15 May 2015

Te Toi Uku: Crown Lynn Museum

From New Zealand Society, 2:10 pm on 15 May 2015

Hands up who remembers the Crown Lynn swans? Auckland’s famous pottery works may have closed its doors in 1989 but the fascination with its cups, mug, plates – and yes, the ceramic swans – goes on regardless. 

Crown Lynn ceramic swans

Te Toi Uku: Crown Lynn Clayworks is a brand new museum dedicated to all things Crown Lynn and it opened earlier this month on the site of the old works in the West Auckland suburb of New Lynn. 

door and kiln

Te Toi Uku, or the art of ceramics, is built around two remarkable collections. One consists of the machinery and moulds used by the pottery and formerly held by the old Waitakere City Council. The rest is the private collection of Crown Lynn expert Richard Quinn. The museum’s collection is extensive - there are thousands of different objects – and diverse. 

Crown Lynn range. Image courtesy of Portage Ceramics Trust

mould cups specials

The late Richard Quinn collected more than 2000 Crown Lynn ceramics, signs, moulds, tiles and much, much more. He’s been called an expert by some and an obsessive by others and famously made an enemy of then Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey. In 2000 the two “disagreed”- strongly - over the loan conditions of Quinn’s collection to a temporary museum run by the council. Mayor Harvey said he refused to be “intimidated by Mr Quinn of New Lynn”. Richard Quinn replied by pointing out that he was from Avondale. But since then the two collections have been successfully merged. 

car sign

The museum is managed by the Portage Ceramics Trust which was formed in 2005 to purchase both ceramics and manufacturing objects associated with Crown Lynn. The Trust is chaired by Lorraine Wilson. David Wright is a trustee.

David and Lorraine

In the main room of the museum are rows of filing cabinets containing the collection as well as thousands of shards of broken crockery. In the months that followed the closure of the factory in 1989, Richard Quinn was give permission by the owners to scour the site for artefacts. Many of the shards were dug up out of the dirt by hand.

Shards of broken pieces

The entire collection can be viewed on the Museum’s online catalogue.

About Crown Lynn

In 1929 several small producers of commercial clay objects merged to form the Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company in New Lynn, West Auckland. That location is now known as Ambrico Place and the historic Gardner Kiln used to fire clay can still be seen standing next to Te Toi Uku Museum. The outbreak of the Second World War saw restrictions on imports into New Zealand and Crown Lynn, as the pottery works was now known, began supplying both the New Zealand military and the New Zealand Railways with what became their famous white cups and saucers. After the war ended the Crown Lynn Specials Department was formed and the designs and patterns all New Zealanders now know began to be produced.

During a peak period from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s, Ceramco, as Crown Lynn became known, produced more household pottery than any other manufacturer in the Southern Hemisphere. But from the 1980’s onward the company began to decline. In 1989 the factory closed its doors for the last time.

All images by Radio New Zealand unless otherwise credited.