Swanning Around: Crown Lynn Archives

Twenty odd years ago while cleaning out rubbish from a rental property I came across a large white Crown Lynn swan that was being used as a toilet brush holder. I picked it up by the neck, unceremoniously hurled it into the skip bin, and watched with satisfaction as it smashed into a thousand small pieces.

At home I have a small, somewhat crazed, white Crown Lynn swan given to me by a friend as a birthday present. This swan, purchased from an antique shop, was carefully placed in a glass-fronted cabinet along with my other Crown Lynn pieces for display.

As I write this, a medium sized Studio Ceramics Retro Lynn swan sits on my desk holding an assortment of pens (1). While not its intended use, the size and shape of the swan lend a kitsch cuteness to an otherwise functional office space. These three intersecting moments in time, clearly illustrate the swings and roundabouts of one of New Zealand’s most iconic ceramic pieces.

Produced by Crown Lynn between 1948—1970 and popular in its heyday, the white swan (2) took pride of place on many household mantels and window sills. (3)

Winning entry for the 1959 Auckland flower arranging competition sponsored by Crown Lynn. The arrangement of lilies and Prince of Wales feathers (South American purple pampas) was won by Mrs H.L. Beatty, of Silverdale. Crown Lynn Potteries. Records. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. MS-98-34.Winning entry for the 1959 Auckland flower arranging competition sponsored by Crown Lynn. The arrangement of lilies and Prince of Wales feathers (South American purple pampas) was won by Mrs H.L. Beatty, of Silverdale. Crown Lynn Potteries. Records. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. MS-98-34.

Fast forward one generation and they had been relegated to the status of mere dust-catchers; icons of the anti-modernist, considered a stuffy ornate reminder of a time gone by. Fast forward one more generation, once again they are revived and revered - highly collectable, enough so to warrant feverish gathering of original examples, not to mention reinstating, reproduction, reuse and reissue by New Zealand company Studio Ceramics.

Swans aside, every New Zealand household either owned, or knew of someone who did, at least one if not many pieces of Crown Lynn dinner ware. Their myriad designs reflected the endless trends in home décor (4). Much has been written about these designs, and many nowadays are coveted, collected and sold on the open market; the popularity of recent trends in collectable designs still retrospectively closely aligns with the interior trends of today.

Specialising in the manufacture of acid resistant tiles, Crown Lynn began life in the 1930s as The Ambrico Pipe Works factory. Ambrico’s first experimental household ware emerged from the production line in the late 1930s (5). Fifty-four years on, and a multitude of cups, saucers, plates, vases, figurines, bathroom accessories, coffee cans, mixing bowls, teapots, sugar bowls, pin plates, wall plaques, jugs, jars, jewellery and swans later, Crown Lynn has undeniably touched the domestic life (and mouths) of almost all New Zealanders.

Sadly, faced with increasing competition from overseas imports, in 1989 Crown Lynn announced the imminent closure of their factory. (6)

Over the last two decades, along with the resurgence of all things Crown Lynn, not only has the Company’s output become of increasing interest, but also its designers, operational staff, organisational structure, marketing strategy, manufacturing methods and machinery. The recent opening of the Te Toi Uku Museum in West Auckland is a testament to many years of hard work by the Portage Ceramics Trust to surface and provide a foundation for this content.

Authors in the recent past such as Valerie Ringer-Monk (7) have drawn on the scarce archival resources available (and in Valerie’s case particularly) contributed their own substantial manuscript material to the scant holdings of Crown Lynn’s documentary heritage. In the introduction to her 2006 published work, Crown Lynn: A New Zealand Icon, Ringer-Monk lamented both the lack of a Crown Lynn Archive to delve into, as well as the loss of so much material (in particular organisational records) through factory fires or landfills. New Zealand’s collecting institutions have responded in kind, pro-actively acquiring the records and objects of all things relating to Crown Lynn and its predecessors.

By surfacing in one virtual place and space the Crown Lynn archives held by New Zealand collecting institutions, the aim of this blog is a small attempt at redress. Below you will find an overview of the collections that we know about, or know of, no doubt there are others. Please let us know if we have missed any, the more content in this post or its comments, the stronger this finding aid will be. Whether you’re an amateur collector, an academic historian, a past employee, a subject specialist we, the contributors- archivists, curators, librarians, hope you find this content useful.

Shannon Wellington

Crown Lynn Holdings

Alexander Turnbull Library | National Library of New Zealand

Shannon Wellington | Curator Manuscripts

From the late 1950s Crown Lynn held annual competitions asking New Zealanders to submit designs for new ranges of lithographs to feature on household ware and ornamental pieces. These competitions created marketing opportunities for the company and were well publicised through television and other media. (8)

In ca 1962 Nolan Fletcher threw his metaphorical hat into the ring and entered (as many other New Zealanders did), a competition to design a new lithograph for a range of Crown Lynn’s tableware. Fletcher submitted a sketch book of pottery designs to Crown Lynn featuring both a Kowhaiwhai and Whakairo pattern. They were in his words “…an effort to adapt Maori rafter designs for borders for pottery”. Unfortunately Fletchers designs were not successful and he received a letter from A. R. Topham, the Director of Sales, rejecting his designs but thanking him for his contribution. Topham’s letter informs Mr Fletcher that while they were impressed with his entry, they felt the design to be too similar to another they had in production. Accompanying the scrapbook is a newspaper cutting. This cutting featured Jocelyn Harrison-Smith’s winning design, the top prize in a Crown Lynn contest “inspired by Maori carvings". The cutting is dated 1965.

Saucers

Pages from Nolan Fletcher’s sketchbook of proposed designs. Alexander Turnbull Library MS-Papers-11979Pages from Nolan Fletcher’s sketchbook of proposed designs. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: MS-Papers-11979

Letter from Topham to Nolan Fletcher RE: sketchbook of proposed designs. Alexander Turnbull Library MS-Papers-11979Letter from Topham to Nolan Fletcher RE: sketchbook of proposed designs. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: MS-Papers-11979

Natalie Marshall | Curator Photography

The Library’s photograph collection holds a small number of images depicting the Crown Lynn Potteries factory, its products, and the company’s employees at work. Aerial views of Crown Lynn Potteries in New Lynn, Auckland, for instance, were captured by Whites Aviation in 1968 and 1972. Displays of the Company’s wares in Wellington department stores Kirkcaldie & Stains Ltd and James Smith Ltd can be found in the Evening Post and K E Niven and Co. collections.

Documentary photographer Ans Westra, who worked at Crown Lynn Potteries for eight months after she arrived in New Zealand in 1957, photographed the factory in 1963. Her photographs provide glimpses of the factory interior and show workers engaged in various aspects of the manufacturing process. Westra also captured staff having smoko.

Descriptions of Ans Westra’s images of the Crown Lynn factory are available on the Library’s website (References AWM-0521 & AWM-0522) and will soon be accompanied by digitised versions of the negatives. Here is a preview:

Worker applying a design to a dinner plate at Crown Lynn Potteries, Auckland, 1963, taken by Ans Westra (Reference: AWM-0522-06). No further use, including on websites, without permission of the copyright holder.Worker applying a design to a dinner plate at Crown Lynn Potteries, Auckland, 1963, taken by Ans Westra (Reference: AWM-0522-06). No further use, including on websites, without permission of the copyright holder. http://suite.co.nz/answestra/

Crown Lynn Potteries’ employees having a break, 1963, taken by Ans Westra (Reference: AWM-0521-11). No further use, including on websites, without permission of the copyright holder. http://suite.co.nz/answestra/Crown Lynn Potteries’ employees having a break, 1963, taken by Ans Westra (Reference: AWM-0521-11). No further use, including on websites, without permission of the copyright holder. http://suite.co.nz/answestra/

Barbara Lyon | Curator Ephemera

The Alexander Turnbull Library ephemera collection contains the very first issue of a Crown Lynn newsletter; subsequent issues of the newsletter are shelved in the Serials Collection.

By this time, the company had expanded to include forty outlets in Australia, eight in Fiji, and one in American Samoa and four in the Cook Islands. They had their sights set on expanding to other Pacific Islands and to the United States of America.

This issue of the newsletter indicates how important graphic design was to the company. It reports the popularity in Melbourne of two dinner sets designed by New Zealanders Otway Josling and Don Mills. The back page of the newsletter reinforces the importance the Company attached to industrial design. It shows Prime Minister Keith Holyoake presenting prizes to Graham Percy (the subject of a recent biography by Gregory O’Brien) and Robert Drake, winning designers in the Company’s fourth design contest. The previous year’s winner, Mark Cleverley was a runner up and many other designers obtained consolation prizes, including John Bijl, Eric Heath and P. Matchit[t].

Photolithograph on pamphlet folded to 368 x 240 mm. Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd New Zealand ceramics. New Zealand designs are top sellers in Melbourne. Now - another first ... January 1963.Photolithograph on pamphlet folded to 368 x 240 mm. Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd New Zealand ceramics. New Zealand designs are top sellers in Melbourne. Now - another first ... January 1963. Ref: Eph-C-CERAMICS-1963-01

Auckland Museum Library

Martin Collett | Manuscripts Librarian | Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland Museum library holds the following manuscript collections relating to Crown Lynn Potteries:

(1.) MS-98-34: Crown Lynn Potteries. Records, 1946 - 1987 (approx. 2 linear metres)

This collection, which is the Auckland Museum library’s main holding of Crown Lynn material, consists mostly of scrapbooks containing referenced newspaper cuttings featuring Crown Lynn advertising, ceramic design competitions, business and some technical articles, including feature articles on ceramic designers, modellers and artists. A small number of photographs are also present. The business papers, which are significantly incomplete, include such things as price lists (1961-68, 1981-2, 1986), annual reports for the parent company Ceramco Ltd. (1978-1985), overseas shipments (late 1960s), General Manager's monthly reports (1986-87), an index of decoration advice, and a shape guide (Numbers 1-881) compiled by Richard Quinn that covers an apparent period from 1946 to 1964.

(2.) MS-2009-5: Crown Lynn Potteries Limited. Shape Guide. (1 volume)

Originally compiled as an in-house shape guide for the staff of Auckland Museum’s Applied Arts Department, this loose-leaf volume, which contains ledger pages, line drawings and photographs of ceramics from 1946 to 1984, was copied from the original books of modeller Tam Mitchell, who worked at Crown Lynn for several decades from 1951. It includes what is believed to be his modeller's log book which covers a period from 1959 to 1964.

(3.) MS-2006-4: Gail Henry. Papers, 1852-1998 (3 London boxes)

This is primarily a collection of research notes (both handwritten and typed), correspondence, press cuttings and printed ephemera compiled by Gail Henry for her publication on New Zealand commercial and collectible ceramics titled Pottery in New Zealand (Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann, 1985). It includes material on a number of well-known firms such as McSkimming Industries, Crown Lynn, and Temuka, and includes contributions from over 200 individuals, many of whom were personally interviewed by Henry, one notable example being Dave Jenkin, former Chief Designer at Crown Lynn.

West Auckland Research Centre, Auckland City Libraries

Erica O’Flaherty | Archivist

The West Auckland Research Centre of Auckland Libraries holds processed and unprocessed material related to the Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company and its subsequent entity Crown Lynn Ltd. These records are spread over several collections, and include manuscripts, plans, ephemera, objects, photographs and oral histories.

Collections include oral history recordings from the ‘Crown Lynn Story’ project, which includes interviews with 17 former employees of Crown Lynn, who worked in the factory in a range of roles from manufacturing to administration. The Crown Lynn Potteries Collection contains material obtained from the former Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company Ltd workshop, and includes invoice books, receipts, industrial machinery catalogues, technical reports and manuals, and trade periodicals. The inventory of the Richard Quinn collection includes photographs of various ceramics and machinery acquired from the former Crown Lynn factory site after its closure. The physical material now forms part of the Te Toi Uku Portage Ceramics Trust Crown Lynn Museum collection at New Lynn.

The Jack Diamond Collection contains Amalgamated/Crown Lynn material including ephemeral news clippings, articles, price lists and pamphlets, as well as plans of the brickworks, selected aerial photographs, and some administrative records. Jack’s photograph collection is searchable on Local History Online, in the West Auckland Images database, and can be found using the keywords ‘Crown Lynn’, ‘Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company Ltd’ and ‘clay industries – New Lynn’. A small collection donated by former employee Frank Fitzpatrick includes analysis books and correspondence from the Crown Lynn factory, and a small amount of ephemera.

Other donated material includes various plans for the Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company LTD, including plans for the tunnel kiln and scale plans for some Amalgamated equipment, and Amalgamated subdivision plans for the Gardner’s pit.

The research notes and photographs from Valerie Monk’s book Crown Lynn – a New Zealand Icon are held at the Research Centre – however this material is restricted. Photographs can be viewed on our internal server, with reproduction and publication allowed with permission from Valerie.

Currently most of this content listed above is undescribed, though it can be accessed on request at the Research Centre or by contacting the Archivist, Erica O’Flaherty, either by email at erica.o’flaherty@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz, or by telephone on 09 3010101 x427865.

Te Toi Uku Portage Ceramics Trust Crown Lynn Museum

Sandra Ward | Collections Manager

The Portage Ceramics Trust was formed to facilitate the purchase of the Crown Lynn archive from a private collector in 2007. Archival material was removed from the Crown Lynn offices in 1989 as the company was closing. Most of the material dates from the 1970s and 1980s and appears to follow a sequence representing function, showing it had been removed from the offices of various managers.

A project in 2008 saw the archive inventoried and arranged, but it is still mostly uncatalogued. The material includes ephemera, photographs and design artworks relating to Crown Lynn wares, as well as management records, plans and production files.

Parts of the collection can be explored through NZMuseums including digital images of collection items and accompanying scope and contents notes. Photographic material is currently being catalogued and will be searchable via our website later in the year.

Access to the Crown Lynn archive at Te Toi Uku is by appointment.

Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand

Jennifer Twist | Archivist

Olive Hale Archive Collection

In 2009, Olive Hale Ingram was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for services to the history of New Zealand ceramics. Her own Crown Lynn collection consisted of over 1,500 pieces.

After retiring in 1982, Olive Hale decided to catalogue her collection and started producing a book on Crown Lynn’s Company history. While the project was supported by Crown Lynn and chapters written, the book did not go ahead.

Olive Hale’s archive collection contains much of her research material including draft chapter manuscripts, interviews, reference marks, and records of painters, potters and decorators, photographs & letters to Elizabeth Mason.

Olive Hale Series:

CA001117; Crown Lynn Research Material; Hale, Olive de Courtenay; circa 1980s

CA001118; Crown Lynn Photographic Material; Hale, Olive de Courtenay; circa 1980s


Endnotes

1. This Retro Lynn swan is a piece developed and cast by a mould maker who started his career at Crown Lynn Studio Ceramics (2015) http://studioceramics.co.nz/home/ ^

2. White swans began manufacture in 1948 but Ringer Monk notes that prior to this other colours were already in production. Ringer Monk, V. (2006). Crown Lynn: A New Zealand Icon. ^

3. Claire Regnault notes that the shape of the Crown Lynn swan was not an original design, it was copied by David Jenkin in the 50’s. http://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/2011/02/10/crown-lynn-and-a-flock-of-swans/ ^

4. New Zealand Pottery’s webpage provides images and forums for discussion RE: Crown Lynn design, back stamps etc. and is a good resource for identifying and dating patterns. ^

5. Ringer Monk, V. (2006). Crown Lynn: A New Zealand Icon. ^

6. Dearnaley, Mathew (1989). Crockery Maker Closes its Doors. New Zealand Herald, 6 May; p.1, 3. ^

7. Valerie’s popular blog discusses all things Crown Lynn http://valputaruru.blogspot.co.nz/ ^

8. Ringer Monk, V. (2006). Crown Lynn: A New Zealand Icon. ^

By Shannon Wellington

Shannon Wellington is the Manuscripts Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Post a Comment

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Kara Oosterman May 29th at 11:55AM

I am surprised to not see a link to the wonderful 1949 short film (just over 8 minutes long) 'Weekly Review No. 413 - From Potter's Wheel to Mass Production'. The blurb begins: It shows the process of producing a cornucopia of Crown Lynn . . . Very watchable and informative, showing many aspects of production from the raw clay through throwing (or moulding), firing, glazing, and decorating (hand painting and the application of transfers). The fascinating machinery and the adeptness of the employees is amazing too. The footage is from "NZONSCREEN, New Zealand's screen culture showcase". http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/from-potters-wheel-to-mass-production-1949

Shannon Wellington May 30th at 1:46PM

Hi Kara,

Thanks so much for posting the link, I hadn’t seen this resource. I am sure other blog contributors/readers will be keen to take a look.

All the best,
Shannon.

Jon-Paul Hale June 5th at 6:57PM

A good part of the Olive Hale collection still resides with the Auckland Museum. A point to note when Ceramco failed, A good portion of the Olive Hale Collection was on site at the time. This was pilfered during the wind up of the company with only about half of the collection surviving to be transferred to the Auckland Museum.

Michelle Te Maro December 21st at 2:08PM

I am hoping that you can help me. I am after a list of staff names employed by Crown Lynn around 1968-1969. If you have any information regarding this it would help me look for my father.

Regards

Michelle Te Maro

Shannon Wellington December 21st at 2:42PM

Thanks for your question, Michelle. We've forwarded your enquiry to the research team behind Ask a Librarian. They'll find out if such a list of employees exists for Crown Lynn around that time and email you the answer.