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Did you know? - Arnold Machin - the sculptor of the "Queen's Head" was born in Stoke-on-Trent

Arnold Machin  R.A. O.B.E. 1911-1999

  Arnold Machin is renowned for the creation of the British postage stamp portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

It has been reproduced more times than any other image in history, with more than 200 billion copies having been printed.


Arnold Machin was born into a family of 12 at Oak Hill, Stoke-on-Trent on the 30th September 1911, the year that the Titanic was launched (captained by Edward Smith, also a son of Stoke-on-Trent). Soon after his birth the family moved to nearby Trent Vale.

His father was a freelance modeller and made Arnold his first set of modelling tools. His elder brother, Will, worked with his father after leaving school, and they both worked in a shed at the bottom of their backyard. They both tried to survive by producing small models for the pottery industry, but they couldn't make it cost effective and eventually had to find more reliable jobs. Will worked as a modeller at a local factory, and their father worked as a turner at Buller's Porcelain Factory.

Arnold started work at the age of 14 as an apprentice china painter at the Minton China Factory, where he stayed for seven years. During the Depression he learnt to sculpt at the Art School in Stoke-on-Trent.

Herbert Minton Building (former Art School)
Herbert Minton Building (former Art School)

He later moved to the Derby School of Art, and in 1937 to the Royal Academy in London. After spending the Second World War as a conscientious objector, he returned to modelling and sculpture.

Machin was retained by Wedgwood as a designer in 1940, but work for Voluntary Service for Peace in London during the Second World War led to Machin’s imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs for twelve months as a conscientious objector. In 1943 he returned to his beloved modelling and sculpture, initially at Wedgwood, with many of his creations becoming prized collectors items, such as his sculptures “St. John the Baptist”, “The Annunciation” and “Spring”

Taurus, the Zodiac Bull
Taurus, the Zodiac Bull
Considered to be Arnold Machin’s most
successful Wedgwood design, incorporated simplified moulding
techniques for production by unskilled potters during the years of World War II.

A pair of chess pieces sculpted by Arnold Machin and manufactured by Wedgwood in black basalt.
A pair of chess pieces sculpted by Arnold Machin
and manufactured by Wedgwood in black basalt.



The Annunciation (Two Figures)  c 1944 by Arnold Machin
The Annunciation (Two Figures)  c 1944 by Arnold Machin
part of the Tate collection

School of Art, Queen Street, Burslem
School of Art, Queen Street, Burslem


Around 1945, Arnold had thoughts of becoming an art teacher and taught part-time at Burslem School of Art.

In 1946 he was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy. Then in 1959, following in the footsteps of John Flaxman RA, who had produced models for Wedgwood in his youth, Machin became Master of Sculpture at the Royal Academy School, a position he held until 1967 - the longest-serving member of the Academy.

He was elected an Academician in 1956 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

In 1949 Arnold married Pat Newton and they bought a house at The Villas in Stoke. Arnold used a long, narrow greenhouse for his studio, and Pat had a room at the top of the house as hers. They made Stoke their base, and Arnold would drive down weekly to London where he kept his small studio on. Their son, Francis, was born in November 1949.


House - no. 15 The Villas, Stoke
House - no. 15 The Villas, Stoke-on-Trent
the home of Arnold & Pat Machin

Arnold Machin was a quiet man with strong beliefs. He made national news in 1956 when he chained himself to a gas lamp at the Villas, Stoke-on-Trent, which was destined to be replaced by a concrete electric post, declaring that this stand was part of a growing campaign against the spread of "Subtopia" (modernism) being led against Sir Hugh Casson.


Mr Machin accepts a lamp-post
(Curlicues and all)

THERE'S a gas lamp at the bottom of sculptor Arnold Machin's garden. A very fine example of early Victorian ironwork, complete -with curlicues and a one and a half hundredweight chunk of stone firmly attached to its base.

Mr. Machin "won" it at Stoke-on-Trent yesterday after his wife had chained him to it. It was all part of his protest against the encroachment of subtopia into the Victorian backwater in which he lives. The lamp-post used to stand In the middle of the estate of 24 Victorian houses called "The Villas."

Yesterday Mr. Machin, who lives in one of the villas, heard that a gang of workmen were coming to pull it down and replace It with an electric standard-concrete, pre-stressed, streamlined.

I forbid you

So for six hours Mr. Machin  - 46 years old, a little thin on top - sat with his back against the lamp. Beside him sat his artist wife, 34-year-old Patricia. They held an umbrella over their heads to shield them from the sun. They read a book: "The Seven Lamps of Architecture," by Ruskin.

Mr. Machin proclaimed to the workmen: " I forbid you, as a token protest on my part, to remove this ornamental gas-lamp centrepiece."

Politely, the workmen withdrew. They held a conference. They sent for the city surveyor, Mr. D. F. Brewster. Mr. Machin  turned to a chapter called " The Lamp of Beauty."

A police car arrived with a chief-inspector and a sergeant. Mr. Machin reacted to that by, embracing the standard with his arms. Patricia slipped a padlock and chain over his wrists.

Enter the crane

Mr. Machln proclaimed to the police: "This is my protest against the destruction of all the beautiful things which is going on in this country."

There was another conference, and Mr. Machin announced: "I am to be allowed to have the gas lamp put up in my garden."

Patricia unlocked him. A mobile crane hauled the lamp out of the ground, trundled it 40 yards to Mr. Machin's house; and dropped it neatly outside his front gate.

"I shall put a plaque on it recording the events of today." said Mr. Machin. -" It will be a memorial to the stupidity of the modern Subtopian age."

"We will grow roses up it, too," said Patricia. But that 1½cwt. chunk of stone on the bottom is going to cause them some trouble. The sculptor whose art work stands in the Tate has got to start digging.

Said Patricia: "It's going to need a pretty big hole, but we'll get it up somewhere."

Daily Mail, 12 July 1956

photo in 2000 of the lamppost (by now moved back to its original position) which caused Arnold Machin's protest in 1956

Coins and Stamps

As an accomplished and acclaimed sculpture Machin was asked in 1964 to design a new effigy of the Queen for the decimal coinage, which was to be introduced from 1968; this effigy was used for all British coins until 1984 (it was still on coins of New Zealand and Australia in 1985 and it remained on Canada's coinage until 1989.)

In 1965 Machin was asked with four other artists to submit 'renderings' of The Queen’s head for a new stamp design. Machin beat the competition and produced the final portrait of The Queen.

When essays were shown to The Queen the head was couped, or cut off at the neck. She said that she would prefer a corsage and Machin obliged, creating the final, classic bust. The Queen chose a dark olive-sepia shade for the inland letter rate, deliberately to emulate the colour of the Penny Black. The first stamps with the new head were issued in June 1967.

Machin had been successfully working on the head for the new, as yet un-issued, decimal coinage. Photographs taken by Lord Snowdon were the source for the new coins, and were now used for the new stamp profile. 



Although stamps are a form of graphic design that we interact with daily, it is rare that we ever get to see the faces of those that have created them. This makes a commemorative miniature sheet of stamps issued in 2007 particularly significant, for it bears the face of Arnold Machin, the artist behind the iconic image of the Queen that has graced the UK’s stamps since 1967. The stamps were released last week on June 5, 40 years after the first stamps went on sale.

“Arnold Machin created probably the world’s most reproduced work of art with his classic sculpture of the Queen,” says Julietta Edgar, head of special stamps at Royal Mail. “Like many examples of great design, simplicity was the key to its success. We wanted to celebrate this important milestone in the life of a true British icon.”


Arnold Machin plaster cast used for image of Queen on stamps is found

Of the original casts, three are held by the Royal Mail. A fourth was recently discovered in the studio at the family home at Garmelow Manor, near Stafford, Staffs

"An original cast of the most-reproduced work of art in history, a portrait bust of the Queen, which has appeared on more than 320 billion Royal Mail stamps printed since 1968, has been discovered in a cupboard in an artist’s studio. The iconic image was created by the former Wedgwood designer Arnold Machin in 1966 and chosen personally by the Queen from works by five artists. The 18in (46cm) by 16in (41cm) cast found in Machin’s studio at the family home in Garmelow Manor, near Stafford, is one of only four surviving originals."

Times on-line September 4, 2008

Garmelow Manor at Eccleshall, near Stafford was sculptor Arnold Machin’s home for many years until his death in 1999

This former post office in Newcastle-under-Lyme opened as a pub in 2002 and bears the name of Arnold Machine - the Stoke-on-Trent-born sculptor who designed the portrait of the queen which has appeared on postage stamps since 1967, and the image of the queen’s head for the first decimal coins.



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