photo of Arnold (centre) with his bas relief)

ARNOLD MACHIN, {centre} the sculptor who has died aged 87, designed the portrait of the Queen which has appeared on postage stamps since 1967 and has become probably the most reproduced portrait of all time; he also designed the image of the Queen's head for the first decimal coins. The Royal Mail has lost count of the number of "Machins" circulated since they first appeared in pre-decimal Britain. A conservative estimate would be 60 billion, and production is still in full spate.

Both stamps and coinage bear the hallmark of Machin's best work, depicting a young but regal Queen, with clear lines and great subtlety of shading. In each case Machin began with a sculpture; with the stamps, though, the shading proved hard to achieve: "When we came to photograph the relief," Machin recalled, "the lights in the studio were too bright. So we shot it outside on a misty day, using an old fashioned camera." The resulting stamp had all extraneous decoration and words removed - including the traditional "Postage and Revenue" - to leave simply the portrait of the Sovereign and the postal value. Edward Short, Postmaster General at the time of its issue, predicted that it would become a classic, and his judgment has been wholly vindicated.

Machin's explanation for the design's popularity was simple: "Because it [the Queen's head] wasn't a photograph, it was more acceptable as a symbol and could survive without looking ridiculous." His design has remained unchanged for more than three decades. The Machin boasts its own 650-strong collectors' club, and a number of specialist magazines and albums cover more than 2,000 variations. The rarest example is priced at more than 25,000 times its face value; in 1986 a philatelist at Luton was fined 30,000 for forging prime examples. The stamp has survived decimalisation and runaway inflation and has seen off five Prime Ministers - and still there are no plans to change it.

Like many gifted sculptors, Machin combined his creative work with teaching. From 1951 he was a tutor at the Royal College of Art, and from 1958 to 1967 he was Master of Sculpture at the Royal Academy School. It was at the RCA that he entered the culture of design that was to bring him his most celebrated, if not his most lucrative, commissions. (Had Machin been paid by the sheet for his stamps, he would have become an extremely rich man; as it was he received only a flat fee). Though Machin entered art school at a time when sculptors were experimenting with streamlined forms in the style of Henry Moore, or attempting, like Reg Butler, to combine passion with outright modernism, he opted for the classical approach, both as to technique and the use of materials. Later, he would deplore the excesses of modernism, and in 1996, as an elder statesman of the Royal Academy, he spoke out against the Sensations exhibition, and against the Academy's exhibitions secretary, Norman Rosenthal, for his part in staging it.

Arnold Machin was born on September 30 1911 at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He early showed artistic promise and from school progressed to Stoke School of Art, Derby School of Art and the Royal College of Art, where in 1940 he won the Silver Medal and a Travelling Scholarship for Sculpture. In 1943 the Tate Gallery bought two of Machin's terracottas, John the Baptist and The Annunciation; in 1947 his terracotta Spring was bought by the Royal Academy, under the Chantrey Bequest, and that year he became an Associate of the RA. He was elected an Academician in 1956, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

Machin stamp Having competed for a number of coin designs, Machin was chosen in 1964 to design a new effigy of the Queen for the Royal Mint. His representation was applied to the first range of decimal coins which entered circulation between 1968 and the changeover in 1971. He went on to design the commemorative Crown coins for the Royal Silver Wedding in 1972 and the Silver Jubilee of 1977. The Machin image appeared on all coins minted until 1984, when it was replaced with a portrait of the Queen by Raphael Maklouf. From coins it was a short step to stamps. In 1966 the Queen approved Machin's design to replace the treatment by Dorothy Wilding, which had been used since her accession. The new design made its first appearance on the 4d olive-brown sepia first-class stamp in March 1967. Machin undertook several commissions for Royal Worcester Porcelain and - fittingly for a sculptor with roots in the Potteries - executed bas-relief portraits of the Royal Family for Wedgwood.

In later life, he lived at Garmelow Manor, near Eccleshall, Staffordshire, where he designed gardens with grottos and cascades. He was appointed OBE in 1965. Machin married, in 1949, Patricia Newton; they had a son.

Obituary: UK Daily Telegraph 1999
Proper Machin philately sites: Larry Rosenblum Bob Hunt Robin Harris Linns stamps and Great Britain Philatelic Society

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