The golden age of Crown Lynn pottery

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A decade of crowning ceramics

Described as classic kiwiana, Crown Lynn pottery was a popular household feature in the 1960s. From its 1920s origins as brick and pipe manufacturers, the company expanded into the domestic market.

Successful Government lobbying to place higher tariffs on imported goods assisted in the company’s fortunes. By 1960 it reached its peak production of about 10 million pieces, becoming the largest pottery company in the Southern Hemisphere at that time.

Slide 1: The 1960s were a celebration of the new and Crown Lynn faced demands to develop shapes and patterns reflecting changing tastes. One initiative was the establishment of an annual design competition resulting in a number of entries being picked up by the company. Winning designs such as Otway Josling’s Reflections and runner-up Don Mills’ Narvick were popular sellers.

Slide 2: Along with a range of new dinner sets, Crown Lynn produced the ‘coffee can’ in 1963. Similar to a tea cup, the straight-sided cup was a novel concept to New Zealand’s caffeine connoisseurs.

Slides 3-4: The visit of Queen Elizabeth to its Auckland factory in 1963 was seen as a turning point in the so-called ‘snob wars’. Perceived as being inferior to British brands, the New Zealand-made product became more respectable to local consumers following the royal appearance. An ornate urn was specially presented during the Queen’s visit with lesser decorated replicas sold as souvenirs.

Slide 5: Fortunately you didn’t need to be the Queen of England to tour Crown Lynn as factory tours were introduced earlier in 1961. By 1986 around 150,000 people had visited the factory.

Slides 6-8: Growing market confidence saw the development of uniquely New Zealand designs with product names such as Egmont and Ponui. Traditional British rose patterns were replaced by forestry scenes like Sierra Pine. Crockery supplied for Air New Zealand in the mid 1960s featured earthy colours alongside a Maori kowhaiwhai pattern.

Slides 9-10: Crown Lynn commissioned international designers like the American Dorothy Thorpe. The Santa Barbara range launched in 1965 featured ball-handled coffee sets. While striking in appearance, they were difficult to hold and damaged easily. Not that this was a problem, as according to a Crown Lynn employee, 'you never used the damn things anyway'. Other designs released in this series included Pine and Palm Springs.

Slides 11-12: Crown Lynn embarked upon an exporting drive with Australia becoming the first international market. As well establishing numerous Australian outlets, the company won contracts with large organisations such as armed forces to supply tableware. Canada became another key market, leading to Crown Lynn being one of New Zealand’s top exporters for the 1960s.

Slide 13: Locally, five designs comprising of Autumn Splendour, Golden Fall, Shasta Daisy, Green Bamboo and Fashion Rose were promoted under an innovative policy which guaranteed that customers could purchase any replacements for broken items. No longer did a breakage mean owning an incomplete dinner set. Autumn Splendour went on to become Crown Lynn’s top seller in the 1960s.

Slide 14: To mark the changeover of New Zealand’s currency in 1967, Crown Lynn produced a cup and saucer featuring the new decimal system.

Slide 14: Not content with kitchens and dining rooms, Crown Lynn created items for the bathroom. The 1967 Feminine Approach range featured door handles, keyholes and light switch plates. Later, toilet roll holders, soap dishes, towel-rail holders and toothbrush stands enabled the use of Crown Lynn products throughout the house.

Celebrating the company's 21st anniversary in 1969, Crown Lynn’s founder Tom Clark remarked that 'only nine years ago Crown Lynn was a dirty word'. The success of the 1960s did not last, however, with import restrictions later lifted, economic difficulties and company takeovers all contributing to the demise of Crown Lynn in 1989. Ironically, 20 years on, Crown Lynn is more popular than ever, with pieces keenly sought out by collectors. Flick through any New Zealand interiors magazine and you will soon come across references to the brand. From op shops to auction houses, Crown Lynn has become desirable; businesses even hire out the company's iconic white swans. Once again, Crown Lynn is being adored by a new generation of Kiwis.

Further information

Links

Books

  • Gail Henry, New Zealand pottery: commercial and collectable, Reed Books, Auckland, 1999
  • Valerie Ringer Monk, Crown Lynn: a New Zealand icon, Penguin, Auckland, 2006

Community contributions

24 comments have been posted about The golden age of Crown Lynn pottery

What do you know?

Michael Smythe

Posted: 16 Aug 2010

Wendy - I am writing a book due for publication next year. It includes the following: Mark [Cleverley] still marvels at the design breakthrough he did manage to pull off soon after he began. He had an idea that a dark brown glaze on the underside of a plate would look great. “They won’t let you do that,” said Dave [Jenkin]. “They won’t like the three white spots that’ll be left from the cranks they sit on in the kiln.” But because Mark was new, and came with an impressive reputation, they decided to humour him and soon found it wasn’t such a big deal to daub brown glaze on the three spots. The result was the hugely successful Echo range – marketed for its ‘flower power’ pattern on the upper side and valued for its gutsy, rich point of difference. Within six months Mark had become ‘part of the furniture’ and adventurous concepts met the standard entrenched resistance. Years later Alan Topham would say, “What we need is another Echo – that was a real winner!” So - I have a suggestion. I am accumulating a collection for my 'designarc' (New Zealand Design Archive and Research Centre project) - donations gratefully received and nurtured for posterity. If you wish to release you set from languishing sadly I would love to hear from you. [email protected]

Wendy

Posted: 15 Aug 2010

I still have a complete 30 piece Crown Lynn dinner set from the early '70s. It is the Echo design and is so beautiful that I daren't use it. Sadly, as a consequence, it languishes in a dark cupboard. It is so very 1970s and such lovely quality.

Tony Goodwin

Posted: 08 Mar 2010

I wrote an article for an Essay competition regarding my work at Crown Lynn in the 60s. it is held by Waitakere City Council contact Robyn Mason 09 8381308

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