984.
The Portland Vase, Wedgwood’s first successful use of bas-relief sculpture, now a cliché of Jasper ware.
Machin started as an apprentice china painter at Minton’s at the age of 14, studied sculpture at Stoke-on-Trent College of Art and in the 1930s moved to Royal Crown Derby. He went on to study at the Royal College of Art and later taught there.
Machin’s choice as the official stamp designer is interesting because he wasn’t an establishment figure at all, having been imprisoned as a conscientious objector in World War II.
In 1947 he was elected ARA. At his death in 1999 he was the longest-serving member of the Royal Academy.
It was suggested to the Queen several times that Machin’s image be replaced, but she never agreed.