London 2020 Private Treaty Sale

Lot 52

Great Britain, 1997, Queen Elizabeth II, deep green (as used for 2p), light grey (as used for the 29p), flame (as used for 1st class, undenominated trials), full panes of 100, a limited supply of these were discovered, o.g., never hinged, Very Fine; each with photocopies of 2017 R.P.S.L. certificates that were issued for the discovery set of sheets.

Machin trials discovered after 20 years

Sheets of three trials of the Machin head, produced in 1997, have come to light in this the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Arnold Machin's iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Machin definitives were first printed in lithography in 1980 as Royal Mail expanded its range of suppliers. However, by the mid-1990s it had decided that all the standard definitives should be printed in gravure. At the time The House of Questa, based in south London, did not have gravure capability.

As the company wished to participate in all future tenders for Royal Mail stamps, whether printed by litho or gravure, in gummed or self-adhesive versions in sheets or stamp booklets, it decided to make a major investment in a gravure press and an automated booklet maker. To achieve the best, Questa partnered with a number of highly qualified and renowned organisations to deliver the skills, processes and technology required to ensure it would be ready for production in less than 18 months.

Courvoisier, based in Switzerland, was at that time arguably the finest gravure stamp printer in Europe. The company agreed to assist Questa with technical advice and cylinder making. As part of this process Royal Mail gave permission for a print trial at Courvoisier using the Machin head: the original material to enable the trial to take place was supplied by Questa. Part of the thinking at the time was that Courvoisier might undertake the production of the cylinders needed for final stamp printing on behalf of Questa, but this did not materialise.

The undenominated trials were produced in October 1997 in sheets of 100 (from larger sheets of 200 guillotined in two) with the Courvoisier imprint along the vertical margins. They exist in three colours: deep green (as used for the 2p), light grey (as used at the time for the 29p), and flame (as used for 1st class). Courvoisier had printed the then current Kenya definitives, these being of the same overall size as the Machin definitives. As a consequence, the trials were printed on coated paper without phosphor bands, and have perforation 15 x 14. However, the stamp image is slightly smaller than that used on Machin definitives.

Barry Robinson, then Design Director of Royal Mail, visited Courvoisier to see the preparations. It is believed the trial sheets were printed on one of the small gravure printing presses at Courvoisier, some being printed during the visit.

The gravure press and the automated booklet line were produced by ATN in France. The new machinery would not fit within Questa's original base in Camberwell: the move to Byfleet was part of the development.

Courvoisier was founded in 1880 and started printing stamps in 1937. It was noted for the high quality of its photogravure work, but sadly it ran into financial difficulties and ceased trading in 2001.

Price: $9,500.

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