In The Spotlight

GBCC President Gordon Milne interviews Douglas Myall, Machin Expert

Published in the April, 1999 issue of The Chronicle, the journal of the Great Britain Collectors Club. Reprinted by permission.

Click here for a picture of Douglas Myall.

Milne: First of all, Douglas, a huge Thank You for agreeing to be the first person put “In the Spotlight” for this new “Chronicle” feature. This expression of gratitude comes both from me, personally, and also the legion of “Machin Maniacs” this side of the pond who refer to you in their letters and e-mails to me as anything from “God” to “Guru,” and clearly (and understandably) revere and respect you and each and every word that you write.

The first question I have for you is a personal one ... where and when were you born?

Myall: I was born in Essex, England on 17 December 1922.

Milne: Have you spent all your time in Bridport, Dorset?

Myall: We moved to Bridport on my retirement in 1983.

Milne: “Deegam” - the name that you have made synonymous with the collecting of the Machin definitive series - is clearly an acronym of your initials. The “D” for Douglas and the “M” for Myall are obvious, but some enquiring minds do seem to want to know what the “G” and the “A” stand for.

Myall: George and Albert. Royal names — King George and Prince Albert — were popular at the time I was born.

Milne: Did you ever have the honor of meeting Arnold Machin who passed away earlier this year? If so, when and where?

Myall: I met him briefly twice but never had the opportunity of a long chat.

Milne: Was he aware of the work that you do?

Myall: Yes, a copy of the first edition of the Handbook was donated to him.

Milne: Before you became the prolific philatelic writer that you are today, in which area did your career lay?

Myall: The British Civil Service. My last posting was head of the Trade Marks Registry at the Patents Office with the rank of Assistant Secretary.

Milne: When did you start collecting stamps, and what prompted it?

Myall: While working at the office of Inspector of Foreign Dividends I joined in the distribution of stamps from inward mail and collected the Commonwealth.

Milne: What led you to concentrate on the Machins and make that pursuit your specialty?

Myall: After I left the IFD, I started collecting the Wildings and a spell in the Inland Revenue stamping department gave me an interest in security printing. By the time the Machins arrived, I had begun to specialise and to write for stamp magazines. The advent of the Machins created a lot of interest. I thought from the beginning that its simple classical appeal would ensure a long life for it. I helped found the two GB Study Circles devoted to them. Fulfilling the posts of Editor of one and President of the other meant that it became more than just a passing obligation and my writing commitments increased. As Editor, I took a particular interest in cataloguing. I devised several systems for the booklet club and wrote all six editions of the Bookmark Catalogue. Over time, I found that existing catalogues for singles did not cater for certain aspects of Machins which appealed to me, while the development of the Guidec Catalogue (by the British Decimal Stamps Study Circle, now the Modern British Philatelic Circle ) took a divergent path. After several failed attempts to persuade Stanley Gibbons to include some of my parameters (value settings, direction of printing etc.) in their Specialised Catalogue, I decided that the only way to keep tabs on everything was to create my own catalogue. Early efforts were prepared on an IBM Selectric and a daisywheel printer. The Handbook evolved after I had acquired a computer, a laser printer and some skill with typesetting and desktop publishing.

Milne: What else, if anything, do you personally collect?

Myall: At one time I collected GB perfins and devised a catalogue system for them (never published). (Note: Machin perfins are included in the third edition of the Handbook.) I still collect Victorian perfins on cover. I do not collect anything else, but I have other hobbies, chiefly macro-photography of insects (to get me out of the house periodically).

Milne: Do you have your own personal collection of Machins?

Myall: Yes. In fact I have several. Chief among them must, I think, be a reference collection of singles on the lines of the Handbook. I have separate collections at levels 1 and 3/3a.

Milne: A GBCC member asks: “How many different post offices or other sources must be visited to ensure completeness” and with this went the question many other American-based collectors posed (in a combination of envy and frustration), namely: “With so many of your likely sources not readily available to collectors this side of the Atlantic, what’s your advice on the best way to get all the issues and varieties?”

Myall: I do not think that completeness can ever be achieved. I, myself, am not complete and do not expect ever to be. Indeed, I would argue that attempts to be so simply put unnecessary pressure on one. Collecting should be fun, never a burden. Anyone starting now has a daunting task, indeed, if completeness is the aim. It is better to choose a limited field and get to know it thoroughly. While the mass of information in the Handbook may seem off-putting to some, I firmly believe that one cannot have too much information. No matter what limits you set to your Machin collecting, the Handbook will always tell you which stamps are within them and which are not.

45p Machin cylinder single
This image, photographically cropped from a block, shows a cylinder single with the margin format preferred by Machin collectors. The cylinder number identifies the particular printing cylinder used for this stamp; the dot after it signifies that this is the right-hand pane of the two side-by-side panes printed by the cylinder.

As to sources of material, there are several. Very little of mine has been obtained from post offices, although looking through the stock of a compliant sub-postmaster provides an occasional lucky dip. More regular sources are: a standing order with the Edinburgh Bureau (I get cylinder singles from there — although they will not supply particular cylinder numbers or cylinder booklet panes); a new issue service with a specialist dealer who can supply according to Deegam criteria (there are several who advertise in the Handbook — at one time I belonged to five of these!); auctions run by specialist clubs (it is worth joining several, just for this facility and the dues are modest) and exchanges with fellow collectors.

Milne: Do the different and minute details originate with Royal Mail or are they “discovered” by actually acquiring the stamp?

Myall: Very little information useful to the specialist is published by Royal Mail. Philately is run by marketing people who consider that they are selling a product, not a service. One of the best official sources is the British Philatelic Bulletin, and I regard this as essential reading. This is because the Editor is a collector himself, as was his immediate predecessor. Another useful source of information is the lists provided by the specialist dealers. If you don’t buy anything from them, they may make a small charge for supplying them, but this is worth it.

Over the past 30 years or so I have built up good contacts with officials and the printers and am often given information, perhaps in answer to specific questions, that may not be available elsewhere or may not become known until later. My policy has always been that, subject to the overriding rule that confidences must never be broken, as much information as possible should be given to fellow collectors rather than be kept to oneself to enhance one’s own collection.

Milne: How on earth do you find the time and effort to keep up to date with the Machins? And the follow-up: How many hours do you spend each week on your Machin study?

Myall: Having written about them since the beginning, I feel I have acquired an obligation to continue to do so. Originally, I wrote the “Bookmark Journal/Catalogues” and specialist articles for the Guidec. My interest in singles was always greater than that in booklets and I began sending friends copies of the lists showing how I organized my own collection. Knowledge of this just spread. After retirement, when I had more time, I began publishing Machin material and this took off when I acquired a computer and a desktop publishing set-up. I suppose I now spend five hours writing about Machins for every hour on my own collection. The hobby takes an average of 40 hours a week. My wife is very tolerant of this.

Milne: How do you store your stamps? Are they in albums? Boxes? And how, specifically, do you house the booklet panes?

Myall: Apart from my reference collections, much of my material is not written up. This can be an advantage since, with an ongoing subject, something new may be issued or acquired and may cause the subject to need re-writing. I am a great advocate of using Hagner [stock] sheets or similar as they give flexibility of re-arrangement at will and new material can be fitted in anywhere appropriate simply by adding a new page. It was the need to have an equally “mobile” method of writing up the singles collections that led to the development of Deegam Profiles. (Those for levels 2 and 3 have been published; there are also 12 sheets for level 1, which were written for the reference collection.)

The booklet pane reference collection is also kept in Hagner sheets. The window book collection, on the other hand, is fully written up to the end of 1995 and mounted on album pages. After that date, it is in drawers, awaiting the seventh Bookmark Catalogue. The “writing up” consists mainly of text laser-printed onto transparent adhesive (Avery) labels and cut up for sticking onto the pages.

Milne: Do you ever intend to produce a series of album pages for levels 1, 2 and 3?

Myall: Because of the way I keep my singles collections, I have not felt any need to design my own album pages for them. Apart from lack of time, I do not think it would be feasible to produce pages for commercial production if only because, at least at level 3, they would either be too detailed, drawing attention to gaps that could never be filled, or would be incomplete. With today’s ability to design and print one’s own bespoke pages by computer and laser printer, this is a subject probably best left to individual enterprise.

Milne: Stamp collectors the world over — and whatever their particular area of specialization — covet “completeness.” A self-confessed beginner asks: “How many stamps, as of now, are in a complete Machin collection, at each of the levels?”

Myall: As of March 17th, 1999 and taking into account the sheet and booklet issues known to be coming for the April tariff change, the numbers are:

Level 1: 359 (16 pre-decimal; 124 decimal National; 189 Regional; 5 1840 anniversary issue; 10 non-value indicated or NVI; 15 large format)

Level 2: 881 (52 pre-decimal; 443 decimal National; 6 Isle of Man; 93 Northern Ireland; 105 Scotland; 93 Wales; 13 1840 anniversary issue; 59 NVI, including large format; 17 large format value stamps)

Level 3/3a: This changes almost daily. I have not made an accurate count; but it is around 6000 - 7000, including the regionals. This is probably halved if level 3a items are omitted.

Milne: How can you distinguish which Machins are from coils (since they don’t have the straight edges US stamps do)?

Myall: All Machin coil stamps, apart from the self-adhesives, have been printed from specially-made cylinders in a continuous web [roll of paper] without transverse gutters. This is then re-reeled and slit by a line of wheel cutters into strips one stamp wide. (A full account of coil making is given in my QE2 Leader Catalogue.) This cutting operation means that stamps printed with upright images for vertical delivery coils have their long sides cut, and stamps printed with sideways images for horizontal delivery coils have their short sides cut. The other sides will have their perforations torn as each is separated from its neighbor when the coils are in use.

If one describes a cut perforation (having clean edges with no sign of tearing) as C and a torn perforation as T, the sequence is either TCTC for stamps torn from vertical coils or CTCT for stamps torn from horizontal coils. (The notation starts from the top edge of the stamp with the portrait upright, then continues around the stamp clockwise.) These sequences are unique to coil stamps. They do not occur on stamps from sheets or booklets. (Even the 39p stamps from DP183 — the only decimal pane of two definitives in existence — have a different sequence.) You can find further details of what I call the TCTC system in the Handbook beginning on page L3-14. (Note: All page references in this interview refer to the second edition of the Handbook.)

Milne: A member writes that when the Jeffery Matthews color scheme for Machins was revealed, he assumed that the confusing multiplicity of spontaneously named colors for Machins was over. But, still, each author, publisher and dealer seems to devise his/her own color names, which do not match those used by Royal Mail. He doesn’t know ash pink from rose adder from duck egg (he adds in a clear mix of dejection and dismay). Despite the Jeffery Matthews color scheme, are Machins still being produced in various distinct shades of that scheme?

2 1/2p Machin 11p Machin
These two Machins are both officially called “rose.” even though they are different from each other, and both are different from the color rose as defined in the Methuen Handbook of Colour. To clarify the situation, Douglas Myall refers to the 2 1/2p as “pale magenta” and the 11 1/2p as “pastel red.”

Myall: The subject of color naming is a very vexing one, without a solution in sight. I really don’t know why some editors use non-official names so widely. I prefer to use the names officially allocated unless there is a good reason not to do so. An example is preference for amethyst over rhododendron, explained at page L1-4 of the Handbook. Rhododendron is one of the colors from the Jeffery Matthews palette, but Jeffery did not name them. The number of occasions where I depart from names allocated by the Post Office are comparatively few. When choosing a name to fill a gap, or remove an anomaly in the official names, I use the Methuen Handbook of Colour as my guide. The official names for the decimal colors, including those from the Jeffery Matthews palette, were given on page 14 of the British Philatelic Bulletin for September 1991. However, there are some problems with it, including the awkward fact that some of them differ from what was announced at the time of issue. The official “rose” of the 2 1/2p and 11p are nothing like each other and neither is like the color generally accepted as rose (per Methuen); hence, these are described as “pale magenta” and “pastel red” respectively in Deegam. Again, the 6 1/2p of 1974 and the 4p of 1980 are both named peacock blue in the official list but are different colors. This is why I named the former “cerulean blue.” There are other comments on color naming in Deegam Reports 28 (page 78/98) and 29 (page 8/99). I have expanded on this subject in a revised account in the upcoming Handbook Supplement.

4p Machin 6.5p Machin
These two Machins are both officially called “peacock blue.” even though they are different from each other. To clarify the situation, Douglas Myall refers to the 4p as “turquoise” and the 6 1/2p as “cerulean blue.”

When it comes to shades, the subject is even more vexing. There are no official names and everyone is free to call them what he will. There is no agreed system by which anyone can identify a given shade by the name alone. It is purely subjective and words alone cannot suffice. Yet objective measurement or imagery, capable of being reproduced by a recipient does not seem to be possible at reasonable cost with current technology, whether derived by colorimeter, color scanner, Pantone numbers, etc. There are many causes of shades and my policy for them is explained on page L3-76 of the Handbook.

Milne: Another member also has problems/challenges with colors. Specifically, he asks: “How does one identify ‘new green’ from ‘deep green;’ ‘shocking pink’ from ‘bright magenta;’ or the three different blacks used on the 75p value?”

Myall: I think “new green” and “deep green” are different names for the same color used by different publishers. “Shocking pink” is a Matthews color although it is omitted from the Bulletin list referred to above. It has been used only for the 3p of 1989 and the 39p of 1996. (Note: It was subsequently used for the 7p of 2004.) I don’t know who uses “bright magenta” or for what stamp. I use “pale magenta” for the 2 1/2p of 1971 for the previously given reason. It is nothing like “shocking pink.”

Milne: What is the best way to identify Machin colors and shades? A member notes that the frequently used color “flame” isn’t on any of the charts he’s got at all! One suggestion he offers is to have a color chart published periodically — say, annually, maybe — for all the Machin issues. Would this be practicable?

Myall: I think that the naming of colors and shades should be treated as separate problems. There is at least some hope of agreement for the former. There are several color charts in existence, some of them published by catalogue editors in an attempt, it seems to me, to justify their own color names. All have limitations and none has proved generally acceptable. It was dissatisfaction with these that caused me to adopt the Methuen book as my standard since I was already familiar with it in my hobby of lettering and illuminating (a la medieval monks). Flame red is 7A8 in Methuen and is very similar to orange vermilion, a more orange version of the pre-decimal 4d red. The prospect of a color chart that would overcome the problems identified by GBCC’ers is an attractive one but the color plates for it would, I am afraid, be likely to prove too expensive. Instead, perhaps some enterprising dealer could put together a number of level 1 collections and market them. These might prove not only an attractive entry to Machin collecting but would solve the color problem (apart from the actual names).

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