Crown Lynn Collection

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Auckland
Museum holds over 2000 pieces of New Zealand’s finest pottery from Crown Lynn,
with highlights such as Swan Vases, Toby Jugs, animal models and household
dinnerware in a myriad of designs. 

McAlpine refrigerator jug McAlpine refrigerator jug (c. 1943 – c. 1989) by Crown Lynn Potteries LtdAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

A potted history of Crown Lynn 

The West-Auckland brick and pipe company Ambrico, which had a long history of producing industrial goods since 1925, started an offshoot called Crown Lynn Potteries that was established by the son of Ambrico’s owner Tom Clark.

As well as seeking to diversify their product range, it sought to target New Zealanders who were proud to buy locally made and designed ‘homegrown’ pieces. Fittingly the name they chose in 1948 had connotations of English grandeur, whilst also firmly grounded the company in the heart of New Lynn where the factory was based.

In its heyday of the 1960-1970s, the company produced millions of pieces a year for households and government agencies and employed hundreds of people. Now coveted collector’s items, Crown Lynn pieces are seen as design icons and physical reminders of New Zealand’s design history. 

New Zealand Railways cup New Zealand Railways cup (c. 1948 – c. 1955) by Crown Lynn PotteriesAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Durable designs: military and railway
crockery   

Cargo restrictions placed on overseas goods by the New Zealand Government during World War II meant that Crown Lynn was in prime position to take on large government contracts. One of their first clients was the wartime Ministry of Supply, which needed to supply all American troops based in the Pacific and New Zealand with mugs and plates. Their reputation as a company that produced sturdy, durable products culminated in Crown Lynn being contracted to supply the New Zealand Railways department (N.Z.R.) in the 1940s. Stamped with the letters NZR, the cups earned a reputation as unbreakable and train punters made a tradition out of smashing them against rock or tunnel walls to test their durability. Stocky, simple and seemingly un-smashable, these iconic cups have become part of New Zealand’s design history, having appeared on everything from postage stamps to postcards. 

New Zealand Railways beaker New Zealand Railways beaker (1970s) by Crown Lynn PotteriesAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

When passengers had finished their tea or coffee, it was tradition to toss them out the window, and it became somewhat of a sport to try and smash the cup by throwing it as hard as possible against a rock or tunnel wall.

White swan vase White swan vase (c. 1948 – c. 1955) by Crown Lynn PotteriesAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Beyond utilitarianism

Following the Second World War, Crown Lynn began to branch out from their initial utilitarian focus and experimented with different methods of design in order to satisfy an emerging culture of consumerism and materialism. During the 1940s, the company trialed a number of collector’s items and decorative mantelpiece adornments including a range of poorly executed Toby Mugs. First thought to be developed around the 1700s in Staffordshire and made famous by the British brand Royal Doulton, the mugs depict a jovial, roughish character drinking, smoking or taking snuff. Another highlight of quirky Crown Lynn pieces is the model-animal range. For this range, the company produced a selection of rather crude renditions of traditional English woodland and pastoral creatures such as deer, horses and lambs as well as native species such as kingfishers and kiwi. Perhaps one of the most distinctive decorative products created by Crown Lynn, however, is the Swan Vase which remains a beloved collector’s item today. They were first made in the mid-to-late 1940s and were decorated in plain or trickle glazes. In 1948, what has become the most popular swan style was developed: one with a soft white matte glaze. These were sold in their thousands. No doubt fueled by a desire to fill every colonist’s cabinetry with small reminders of their homeland in its early years, the company made small steps in the 1960s to produce crockery that referenced Aotearoa.

Green "Toby" jug Green "Toby" jug, Crown Lynn Potteries, Post-1943, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Kiwi vase Kiwi vase, Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd, c. 1948 – c. 1989, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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"Autumn Splendour" dinner plate "Autumn Splendour" dinner plate, Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd, 1963, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Brown Air New Zealand beaker Brown Air New Zealand beaker (1970s) by Crown Lynn Potteries LtdAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Homegrown designs

Thanks to a growing confidence in the domestic market, the company started to use local product names such as Egmont and Ponui and developed a design language that reflected local motifs. They even went so far as to mark significant events: a cup and saucer featured the new decimal currency system in 1967. Perhaps its most distinctive home-grown range is the dinnerware it produced for Air New Zealand during the golden age of air travel in the 1960s. Seeking to impress its most discerning first-class customers, the national carrier commissioned Crown Lynn to produce a range of dinnerware exclusively for their DC-8 jet airliners. Featuring kowhaiwhai, stylised Polynesian motifs and a natural palette, the designs sought to transport air-travellers to the Pacific with wine, food and dinnerware to match. 

Air New Zealand salt-and-pepper shakers Air New Zealand salt-and-pepper shakers, Crown Lynn Potteries, 1965, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Small teal-coloured saucer with rounded edges Small teal-coloured saucer with rounded edges, Crown Lynn Potteries, 1965, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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[Tom Clark standing next to a rack of green cast ware at Crown Lynn Potteries] (1950s) by Sparrow Industrial Pictures LtdAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Preserving the past: the Portage Ceramic
Trust & Te Toi Uku

Despite its growing role as a cultural touchstone, the company’s popularity suffered at the hands of deregulation in the 1980s which caused an increase in imported goods, flooding the market. Crown Lynn was unable to compete in an environment whereby contracts were highly contested and crockery was cheap, so after nearly 40 years of production, they shut their doors in 1989. Closed without fanfare, the factory site was left in a state: machinery, moulds and broken ceramics filled the site.

However, one man—collector and Crown Lynn enthusiast Richard Quinn—spent innumerable hours carefully excavating the site to preserve this important part of New Zealand’s history. Supplementing his collection with pieces he found in op-shops, Quinn amassed a sizable collection that was purchased by the Portage Ceramics Trust in 2005.

This comprehensive collection is now housed in the museum Te Toi Uku (roughly translating to ‘the art of clay’ in te reo Māori) near the original site of the former Crown Lynn factory in West Auckland.

[A woman painting plates at the Crown Lynn Potteries factory], From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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[A group of women putting handles on cups at the Crown Lynn Potteries factory], Barry McKay Industrial Photography, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Mixing bowl Mixing bowl (Pre-1990) by Crown Lynn PotteriesAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Crown Lynn in the Auckland Museum Collection

The majority of the Auckland Museum’s extensive collection was donated by Crown Lynn Potteries, who had purchased the private collection of Olive Hale, and came from the factory on the day of its closure in 1989. With over 2000 pieces, it is perhaps one of the largest collections from a single ceramics manufacturer in the world.

In 2016, technicians began to catalogue the collection, as our Applied Arts and Design curator identified that it had little information associated with it. After a conservator viewed the objects to make sure they were stable enough to be handled, our technicians began to catalogue and photograph the pieces.

The Crown Lynn collection now provides a wealth of information relating to New Zealand design history, ceramics production, business, and the history of Auckland.

Colour glaze cup and saucer in salmon pink and rose pink Colour glaze cup and saucer in salmon pink and rose pink, Crown Lynn Potteries, 1970s–1980s, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Dinner plate Dinner plate, Crown Lynn Potteries, 20th century, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Credits: Story

References

Valerie Ringer Monk, Crown Lynn A New Zealand Icon, Penguin Group (NZ), 2006.

Valerie Ringer Monk, Crown Lynn Collectors Handbook, Penguin Group (NZ), 2013.

Portage Ceramics Trust, The Crown Lynn Collection, https://portageceramicstrust.org.nz/collections/

Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Crown Lynn pottery: A Kiwi icon, https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/discover-collections/read-watch-play/history/crown-lynn-pottery-kiwi-icon/introduction-crown-lynn

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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