Did You Catch Those Stamps In The Latest Season Of “The Crown”?
A recent scene in the Netflix series “The Crown” really caught our attention. Those who collect Great Britain stamps will know why we were so excited by the opening for season three of this show! It’s not every day you see something so historic related to stamps on television.
This season opens in 1964 with Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) inspecting the new stamps by Royal Mail bearing her likeness, one of a younger version of herself (played by actress Claire Foy) and one of her at her current age. Despite flattering remarks by her staff, the Queen is nonplussed at the changes of aging.
It’s a short scene, right at the beginning of the first episode of the season. But just what were those stamps? For those who collect Great Britain stamps, they probably looked very familiar.
The Machin Series
The stamps shown were "The Crown's" versions of the Machin series of stamps. First issued on June 5th, 1967, Machins are the main definitive stamp series used in the United Kingdom. Considering the time period of the episode, this scene occurs when Queen Elizabeth was still evaluating designs for the release, which was done via a contest.
The final image chosen was designed by Arnold Machin and depicts his sculpted profile of the Queen along with the denomination of the stamp. Machins have been continuously produced since 1967, which means that the history of this series' production quite literally reflects the recent evolutions of United Kingdom stamp production. These stamps are still used today.
Those familiar with the history of Great Britain stamps may recognize its similarity to another stamp, the Penny Black (above right). The Penny Black was the first adhesive postage stamp in the world and bears an image of Queen Victoria from the side, the same type of profile used in the Machin series. This stamp was first issued on May 1st, 1840 and, despite only one year of use, is still an important part of British history and culture.
For such a simple-looking stamp, you would think Machins would be a bit of a bore for your collection. However, there are over five thousand varieties of this basic stamp when you take into account changes in color, value, and production techniques.
One basic thing you can look for is whether or not the stamp was printed during the pre-decimalization era, which ended in 1971. Values for everything in both the UK and Ireland changed from the old system of 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound to a system of 100 pence to the pound.
The reason there are so many color varieties is that the basic design of the stamps hasn’t changed. Only the colors and denomination have changed in the image since the series started, though different inks, production processes and security features create subtle differences.
The Machins depicted in this example were issued on March 5, 1969, in the pre-decimalization era. All are available for purchase on StampStore.
There were 14 colors in the initial printing and the number has gone up since then. Many older stamps are still used to send mail, so postal workers have to carefully pay attention to color, as do collectors! In fact, these days automated mail scanners use the color and the regularity of Machin series stamps to efficiently sort the mail.
The Queen Likes It
The government has tried to change the image on at least three separate occasions. However, despite her supposed disdain for the design in "The Crown," the actual Queen Elizabeth has turned down the design change each time. The first suggested change happened in 1981 when another effigy was used for new coinage. The Royal Mail wanted to update the stamps by 1983 for the 30th anniversary of her coronation. The Queen refused, saying she was content with the image.
In 1985, alternative images were finalized but, in accordance with the law, Machin had to approve of the modifications. He was peeved that he wasn’t involved in the process and refused to allow the changes.
Finally, in 1990, another design was proposed to mark the 150th anniversary of the Penny Black stamp. However, the Queen quashed those changes. Since then, the design has stayed.
Did You Attend Our Summer Seminar?
Those of you who are members of the APS and were lucky enough to join the course may remember that our 2019 Summer Seminar on Philately included a popular course about this series of stamps. The two-day course was presented by Steve McGill, an accredited APS philatelic judge.
If you’re a collector with a love of things from the United Kingdom, you could have an excellent time hunting down different varieties of the Machin series stamps. Plus, there are many commemorative stamps issued by Royal Mail that you can order, including a quite lovely series of sketches by Leonardo da Vinci.
If you want to begin collecting Machin stamps, you can see what collectors have to offer by visiting the APS StampStore and choosing "Machins" in the Stamp Type field. Collect some Machin stamps to start your UK stamp collecting journey today!