Royal Designers for Industry & Britain Can Make It, 1946

Black and whit portrait of Alan Reynolds standing by a stone plague

(Alan) Reynolds Stone

Black and whit portrait of Alan Reynolds standing by a stone plagueEngraver and Designer (1909-1979)

Named after his ancestor, Sir Joshua Reynolds this son of an Eton housemaster was born at Eton College on 13 March 1909. He went to Magdalene College, Cambridge to read history before starting work in 1932 as a graduate apprentice at Cambridge University Press. Here he met their typographical adviser Stanley Morison RDI, who was to become a personal friend. Morrison later described Stone as the ‘best letterer in the country since Eric Gill died’.

Stone already had a natural flair for typesetting winning the first prize of five guineas in 1931 for title pages set in Monotype in the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Industrial Design Competition. The following year he again took the first prize.

After a chance meeting on a train in 1932 Stone spent two formative weeks at Pigotts, the home and workplace of the master craftsman and engraver Eric Gill RDI, before leaving to work with the printers Barnicott and Pearce in Taunton. His experiments with wood engraving were now realized in a series of bookplates. His first design was for the collector Armide Oppé and shortly after he engraved his first royal bookplate for Elizabeth of York (later HM The Queen Mother). In 1934 his bookplates featured at the Sunday Times book exhibition. Stone produced over 350 bookplates, including designs for HRH The Duchess of Kent, the London Library, the Advertising Association and Princeton University. He also received commissions to illustrate books, notably The Shakespeare Anthology (1935) for the Nonesuch Press founded by Francis Meynell RDI. One of his last commissions was for the collection of Iris Murdoch’s poems A Year of Birds published in 1978.

During the Second World War he served with the RAF as an interpreter of aerial photographs and continued to engrave in his spare time. After the war he moved to Litton Cheney in Dorset, his home for the rest of his life. The local landscape inspired many of Stone’s paintings and engravings. In a reversal of the usual practice the author Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote poems to accompany a series of small engravings of Dorset scenes that Stone had already made. The resultant volume, Boxwood, was published in 1957. Stone collaborated with a number of the artists and writers. He engraved John Piper’s pen and wash drawings of the mountains of North Wales, while Myfanwy Piper put together a collection of his work in The Wood Engravings of Reynolds Stone (1951). As well as writing her entry for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Stone published the first collection of engravings by Gwen Raverat in 1959. He wrote A Book of Lettering (1935) and selected works by Thomas Bewick for publication by Rupert Hart-Davis (1953). Another close friend, the art historian, Kenneth Clark provided the introduction and appreciation for a collection of Reynolds Stone Engravings published in 1977.

Alongside his illustrative work Stone designed trade labels, trade marks, badges and logos for, among others, the Arts Council, the British Council, the National Trust, Barclays Bank, The Economist, Shell and the shoe chain Dolcis. He redesigned the clockface and masthead for The TimesMinerva for Linotype was his only public typeface, although he did design ‘Janet’, named after his wife, for private use.

Stone was commissioned, on the recommendation of Francis Meynell RDI, to design Princess Elizabeth’s wedding invitations and the Royal Coat of Arms used for the coronations of HM King George VI (1937) and HM Queen Elizabeth (1953). He also designed the Royal Coat of Arms for HMSO to use on all official documents, including every British passport; the 3d ‘Victory’ stamp (1946); the £5 and £10 notes, which were in use until decimalization. In 1979 Hans Schmoller RDI said that Stone ‘might almost be described as the “Engraver Royal”’. Made a CBE in 1953, Stone was honoured by his old college who appointed him an Honorary Fellow in 1978.

Stone was the only Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) appointed in 1957. When the Master, Milner Gray, introduced him to the RSA he described Stone’s work as ‘always distinguished, elegant, meticulous and impeccable’. Five years later Stone designed the RDI’s diploma with a Royal Coat of Arms. He served as a judge for the souvenir section of the RSA’s Student Design Bursaries Competition, and on the Medals section from its inception. Stone designed the memorial plaque to mark the bicentenary of the building of the RSA’s house in John Adam Street (1974).

Before the war he had taught himself how to cut letters in stone which led to some later important commissions for memorials, including those for Sir Winston Churchill (1965) and T.S. Eliot (1966) in Westminster Abbey, as well as one for his close friend Benjamin Britton at Aldeburgh, 1977. Stone had been chosen in 1951 to design the memorial on display in the main entrance of the V&A Museum. Not only did this plaque commemorate those staff who had died in the Second World War, it also enabled the V&A to obtain an example of the best inscriptive lettering of the period.

This ‘very private, indeed shy, person, happiest among the hand presses and books in his beautiful Dorset vicarage’ wrote Hans Schmoller RDI, died on 23rd June 1979. Iris Mudroch gave the eulogy at his memorial service held at St James’s, Piccadilly. She said her friend’s skills produced art that ‘seemingly simple, gives to us that shock of beauty which shows how close, how in a sense ordinary, are the marvels of the world’.

Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946

Stone is featured in the Britain Can Make it Exhibition catalogue as follows:
  • Group D: Books and Printing – item 146
To view and search the catalogue online, please visit our digital document library.


Photograph © Janet Stone (photographer)


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Sirpa Kutilainen • June 6, 2016

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