Crown Lynn – it’s in my brainscape

Yesterday I went to the Wellington City Gallery to check out the Crown Lynn exhibition.

Crown Lynn Replaceable Dinnerware sign c 1960 - 1970

Crown Lynn, for those that don’t know, is a 20th century New Zealand institution. A ceramics manufacturer that achieved widespread recognition and a place on many a household table in the form of vases, figurines and, most popularly, crockery.

The exhibition is split across two galleries. The East Gallery focusses on the early days of Crown Lynn through to the 1950s. The West Gallery, where I spent most of my time, covers Crown Lynn’s highly productive period through the 1960s until the closure of the factory in 1989, according to the helpful exhibition notes.

As I walked around the West Gallery, a big stupid smile gradually broke out across my big stupid face. I was experiencing what I can only imagine people experience when they’re about to die. My life ‘flashed before my eyes’ as little pieces of pottery evoked vivid recollections of the past twenty-eight and a half years of my life…

Crown Lynn Coffee Mug - one of seven various designs displayed, 1976 - 1986

This mug is the solace in every staff kitchen of every job I’ve ever worked. The desperate instant coffee between providing ‘diversion’ to dementia patients.

The more-heaped-spoonfuls-than-strictly-necessary-milo at the start of my Friday night shift in the Christchurch public library, four hours of microfiche and genealogy ahead of me.

The earl grey tea that grows cold beside my computer as I rewrite yet another budget briefing paper as the light gets dimmer outside.

The sturdy mug, the origin of which nobody knows. The mug that is mine, solid and true amongst those emblazoned with cats, poodles with hats, and the pyrex flotsam and jetsam of my adventures in the labour market.

Crown Lynn Dinner Plate - Autumn patter, 1977 - 1980

This plate is the warmth and happiness at the Tully’s, my ‘second family’ as I am growing up in Christchurch. Jim’s lasagne and rissoles. Liz’s cucumber and tomato salad with heaps of vinegar, salt, pepper, and maybe a little bit of sugar?

It is conversation and debate about whatever is happening in the news. It makes me feel special, like I belong. It is gentle teasing and laughter around a table.

Crown Lynn Fiesta dinner set c. 1950s – 1960s

This dinner set is meals at my Grandma and Grandad’s house in Clyde Road when I am three and a half years old. It is the days and weeks after arriving in our new city when we live with them, before Mum and Dad find us a place of our own.

It is dinner times spent silently trying to work out the seemingly random pattern inherent in the inexplicable juxtaposition of colourful dots and grey cross-hatched background*.

Years later in my teenage years, it is the weekly trips with Mum and some permutation of my brothers and sister to (by now only) Grandma’s little house in Ilam Road. Served with a cup of milky tea and a chat, it is raisin scones that Grandma likes and Mum specially buys or makes her. It is talk of the garden and the ever advancing bamboo. It is duty and it is love.

Crown Lynn dinner plate, Echo pattern, 1968 - 1979

This dinner plate is me as a student, casting about opportunity shops (with my partner in crime, Crockery Fife) instead of writing essays. It is coming home with a rag tag collection of mismatched plates and mugs, treasures to adorn whichever student flat has the pleasure of my residence at the time.

A few years later, it is those same plates wrapped carefully in newspaper, splashed with tears and placed in banana boxes, as the debris of another failed relationship gets packed up.

And it is the unwrapping. It is the reordering of plates and mugs in a new home with new possibilities.

The Crown Lynn collection is my clink and clatter soundtrack. It plays softly in the background as I live my life.

Does Crown Lynn (or any other crockery) evoke memories for you? Please share!


*Notes on the Fiesta pattern, from the useful exhibition brochure, provide insight into the plate decorating process and enormous comfort to me and my pattern recognition capabilities:

Fiesta was hand painted, and surviving photographs of the factory suggest that the plates would have been painted by the predominately female staff of the decoration department who in the mid-1960s were responsible for producing 70,000 items a week. Morrison’s collection provides some insight into this process, and she gleefully points out how the decorative patterns on very few of the plates actually match the template. There is something reassuring in these digressions and in the rogue drips of paint remaining on the plates, indicating that despite mass production the hand of the maker still prevailed.


About maximumbrooks

Christine is currently based in Wellington, New Zealand. She improvises regularly at venues around town and dabbles in other things that interest her. She likes mango sorbet, monkeys and, apparently, throwing caution to the wind.
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10 Responses to Crown Lynn – it’s in my brainscape

  1. ren says:

    Oh my! The fiesta set particularly is summers at the “hut” in Omakau – a tiny one-bedroom cottage on my grandparents’ section with no electricity but plenty of love. We grew up on summers made of swims in the river, solar showers, and BBQs eaten off plates exactly like that. My Nan would be stoked.

  2. BabyVessel says:

    I went to the exhibition a few weeks ago. As an immigrant and someone who did not grow up with Crown Lynn I expected to appreciate the collection as purely an observer of NZ culture. Then I saw the Echo pattern dinner plate and realised I had that vert plate in my cupboard at home! It was a small but lovely moment of feeling connected to New Zealand’s history and culture.

  3. More on the history of ‘my’ Fiesta/spotty set. This in from my Mum:

    G and G’s sets were originally used in one of their tea rooms in Cashel Street (now mall) so have lived dangerously for a number of years!

  4. Jackie Clark says:

    Christine, I want to thank you. My Dad started Crown Lynn, it was his baby. He died almost 6 years ago, and I think that he would be thrilled that people still are as fond of it as he was. Each dinner set was brought home as it was first produced, and then my mother would decide if it was a keeper. The Echo dinnerset was one of our most popular. It stuck around for a long time. I think it was replaced by the Fleurette set. And I remember alot of the Ironstone stuff. We also had alot of Temuka stuff. I always thought it was because Ceramco, the family business that became quite large, owned it, but apparently not. Funnily enough, the Clark family don’t have a great deal of Crown Lynn anymore, really, and most of it, we have had to buy, like everyone else. Once again, thank you so much for this. Fantastic. Tears to the eyes.

  5. Debi Bancroft says:

    I have just discovered Crown Lynn, here in Australia. I was given a six person dinner set minus one cup, to sell through my recycling shop. Guess what I am in love, it is Roydon Harvest. Have I got this right is it Crown Lynn? Also does any one know when this pattern was produced also is it possible for someone out there to tell me a current market value for this set, (although I think it is a stayer) and is it possible to replace the missing cup.
    Thankyou Debi

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