Sunday, 6 November 2011

Memories of the New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition, Dunedin 1925-26

The New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition main entrance
and Grand Court 1925-1926 

The hugely successful New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition opened at Logan Park Dunedin on the 17th November 1925, closing 24 weeks later in May 1926. It eclipsed not only the previous exhibitions held in Dunedin in 1865 and 1889 but also the highly successful Christchurch exhibitions of 1882 and 1906. For a City of just 85,000 citizens this was an extremely well planned and organized event and rightly proved to be a phenomenal success. That the next [Wellington] exhibition did not take place until 1940 emphasizes the logistics – and expense - involved.

The New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition
 Grand Court 1925-1926

Designed by noted Architect Edward Anscombe, the seven Pavilion buildings occupied 16 acres with the impressive dome of the Grand Court facing an artificial lake – although Logan Park had in fact been Lake Logan, being drained and reclaimed specifically for the exhibition. The newly built Anzac Avenue brought visitors direct by tram from the Railway Station to the Exhibition gates.

The New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition
simulated night view 1925-1926

Showcasing not only the best that New Zealand could offer in the way of agricultural produce, industry, tourism and the arts, the pavilions included displays by fellow countries within the British Empire. Entertainment included pipe bands, brass bands, a “dancing troupe”, a large “Exhibition choir” and last but not least a funfair, complete with a roller coaster. A restaurant and tearooms catered for an endless stream of customers.  

A New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition
Season Pass and Medal 1925-1926

Visitors over the 24 weeks totaled an incredible 3.2 million with the closing day attracting 83,935 visitors alone. Season Tickets holders were able to return whenever they wished, some just to soak up the atmosphere. Built of permanent materials, the old Art Gallery pavilion still survives, although now occupied by the offices of The New Zealand Academy of Sport (South Island Branch) and Sports Medicine New Zealand.  Although the Grand Court was of a temporary nature it is perhaps unfortunate that this handsome building with its great classic dome did not survive. Interestingly, the ticket booth survives today at Brighton as the main entrance to the South Seas Gallery [Link]. The profits from the exhibition were used towards the construction of the Dunedin Town Hall auditorium.

A New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition souvenir
 stand made of embossed copper on a marble base, c.1925  

The Exhibition naturally brought forth a multitude of souvenir ware which is now highly collectable. While much of it, such as china, was manufactured overseas it is all generally of good quality.

A "Victoria China" Exhibition Mug,
 made in Czechoslovakia c.1925

A "Willow Art China, Longton" Hair Pin container made in England, c.1925

The quirky but collectable nature of some
souvenirs, this "Gemma" china  Coronation 
Throne made in Czechoslovakia, c.1925.
 I am wondering if the Coat of Arms 
belongs to 'The New Zealand and South 
Seas Exhibition Company Limited'.

A "Grafton" bone china Exhibition trio, made in England

The cheapest Exhibition souvenirs that were produced are now
 often the rarest, these unused embossed ashtrays / pin dishes
being made of plastic, c.1925

Many publications commemorated the Exhibition, but none would be
 complete without a hand-made suede bookmark! 1925-26

Exhibition ware was also designed to be used, this unmarked
 Exhibition china egg cup carrying a crest. c.1925

No New Zealand Exhibition of the period would be complete
without the ever present engraved Red Glass Ware, 1925-26

A contributor has supplied this image of a delightfully translucent
green vase which is also engraved for the 1925-26 Exhibition.
While I have seen plenty of red Exhibition glassware I have never
seen green Exhibition glassware before which leaves me wondering
if engraved green glassware could be somewhat rare?
[Image Courtesy of Lesley Treweek]

Another contributor has supplied this image of a delightfully translucent
light blue pressed glass dish engraved "Mother from Margaret Dunedin
Exhibition 1926
[Image courtesy of Melita Johnston] 

The above contributor notes (Feb 2015) this interesting website link : "The China Shop" which details the Dunedin firm of "Langley & Son", being china and glass importers, supplying engraved glass from a stall at the Exhibition, most interesting! 

The New Zealand & South Seas International Exhibition,
Dunedin 1925-1926 

My Blog on the Opening of the Exhibition and the visit of H.M.S. Dunedin may be viewed Here.

Gone but not forgotten....

Bibliography :

-         Internet sources
-         “Otago Cavalcade 1921-1925”

All items are from my own collection unless otherwise stated.


  1. One of the Octagonal Turrets was later shifted to a beachfront section in Brighton. It still had the original sloped octagonal roof with vein on top and each of the eight sides had arched windows. I lived there for several years in the 1970's. When we 'redecorated' we stripped back seven layers of wallpaper and found remnants of a fine rice paper covered with a Chinese birds of paradise pattern, underneath. It has now become an art gallery and the re-modeling is superb. One of the old 'ticket' boxes was used as the out house at the back. Ah Beautiful Brighton!

  2. I never knew that, thank you very much for sharing.

  3. Thank you for the information on the building I have an old photo taken in about 1925 ish of the crew of the H.M.S.Dunedin with lots of children with balloons and their mums out side the building.Taken in front of the Dome. Maureen

    1. Thank you Maureen. I would have loved to have experienced the atmosphere of this whole event, the eventual demise of these grand exhibitions is to be regretted

    2. Thank you again for your further welcome message Maureen. Scans would be great. If you cam message me on I can discuss how I could use them. Thank you, Donald

  4. Not only ubiquitous RED glass, I have a small green glass vase given by my great grandmother Elizabeth Campbell Lauder to her daughter Bessie.She would have travelled up by train from Invercargill to attend.The inscription on the vase led me to Google where I was pleased to find your excellent website & view other artifacts from what most have ben an outstanding event of the period.Cheers, Lesley

    1. That's fascinating Lesley. While i've seen plenty of red Exhibition Ware i've never ever seen any green exhibition ware although there must obviously be some about. If you were ever able to get a reasonable digital photo of the vase and email it to me (my email address is in the right hand column of my blog) I would be happy to add it to this blog with an acknowledgement.

  5. I have a souvenir which comes apart to form a pipe. Inside part of it there is a picture of the exhibition and written on the outside is Dunedin exhibition.

    1. Thank you, that's very interesting, It sounds like something similar to what is known as a "stanhope" (optical bijou).

  6. Hi, interested in your article thanks. Do you have any video footage of the 1925 South Seas Exhibition or know who might?

    1. Hi Liz, The New Zealand Film Archive [] certainly have footage [search "Dunedin exhibition 1925 1926"] but viewing appears limited mostly to Wellington. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery have a dedicated area with many Film Archive films freely available for public viewing (don't know if it includes the Exhibition though), there may be other locations around New Zealand so maybe worth inquiring.

  7. I have just inherited an exhibition tablecloth, in the center is a picture of the exibition buildings with Dunedin 1925 - 1926 printed beneath it and round the edge are the names of what I think are the common wealth countries. It is quiet a large cloth, covers our table which is 3ft by 5ft. Tessa

    1. Thanks for your comment Tessa. I've never heard of an Exhibition tablecloth and I would imagine that few survive today. I'm continually surprised at the range of souvenirs that were on offer. Let me know if you want to include an image of it on here which would be acknowledged to you. My email address is in the right hand menu bar.

  8. I believe the coat of arms painted on the coronation throne is that of New Zealand, rather than Dunedin.

    1. That's a very interesting point. You are right it's not of Dunedin (I should have known that, doh!) but doesn't appear to be of New Zealand either. I'm wondering if it is a coat of arms for "The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition Company Limited" as also appears on the season ticket, i'll need to do some research. Any suggestions welcome!

  9. Hi
    I have a ash tray that has green enamel on the edges and a coat of arms saying new zealand and south seas exhibition 1925-26 are they quite common??thank you

    1. Thanks for your comment. I can't say that I can recall seeing anything similar although there must have been a lot sold as this would have been a popular item. And it's one of those items that would probably have been in daily use over the years so if yours is in good condition it might be quite collectable although probably not highly valuable.


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