Question: What is the most reproduced or reprinted artwork in the world?
Answer: Sir Arnold Machin's image of Queen Elizabeth II
According to The Royal Family Operations Manual, reproductions of Arnold Machin's sculpture appears so often on stamps, coins, and art prints, it is the most reprinted artwork in the world.
However, I'm skeptical.
The owner of a work's copyright controls the right to reproduce the work, which includes direct copies and adaptions in other forms. If the UK government owns the copyright of the sculpture of the Queen they have the right to reproduce that sculpture in photos, coins, stamps, art prints, and other forms.
In a previous blog post, I discussed the US Postal Service's issue with a stamp that was based on a photo of a statute. The USPS had paid the photographer, but not the sculptor. The Supreme Court found the photograph was a derivative work of the sculpture as the main purpose of the photo was to capture the statue. The creativity in taking the photo from a specific angle at a certain time of day was not enough to be fair use. The USPS had to pay the photographer and the sculptor, since the use of a photo of the sculpture on a stamp infringed the reproduction and derivative rights of the sculptor.
The UK has a much narrower approach than the USA on what is under the umbrella of "reproduction" and uses the term "adaption." The copyright holder controls adaptions in the same field. A literary work adapted in an abridged form or translated falls under the rights of the copyright holder. A trivia book based on a TV show would likely not be found to not violate the TV show's copyright in the UK, while it was found a violation in the USA. In 1988, the UK passed a law that included an exception for certain forms of public art, such as public statues. The USA does not have a public statue rule which is why the US Postal Service had to pay a sculptor money to make a stamp of a public statute.
In the case of Queen Elizabeth II's portrait, Sir Arnold Machin entered into an agreement with the Royal Mint and Mail to create his sculptures which were based on photographs specifically taken for the Royal Mint and Mail. Unlike the US in the 1990s, in the 1960s the UK government was smart enough to avoid falling into the sculpture-photograph trap by having contracts with everyone involved.*
If you're paying someone for a photograph of a statute, you may have to get a contract with the sculptor.
*Clearly, the Royal Mint and Mail did not get a model release from Queen Elizabeth II, but for the average person, you should have release forms signed by your models.
The British Royal Family takes a lassie-faire approach to copyright infringement of representations of the monarch. By letting people create multiple reproductions without payment, they encourage coverage of themselves and boost commerce. Sellers can offer Royal Family memorabilia with low overhead cost. In the case of Sir Arnold Machin's image of Queen Elizabeth II, I've only heard of 1 possible lawsuit.
In 2003, the Royal Mail sent an artist a cease-and-desist letter, saying his work violated their right to the Machin stamp.
It was a reproduction in the sense that art of a stamp was displayed in an art gallery, thus meets the "same category" rule of adaption in the UK and thus, could be infringement if it does fall under other exceptions. From what I can find online, this issue never went to trial.
The Royal Family's encouragement of the use of Queen Elizabeth's image, the length of her reign, and narrow UK copyright law all lead to an environment where artwork is often reproduced. But is it the most reproduced artwork in the world?
What is the Machin stamp?
Sir Arnold Machin is a British sculptor who created a silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II in 1967. His art has been reproduced on UK Postage stamps (1967 - present), UK coins (1967 - 1985), and many other items throughout the world. It is estimated his sculpture of the Queen has been reproduced more than 220 billion times. Any stamp based on his sculpture is called a "Machin stamp."
Arnold Machin was well-known as a sculptor before he was commissioned to create a relief of Queen Elizabeth II. Three of his sculptures, including John the Baptist and Spring, were acquired by the Tate Gallery in the 1940s and he was a well-known member of the Royal College of Art. He had an interesting life, he went to jail as a WW2 contentious objector and later chained himself to a lamp-post to protest modernist architecture. One of his zodiac pieces for Wedgwood was given to USSR Premier, Nikita Khrushchev. The sculptor continually entered Royal Mint and Royal Mail competitions with his artwork, eventually winning commissions in the 1960s.
His sculpture captures Queen Elizabeth II at 41 years of age. While coins and other uses have been updated as the Queen ages, Machin's profile is still be printed on UK postage stamps (2022). The New York Times argues the artwork's long popularity is because sculpture has more depth than a drawing. Personally, I think we like to imagine the Queen in her 40s, a "stately" age, and we're resistant to updates because we dislike aging.
Machin says his sculpture was inspired by the famous William Wyon's sculpture of Queen Victoria. The Penny Black featuring Queen Victoria was the world's first adhesive stamp.
Machin's sculpture connects postal and royal history through art.
The Royal Mint called for a new sculpture of the Queen in the early 1960s because the UK was preparing to switch from the pound's division of 240 pence into today's 100 pence, abolishing the shilling and florin. Official Decimal Day occurred on 15 February 1971. The Mint felt a new picture of the Queen would help people understand the difference of the coins and encourage the switch to decimalization.
Coins and stamps are art, but they're also articles of commerce. Mary Gillick's portrait from 1953 when the Queen was crowned features a leaf hairpiece tied with a ribbon. Machin designed 2 versions: one with a tiara, one with a crown. The switch from Gillick's wreath to Manchin's tiara/crown felt like a growing up for the UK out of post-World War II recovery. The Queen at 27 to 41 years old reflected a change in who was the UK.
Machin's sculpture connects commerce and national sentiment through art.
The tiara in Machin's portrait is The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. This tiara was given to Mary of Teck, Queen Consort of the UK, upon her marriage to George V (when he was still Duke of York). Queen Victoria and Mary knew each other, as she grew up in Kensington Palace during Queen Victoria's reign. Mary died during the first year of the reign of her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. I find it meaningful to have Queen Elizabeth II wear her grandmother's tiara, who knew Queen Victoria, as it establishes a connection between the great Queens of the House of Hanover and House of Windsor, crossing 3 centauries.
The tiara has a "festoon-and-scroll design" and originally featured pearls and diamonds, but now it is all diamonds. Created by Garrard.
Royal Collection Trust on The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara
The crown in Machin's portrait is The Diamond Diadem. This crown was purchased by George IV for his coronation, and he wore it with a red velvet hat. I often forget who George IV is until I remember he was the Prince Regent and the reason we got the "Regency Period." Queen Victoria often wore her uncle's crown without velvet.
Queen Elizabeth II has worn the crown for all State Opening of Parliament since 1952 (she just sent the crown for the 2022 opening and stayed home). She usually wears it without the underlying velvet and it has become her iconic crown. Currently, George IV is the only male monarch to wear the crown. I would personally like to see Prince George, Queen Elizabeth II's great-grandson, to wear the crown one day. George VII wearing George IV's crown that's also been worn by Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria would be fun.
The crown features 1,333 diamonds, pearls, silver, gold and a rare yellow diamond in the center of one cross. The crown combines English roses, Scottish thistles, Welsh daffodils, and Irish shamrocks, connecting the different kingdoms of the UK. Created by Rundells.
Royal Collection Trust on The Diamond Diadem
In Spring 1966, a few months before the printing of Machin's new relief, the Royal Mail switched to printing the Mary Gillick's relief as a cameo in the commemorative stamps. Before the May 1996 commemorative stamps of "UK Landscapes," illustrated by Leonard Rosoman, other versions of the Queen were used on stamps.
The"900th Anniversary of Westminster Abbey" commemorative stamps feature a photo commissioned by the Royal Mail and Mint to be used as inspiration for Manchin's work. They are some of the the only stamps featuring a 3/4 view of the Queen instead of a profile.
In Gaylord v. United States the US Postal Service was caught between artist and photographer rights. We likely will not see a Shepard Fairey postage stamp of President Obama. Fairey's work was an infringing adaptation as a direct trace of a photo without paying the photographer is a violation of the photographer's copyright control over derivatives. The Royal Mail and Mint commissioned a sculpture of the Queen based on the photos they had commissioned, thus, there's no pesky problem of forgetting to pay a party like in Gaylord or Fairey. As mentioned above, the Queen doesn't charge a royalty for her image being used on stamps as she's the Queen.
The Machin relief on stamps faces a different direction than the relief on the coins because of Charles II. Per the Restoration King, the monarch should face the opposite way of their predecessor on coins. This tradition was followed until Edward VIII. His father, George V, faced left so Edward VIII should have faced right. Edward "David" VIII refused and broke the rule set by Charles II because he thought he looked better facing left. Deciding against Charles II is tempting fate and shows Edward's vanity. Edward's younger brother, George VI, was in the tough position of following his brother's pattern or pretending his brother didn't break the pattern. Edward VIII went with pretending his brother didn't mess up and faced left. Thus, the Queen Elizabeth II faces right on coins. While coins and paper money follow this pattern from the Restoration, the Monarch is always facing left on stamps. Queen Victoria was "left" in the coin pattern so was "left" on stamps as her relief was based on a coin. Her son, Edward "Bertie" VII kept the patten for stamps to "have some continuity of design in succeeding issues" (Ottawa Philatelic Society) and no Monarch has changed it since. UK succession issues are physically illustrated through coins and stamps.
The Machin relief was altered so there was a version for stamps and a version for coins. Inverted or flipped forms of a work are still considered the same work in the eyes of the law, that is not enough transformation to avoid copyright infringement.
Picture of Machin working on a plaster relief.
The tradition of printing the Gillick relief as a cameo on commemorative stamps continues to this day. This means, in 2007 when a commemorative stamp was issued to commemorate the issue of the first Machin Stamp there was a stamp of the Machin sculpture with a derivative of Gillick's relief on the same stamp. It's quite rare for a stamp to feature the face of a philatelic artist (in fact, this is the only one to my knowledge). The stamp with Machin's face features an adaption of another relief of the Queen, but not his. When writing this blog post, the cost of the booklet goes for about $20 USD or £15 (ebay).
I find the 2007 commemorative stamp sheet incredibly hilarious as it's a picture of the Queen wearing a wreath on a picture of the Queen wearing a crown while the picture of the philatelic artist features an adaption of the art his art replaced.
So is the Machin Stamp really the most reproduced artwork?
When I first started writing this blog post, I was unconvinced the Machin sculpture would truly be the most reproduced artwork when we have the Eiffel Tower.
Many sources I looked at conflate the 2 different Machin versions and Gillick's relief. However, if we consider all adaptions of Machin's version and all uses, maybe it is the most reproduced.
There are over 28 billion coins in circulation in the UK right now and versions of Machin's version have been in circulation since the 1960s.
Even if the UK and other countries, print stamps and coins with a reproduction of the Machin sculpture for over 50 years, how does that surpass the amount of photographs and drawings of the Eiffel Tower? The Eiffel Tower has been around since the late 1800s. It would only take 4.5 million reproductions each day since construction to reach 220 billion while the Machin Stamp would need about 11 million reproductions each day since launch to reach 220 billion times.
Maybe the consistent use of the Machin relief on money and stamps pushes it to surpass the Eiffel Tower?
Either way, I'm confident in concluding the most reproduced artwork is sculptural because it can be reproduced in drawing, photography, film, and other visual forms without substantially altering the work.