In The Spotlight

Larry Rosenblum and David Alderfer interview
Stamp Designer Jeffery Matthews, MBE, FCSD, FRSA

Jeffery Matthews at The Stamp Show 2000 Jeffery Matthews receiving the MBE
At left, a photograph of Jeffery Matthews at The Stamp Show 2000 in London, May, 2000, taken by Larry Rosenblum. His visit was sponsored by De La Rue Security Print, and behind him is a display with some of the stamps he has designed for Royal Mail.

At right, Jeffery Matthews receiving the MBE (Member British Empire) award from Queen Elizabeth II on June 9, 2004. Matthews was given the award at the beginning of 2004 “for services to graphic design, particularly postage stamps.”

Also in 2004, Jeffery Matthews won Royal Mail’s Rowland Hill Award for Outstanding Contribution to Stamps. The Rowland Hill Awards were presented annually by Royal Mail to recognize achievement in the philatelic world. Matthews also won the Phillips Gold Medal for Stamp Design, a medal that is only presented once every five years. Read more about Matthews here. See all the colors he created here.


Published in the October 2000 issue of The Chronicle, the journal of the Great Britain Collectors Club. Reprinted by permission.

Alderfer: I associate you with the colors and numerals of the Machin series. When did you get pulled in on the color palette and why?

Matthews: That was in the 80s, I believe, you’ll have to check on the actual date. The fundamental reason for it was that the design director at the time appreciated that the original intention of Arnold Machin was to have a light-toned Queen’s head on a dark background. And I concurred with that absolutely because I had often felt very critical of the light backgrounds and the gradated background that had been used. I can see why Royal Mail went to that because it meant that they could get three varieties out of one color printing, take ultramarine blue, there would be a dark background, gradated background, and a light background. Simple, wasn’t it? It meant that they would have such a range of colors.


Machin Colors
3p Machin with dark background 8 1/2p Machin with gradated background 12 1/2p Machin with dark portrait on light background 2p Machin with dark Matthews color 43p Machin with dark Matthews color
The early low-value decimal Machins had three color schemes, a light head on a dark background (such as the 3p), a light head on a gradated background (such as the 8 1/2p) and a dark head on a light background (such as the 12 1/2p). This variation led to some unacceptable colors, and Jeffery Matthews was brought in by Royal Mail to develop a consistent palette of colors that retained Arnold Machin’s original concept of a light head on a dark background. Matthews developed a palette of 30 colors. Two examples are the 2p green and 43p brown Machins.


Not withstanding that, we felt it was worth the effort to try to get back to Machin’s original concept of the strong self-color with the light head, and there’s the reason why I got called in. So in the first instance, we decided that probably a palette of about 15 colors would meet the requirements. I’m not completely conversant with all the operational problems, but one of the operational problems at that time was that as soon as there was a tariff change, particularly with the most-used denominations, they always had to bring in another pair of colors and keep the original pair out of circulation for a certain amount of time.

Anyway, I thought it was going to be quite difficult to produce even 15 or 16 colors, and in fact it was because we had to leave yellow out of the story altogether. Yellow was too light, naturally, and it is also not a good operational color. However, I produced my first batch of colors, and then for some reason or other it soon turned out that I had to do a further range. We ended up ultimately with about 30, actually 28 colors with light and dark gray which makes 30. And then, in fact, only about 3 years ago, I did an extra 3 colors, one of which is on the miniature sheet [released at The Stamp Show 2000], the grey blue. (Note: It is the background color of the label showing the palette. See the image below. It was also used for the 40p definitive issued earlier in the year.) The other two are still in reserve and have not been used yet. (Update: All three colors have now been used. See the illustration below and see the full palette of 34 colors here.)

Rosenblum: Can you say what those two are?

Matthews: Yes, one was quite a bright pink. We just called it pink. And an orange. So there’s a pink, an orange, and a grey blue in my last offerings.

Rosenblum: That orange is significantly different than the flame?

Matthews: Yes, really bright orange.


New Colors
40p Machin in Matthews' grey blue color 9p Machin in Matthews' orange color 16p Machin in Matthews' pink color 1 pound Machin in Matthews' ruby color
The three new colors that Matthews developed have now all been used. The grey blue was first used for the 40p issued on April 25, 2000. The orange was used for the 9p issued on April 5, 2005. The pink was used for the 16p issued on March 27, 2007.

Matthews subsequently designed another color, ruby, for use on the £1 Machin issued on June 5, 2007 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Machin series.


Rosenblum: You mentioned that yellow is a problematic color because it is light and because of the sensing equipment. Your old gold color is quite yellowish…

Matthews: I would say that it is as near as I can get to yellow and still have a decent amount of tone value. When I use the word tone, I mean lightness and darkness. One of the very first stamps was very dark, a sepia. (Note: It was the first issued Machin, the the 4d.) It is too dark for operational purposes because it doesn’t show the postmark too well. I just know that they weren’t keen on extraordinarily dark colors. My own predilection would be for very rich dark colors, but I’ve gone slightly more middle of the road in toning, so nothing is very, very dark, and nothing is particularly light.

Rosenblum: From your batch of colors, the dark gray is no longer used.

Matthews: That’s right. I quite liked the dark gray, but obviously it hides the cancellations.

Rosenblum: That’s the same problem they were worried about 160 years ago with the Penny Black.

Matthews: Yes, hence the red [cancellation] mark.

Rosenblum: And then, of course, the Penny Red.

Matthews: So they couldn’t get it right even then. That started the struggle.

Alderfer: When you developed your color palette, did you see color proofs?

Matthews: Oh yes. The development of the colors is quite interesting, really. I would say right now that the end results are incredibly close to my original watercolor. When I say watercolor, I mean the opaque color, gouache, as opposed to a transparent water color. Of course, the mixed inks are transparent, the paper shows through. So the end result is extremely close, the best that I could have hoped for, really, giving consideration to the fact that it was very much a chemistry job producing those inks. They had to be light-fast, and there were all sorts of different requirements that I know nothing of.

Yes, I did see some of the trials, and they also printed up a little stamp format with a head on it, I don’t know whose head it was supposed to be, Harrison’s head, I think or something. I did see the different smears of ink as they have been developed and eventually saw the first trials. It’s very good to see how close they tried to get. It’s quite a leap, really, from interpreting an opaque artist’s color to a transparent ink on paper and to be so true to it; it is very good.

Rosenblum: Have they done that again for the most recent three colors?

Matthews: I haven’t see those. I don’t even know for sure…I think the grey blue has been implemented, because it’s on the miniature sheet. I think it is going to be one of the new values.

Rosenblum: It’s the 40p that was issued last month. [See image above.]

Matthews: You’re ahead of me! I don’t think the pink or the orange have gotten to that stage yet. They might not have left the stage of only being my color. They are a reserved pair, which will no doubt make their appearance.

Alderfer: You redesigned the regional symbols.

Rosenblum: You did the originals, too, is that correct?

Matthews: Yes, going back, when decimalization came about, that’s when I did the originals of what they then called the regionals, now called the countries. I redefined those, I don’t remember the dates, but yes, I did redraw them because they started to get untidy. Whereas the original ones were all printed by Harrisons, later on for various reasons unknown to me, other printers got involved. Some of those were litho printers as opposed to gravure printers. The original [design], of course, was done for gravure, and I had also earlier done the presentation packs for the mint stamps, and I had drawn the same symbols on the packs. It was suddenly realized that some printer had taken the drawings off the packs and used them for stamps! That was certainly one reason for the many varieties that we saw.

And so again, we thought, oh dear, it’s time we tightened up this exercise and so eventually I redrew [them] specifically for all printers, and I took into consideration the varying [printing] processes. Clearly there are some noticeable differences in detail. People look at the shape of the eye of the lion or something.

Two Types of Regional Emblems for Scotland
Scotland 13p Type 1 Scotland 13p Type 2
Enlargement of Type 1 emblem Enlargement of Type 2 emblem
At left is the original Scotland emblem shown on a 13p stamp. The eye is a solid circle with a dot in it. Collectors refer to this as a Type 1 emblem.

At right is the redrawn Scotland emblem on a later 13p stamp. The eye has a slit that goes through to the front of the head. The feathers have a different shape. This is known as Type 2.


One of the main differences to me was on the Irish one, the Northern Ireland stamp. In my original drawing for gravure, when I did the royal crown above the star and hand, I only put six pearls on each arch. That flies in the face of heraldic convention, which is that you have nine pearls on each arch of the royal crown. It wasn’t a mistake on my part, but I was very concerned that somehow, in those comparatively early days, even with gravure, they weren’t able to treat such fine detail as they are now. However, when I redrew, I thought I must be more strictly correct. And also the technical prowess of the various printers had improved that much that they all coped with the nine pearls on each frame perfectly well. There’s the occasional join, or closure, but I think it works mostly, technically.

Alderfer: You also redesigned the numerals.

Matthews: Yes, there’s quite a good story behind that. When Arnold Machin produced his new image, I think the majority of the values were single figure, there might have been a one [shilling] and six [pence]…

Rosenblum: Yes, there was a one and six and a one and nine.

Matthews: Mostly it was perfectly acceptable in the position that he put the head, and the numerals fit. I know there were some experiments with numerals on the other side, but ultimately they were on the left as you look at it. Now that went on fairly happily, [but when the decimal low values were issued] they then did all the values in one of Eric Gill’s typefaces, Perpetua. Now Perpetua was a very beautiful, classic typeface, but it had in its numerals a zero that was a perfect circle, as is the “o” in the alphabet. That was Mr. Gill’s concept. This was fine until we came to the time when the 10 pence became a small stamp.

As soon as they made it a low value, because it was a different format, this huge zero didn’t fit comfortably. So my very first task was to redraw the zero. So I did a narrow, condensed zero to accord with the rest of the numerals, dealing with the problem of 10 on the small format, low value size. [Note: This zero was used on the small 10p and 20p issued in 1976.]


Three Versions of the Numeral “0”
Engraved large size 10p Machin 10p small bicolor Machin 10p small Machin with Type 1 value 10p small Machin with Type 2 value
The first 10p Machin (shown at left), issued in 1970 in preparation for decimalization in early 1971, was engraved. Since it was considered a high value, it was larger in size than the low values. The typeface chosen was Eric Gill’s Perpetua, which includes a very round numeral zero.

The same typeface was used when the 10p was converted to the normal size (second image) for low value definitives and printed by photogravure. Because of the reduced size, the numeral no longer fit comfortably in the available space.

Jeffery Matthews was asked to redesign the numeral zero so that it fit in the smaller space. This zero (third stamp) has the narrowest part of the numeral at the top left and bottom right.

Subsequently, Matthews designed a totally new typeface with narrower numerals (shown at right). This allowed higher values, such as 20 1/2p, to fit in the available space. This zero has its thinnest part at top and bottom.


Then came inflation and we started getting quite high values in monetary terms as low value stamps. And we were also adopting the ludicrous format of using the fraction half in decimal. So we actually got faced with 20 1/2p. It wouldn’t fit. We had foreseen that some of these larger values would not fit, and I believe by then I had been asked if I would redraw the font completely. That’s what I then did. And that has remained in operation to the present time. I redrew slightly more condensed figures. Fortunately, we got rid of this anomaly of the half.


And in the main, it has worked. Except it is still a bit unhappy, even now, I think, on some of the high values that are now in a small format (see image below). You’ve got one point five zero and a pound sign, and it’s a little bit tight on to the Queen’s bust. I’m not sure that Enschedé quite perfectly followed my layout for this. I don’t remember leaving it quite as tight as they’ve got it. I think I had nudged the whole thing a bit nearer to the left margin, but it got away from me, as they say.


Indicators and Symbols Designed by Matthews
1st and E non-denominated Machins 2nd non-denominated Machin Engraved £1.50 Machin
Matthews designed the service indicators used on non-value indicated (NVI) stamps. The indicators for first-class service (“1st”) and service to Europe (“E”) are shown on the left in a se-tenant pair. The indicator for second-class service (“2nd”) is shown in the middle. Machin also designed the pound symbol used for the small high-value Machins issued in 1999. He combined the new symbol with his existing font to create the denominations for the high values. The £1.50 is shown on the right.


Rosenblum: Did you design the additional symbols that have been used since the originals, like the letters for the 1st and 2nd

Matthews: Yes, I did.

Rosenblum: The pound sign.

Alderfer: And the ‘E’ for the European rate

Matthews: Yes. I have recently given up this task. I felt it appropriate with my advancing years. Royal Mail entrusted me for many, many years with a whole lot of original material which I had created, such as the numerals, for example, the original drawings, the negatives, and what have you, and so as soon as there was a tariff change envisaged, I would get a little message to prepare x,y,z [creating the new pairs of numerals needed for the new values]. And I would do this happily, but I thought now that the time has come to hand it all back, for them to go to somebody new, to look after the implementation of this. But yes, I did the pound sign and the ‘E.’ Where the changeover has come is with the new Welsh definitives [issued in June, 1999], that is where whoever has taken over, in the bilingual version.

Rosenblum: How about the ‘E’ on the regions, which is sans serif.

Matthews: Anything that looks different, the sans serif one, that has nothing to do with me.

Rosenblum: This newest miniature sheet that is being called the Matthews sheet. You designed this?

Matthews: Yes.

The Jeffery Matthews Souvenir Sheet

Alderfer: It has his initials on the palette, JM.

Matthews: The design director and I happened to be at a lunch party at Saint James’s Palace. It was actually the retirement of the Duke of Edinburgh from the Royal Mint Advisory; he chaired it for 47 years or something. It was after this lunch that Barry Robinson, the design director for Royal Mail, and I were walking. He was heading back to the office and I was going to enjoy myself at the Tate and the National Gallery. He said to me, we have a problem, Jeffery, the whole concept of design for the stamps for 2000 is underway and the design is already chosen to use a certain number of colors from your palette and we really wonder what to do. They’d obviously got the idea of a miniature sheet, they wanted to include a couple of labels and they really weren’t quite sure what to do yet. He said, there’s your monogram. I said, oh yeah. It was all very kind of offbeat. He went his way and I went my way and that’s it.

As the afternoon wore on, I thought, Barry Robinson, he’s actually asking me if I have some ideas about this. So, I phoned him up the next morning and said, Barry, are you actually asking me to do something with the miniature sheet. Yes, Jeffery, I am. Anyway, with no more ado, the powers that be had already selected the stamps which they wished to show on it, so he in due course sent me strips of the stamps, and the format had been arrived at more or less. But I chose how I wanted to arrange the colors, and I knew they wished to bring in these two new colors, the red and the gray-blue. And then really, it stuck in my head that he had said, your monogram, so I said well, I wouldn’t have thought of that myself, it would have been a bit too preposterous an idea, but I liked it all the same. Then I thought, well, I’ll be perfectly literal about it, I will do the Jeffery Matthews palette, so I thought of the palette shape, and put the colors that were going to be shown on the sheet. The top label is an abstraction of the Post Office coat of arms. It shows the shield and crest of the Post Office. There is a fuller coat of arms, but I adapted it to fit the monochrome rendition, and so it was really a bit of a laid back sort of approach. But Barry has got a very laid back approach to briefing anyway. So I took the initiative.

Continued on page 2

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