Crown Lynn Pottery

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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