The Brand Radar: Royal Mail, Rug Maker and how to make stamps stick in licensing

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how Royal Mail has cemented the iconic design status of its Machin stamps through a smart partnership with Rug Maker.

One of the licensed products I have long admired has been a range of rugs based on the Royal Mail’s Machin stamp. These rugs were launched a few years ago and have been on my radar ever since.

The rugs are produced under license by Rug Maker and are handmade from 100% New Zealand wool in Nepal. They are a premium and prestigious product designed to be used as decorative rugs for floors but also to be hung on walls as wall art. These are still available to buy – or at least I hope so as I feel that I am ready to buy one!

Ian Downes, Royal Mail
The Machin stamp is probably better known to us all as the Queen’s head stamp that is in daily use for postage. We are probably all familiar with the current red First Class stamp which is red and the blue Second Class stamp. Despite changes in the way we communicate, Royal Mail stamps are still a part of everyday life. It’s probably something we take for granted.

The Machin series of stamps are the main definitive stamp series in the UK. They feature a profile of the Queen based on a sculpted artwork by Arnold Machin, hence the series is called the Machin series. The design of the Queen’s head is used on all definitive stamps and, as such, is in wide circulation.

The Royal Mail have licensed the stamp image to licensees in a carefully controlled way, reflecting the fact that the stamp design features the Queen and the stamps themselves serve a practical purpose. In simple terms, the Royal Mail have to protect the image and the integrity of stamps. Over the years there have been a few product ranges, including gifting lines and jigsaw puzzles.

The Machin stamp image is a really strong and distinctive one – both key components for licensing – with international appeal and recognition. Conversely, the Royal Mail has to weigh up the value of licensing versus the potential for undermining their reputation and – of course – the Queen’s reputation. Against this backdrop, I am sure they have turned down opportunities and discounted others.

The range of rugs from Rug Maker are high end products that have been carefully manufactured and are faithful to the original design, and the range also includes designs featuring Queen Victoria and the iconic Penny Black stamp.

Ian Downes, Royal Mail
My understanding is that the rugs are made to order and can take up to 12 weeks to be delivered. I think this is a nice part of this license; it’s reassuring to think that the product is made to order, handmade and that there isn’t an excess of stock in a warehouse.

To create additional focus on the products, Rug Maker set up a dedicated website – Stamp Rugs – to sell the range. They sell on a global basis and e-commerce allows them to reach a wide audience, but the product has featured in physical retail as well.

The stamp rugs also seem to be popular props for interior designers and comedian Alan Carr had one of the rugs on the floor of the set of his Chatty Man TV show for many years.

Ian Downes, Royal Mail
Rug Maker have managed to create an on-trend product from this classic design and it has helped place the Machin stamp become a pop culture item.

On the Rug-Maker site, The Royal Mail’s Stewart Tyson is quoted as saying: “The rugs fully capture the iconic design of the Machin Stamp. The quality and detail that goes into every stamp rug is reflected in the positive comments from customers’ and anyone who sees the rugs.”

For the Royal Mail, they have used licensing to develop a product that celebrates stamps – and stamp design – in an elegant way. It’s also great way of protecting and celebrating the legacy of the Machin stamp and a fine example of original licensing.

Products like the Stamp Rugs help remind us of the design work that goes into producing stamps and how this everyday item is actually now an iconic piece of art and design.

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