Sunday 31 March 2024

The Absurdity of Such a Device - An Unofficial History of the "Pocket Telephone"

A Satirical Cartoon lampooning the
use of "Pocket Telephones", 1919

April the 1st would perhaps be a more appropriate day to look at the history of what we now call the "mobile phone". Not only was the first serious attempt at a "mobile telephone" considered fraudulent, cartoonists mocked the inconvenience, and indeed the absurdity, of such a device.

"Development of Wireless Telegraphy", 1906 

In early December 1906, the English "Punch" magazine, being a satirical publication renowned for lampooning both people and ideas, published a cartoon as part of their "Forecasts for 1907" series ridiculing the idea of "mobile" communication. Drawn by Lewis Baumer, this cartoon portrays a man and a woman seated in London's Hyde Park, both individually communicating using portable wireless telegraphy equipment. Note the antenna on their heads. The woman is receiving an amatory [expressive love] message and the man is receiving racing results. Both machines are merely small boxes but are capable of printing wireless messages on tape. As Telegraphy was then the primary and fastest means of remotely sending short messages it is perhaps not unsurprising that Baumer envisaged a portable but wireless version of the Telegraph. As LED type screens did not then exist it would naturally be assumed that messages would need to be printed out and in fact such "telegraph" type techonology with messages printed onto a paper strip had already been invented. But for us today, this cartoon would be the closest one could then have possibly come to the idea of "mobile" text messaging using a portable device.

A "Marconi" Wireless Telegraph Receiver
manufactured from 1906 to 1912 

Although wholly in jest, the technology allowing oral messages to actually be sent and received via wireless had also already been invented. Guglielmo Marconi had demonstrated his wireless transmission device to the British Government as early as 1896 going on to make a successful transmission across the English Channel in 1899. So while such technology was not in everyday use it was at least well known. It is interesting that the cartoonist only envisaged that personal portable "wireless" communication would, in the future, be via the medium of printed messages and only receiving rather than transmitting. I very much doubt we would all wish to carry portable 'teleprinters'.

In 1908, Professor Albert Jahnke, along with the rather grandiosely named "Oakland Transcontinental Aerial Telephone and Power Company", claimed to have invented the first "wireless telephone", and duly filed a patent application. Incredulously, such was the disbelief that such technology would even be possible that the company were initially charged with fraud. Although all charges were dropped the technology was evidently still ahead of its time, required further development, or was not then commercially viable, and nothing more appears to have come of it. 

Francis J. McCarty testing his radiotelephone
Transmitter, San Francisco, Oct 1905

But curiously, I note another company, the "McCarty Wireless Telephone Company of Arizona" publicly advertising in April 1908 that they had no connection with the Oakland Transcontinental Company currently facing fraud charges and with the "arrest of the promoters". The McCarty company note that they are still; 

"...pursuing with its experiments to determine whether there is any practical or commercial value in wireless telephony... That spoken language can be transmitted through the medium of the atmosphere, and without the use of any other connection, is an established fact, but whether spoken words can be transmitted to such a distance as to make it a practical utility, is the question to be determined. It is this question that the McCarty Company is now engaged in trying to solve...

With the unfortunate death of the inventor and prime promoter, Francis McCarty, having occurred in May 1906, two of the McCarty Company's investors, bankers William and Tyler Henshaw, had contracted another then well-known inventor, Cyril F. Elwell, to review the potential worth of McCarty's patents. Elwell eventually concluded that the system's apparatus was incapable of ever being refined enough to become an effective radiotelephone system. The Oakland Transcontinental Company's work probably met a similar fate, no doubt not helped by the adverse publicity which would have scared off further investors, even if all charges had been dropped. While the technological hurdles yet to overcome were complex, slow progress would continue to be made, the potential this technology offering to aid communications being evident to all.  

Finnish Inventor Eric Tigerstedt, shown
here using radio equipment, 1915.

Now fast forward to 1917. The first serious contender at a "mobile" telephone appears to have been a patent filed for a "pocket-size folding telephone with a very thin carbon microphone" by Finnish Inventor, Eric Tigerstedt. But without seeing a photo of the design, his invention actually sounds more like the miniaturized "flip phone" of the 1990's, hardly the large "brick" 'Motorola' portable phone that would became commercially available in the 1980's. No further information about this device can be found.

"When We All Have Pocket Telephones" -
A cartoon drawn by W.K. Haselden
published in "The Daily Mirror"
on the 5th March 1919

Development of portable "wireless telephony technology" continued apace and it was only the following year in 1918 that Imperial Germany tested telephone technology on military trains. It should come as no surprise that the military had quickly forseeen the possibilities inherent in this new technology. 

In 1924, "Deutsche Reichbahn", the German National Railways under the Weimar Republic, began a public trial of wireless telephony on trains running between between Berlin and Hamburg. Evidently being successful, wireless telephony would then be introduced on other routes, the German company of "Zugtelephonie AG" [literally meaning 'train telephony') being founded in 1925 to manufacture and supply equipment for both the German National Railways and German Mail services.

Mobile Telephone usage as envisaged by
German Artist Karl Arnold, 1926

Little wonder that in 1926 the Munich based German satirical weekly magazine, "Simplicissimus", published a drawing by caricaturist Karl Arnold entitled "Berlin Wireless Telephony" showing people in the street using and carrying "mobile telephones". The text basically reads; "Presently at corner of Friedichstraße - Behrenstraße [Berlin].... good - wonderful - done - coming straight away". Prophetically, this cartoon published 98 years ago mimics the self same situation we can find ourselves in today and begs the question, has such technology always enriched our lives or have we become enslaved to it?

A fanciful 1957 comic strip from "UT Magazine"
portraying a "Tonton" (Uncle) at the Moscow Festival
calling his family in Paris on a "mobile" phone

Unsurprisingly, throughout the 1950's research into and development of a workable cellular "mobile phone" also took place in Communist Russia, specifically by Soviet Engineer and Inventor, Leonid Kuprayanovich. Shown below (at left) is the Inventor with his LK-2 "Radiofon" device weighing 3kg and dating from 1958. And at right his LK-3 device dating from 1961 now weighing only 70gm and which could be held in the palm of your hand. But note the now seemingly archaic "dial" on both versions so "Blackberry" phone type push button technology still had some way to go.

Leonid Kuprayanovich with his 1958 LK-2
"Radiofon" (at left) and his 1961 LK-3
palm-held version (at right)

The reason this phone never went into production is simply that the infrastructure was not yet in place for mass communication. A proposal had been put forward for ten "base" communication stations to be built in Moscow but the "party elite" appear to have cooled to the idea with development of the "Altai" Radio Telephone system then being progressed, this technology no doubt being easier and more cost effective to implement for wide spread usage. Without any further official support Kuprayanovich then went on to focus his considerable abilities on the development of medical equipment.     

The "Mansfield News Journal" of 18th April 1963
published an article accurately predicting the
widespread use of "Pocket" telephones
in the future.

In April 1963 the "Mansfield News Journal" of Ohio USA, published not only an article accurately predicting the features of the modern "flip" phone but also a photograph of what this may look like. The article stressed however that; "The phone is still in the development stage and far in the future" and that; "It's a laboratory development". Despite this, the various features available on moden day portable mobile phones were predicted with quite startling accuracy although I would perceive that the article would be need to be worded differently today when it comes to assumed household roles!; 

"'s workable, allowing the carrier to make and answer call wherever he may be. Other telephones of the future includes a kitchen loud speaking telephone, and a visual image telephone. The kitchen instrument can be used as a regular telephone, a loudspeaking phone if the housewife happens to be busy preparing a meal, or as an intercom station for the home. The visual image telephone allows the parties to converse by way of a microphone and loud speaker while a miniature television camera transmits the image. The "TV phone" also will have a writer signature transmission system and a conversation tape recorder." 

The first commercially available
Mobile Phone, 1983 -
The Motorola "DynaTAC 8000X
with permanently affixed aerial.

It was not until 1973 that "Motorola" demonstrated their new cellular phone which weighed a whopping 2 kilograms (4.4 lbs). They had in fact already been designing "mobile" phones for cars but these were decidedly power hungry and anything but mobile in their own right. The first commercial cellular network, as we would know it today, was in fact only launched in Japan in 1979. 

Finally, "Motorola" launched the first commercially available mobile telephone in 1983, being the "DynaTAC 8000X". A full charge would take 10 hours with only 30 minutes of talk time. The cost of the phone was also prohibitive, let alone the ongoing subscription to connect to a cellular network. This was initially restricted to main centres and even then with rather patchy reception. In early 1994 I recall a decidedly pushy and obnoxious Real Estate agent standing right in front of me dropping her "brick" mobile phone onto a concrete pathway and I will always remember the look of horror and then dread on her face as she picked it up wondering if her expensive toy was broken. I did rather think at the time that this was a good example of karma! But if you still have an early old "brick" phone it could now be worth a dollar or two. 

A thick & chunky but lightweight "Pantech"
South Korean made analogue
Flip-Phone manufactured c. early 2000's.
[From my own collection]

Post 1983, technology has continued to progress in leaps and bounds, the phones themselves having shrunk, many more options and applications (apps) have transformed usability, while performance and battery life have markedly increased. And now even the screen on the latest "flip" phone folds. But looking back to how cartoonists 100 years ago futuristically viewed "mobile" telephones into the next century, it leaves me wondering what advances we shall make over the next century - and whether this will truly benefit us or in fact hinder us? Most likely a good measure of both. 

All Rights Reserved

Sources :

- Images (unless otherwise stated) from Public Domain

- Wikipedia

- Various Internet resources

- "The Guardian" newspaper

- "Отечественные Мобильники 50-Х"

Sunday 24 March 2024

Royal Related Discoveries (Part One) - The Queen Mother's Chinaware


"Minton" Bone China Set
with a Royal provenance.
[From my own collection]

As a collector, it has always given me great pleasure to discover, with subsequent research or simply through being (I believe) knowledgeable on the subject, that items have not been correctly identified which, in some cases, has added to their subsequent value. And even more so of course when such items are in or come into my own possession.

In August 2004 I was travelling in a hire car with my then employer through Te Puke in the North Island of New Zealand and at my urging we stopped at a large collectible shop which specialized in old china.

On a dusty back shelf in what was a store literally bursting at the seams with old second hand china, I spied a very fine quality 'Minton' bone china cup, saucer, side plate and dinner plate with gold decoration and bearing a Crown. While not exactly at a bargain price, it appealed to me as being not just exceptionally fine china but also rather unusual. Upon inquiring about it, the shop owner told me that it had most likely come from British Foreign Embassy use and should probably never have ever left there but could give me no further information. It had probably simply been bought as part of a large auction or estate lot.

Dinnerplate from the "Minton" Royal Service
[From my own collection]

But I bought the set which I then placed in a china cabinet and quietly forgot about it. It was not until just a couple of years ago when I did some further research that I discovered that, incredibly, this china appears to have actually come from the disposal of items from Clarence House after the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in March 2002. 

Matching Dinnerware Items sold by a Dealer in Windsor
[Source :]

Try as I may I cannot obtain any further information other than the fact that an established (and I believe reputable) dealer in Windsor (UK), and who specializes in Royal related memorabilia, sold this china, including similarly monogrammed milk jug(s), water jug(s), tureen(s) and sugar bowl(s). As to how he came by these items he writes;

"...a rare Bone China water-jug produced by the Company Minton as part of the Royal Household Dinner-service for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother used in Clarence House in the 1980`s. The piece shows the Royal Crown in superb gilding but does not show the letters E R due to the pattern looking to similar to the official set for the Queen . The piece was sold as part of a Butler sale many years ago on which this was purchased by me together with lots of other Royal Household pieces."

"Minton China - [19]47" Impression
[From my own collection]

I have no reason to doubt this attribution as certainly the quality of this bone china set is of an exceptionally high standard. What I find intriguing though, is that the side plate is stamped with an indentation of "Feb 1945" while the dinner plate is stamped "47" for 1947. All the pieces have stamped Minton marks that pre-date 1951. 

As His Majesty King George VI died on the 6th February 1952, and assuming the attribution of Royal Household Service is indeed correct, that would mean that this service was obviously in use at Buckingham Palace during the latter years of the late King George and Queen Elizabeth's reign. I cannot however find one genuine example of standard fine china commonly used in Royal Household Service during the latter reign of King George VI. 

"Minton" China Mark in use until 1950
[From my own collection]

After the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother obviously had such items of her household china transferred to Clarence House where they simply continued in use. That new items of Minton china used by Queen Elizabeth II included an "ER II" cypher would help to confirm the Dealer's description of events although perhaps he had not realized (although he should have) that the china was older than he imagined. 

Matching Dinnerware items sold by a Dealer in Windsor
[Source :]

Having not found one example of British period embassy china I am unable to totally aboslutely disprove the Te Puke Dealer's assumed attribution but my feeling is that the Windsor Dealer's story is mostly correct, he just had the time period wrong. Additionally, the fact that the set is of fairly thin and fragile bone china and included some rather fancy jugs along with elegant lidded tureens and sugar bowls would indicate rather more than standard diplomatic service usage, especially under a post war Labour Government (1945 - 1951) where austerity would be the norm. And the question of how this china ended up in New Zealand will no doubt remain a mystery. Had they bought it then brought it half way around the world with them or had they perhaps been an employee of the Royal Household at some period and "surreptitiously purloined" this set for themselves as a souvenir? 

If anyone can add more information about this china, I would be happy to hear from you and can be contacted using the "Email Me" function in the right hand menu bar.   

Please click HERE to read the second instalment.

All Rights Reserved

Sources :

- My own collection

- Various Internet Resources

Saturday 16 March 2024

The Iconic 1965 "Crown Lynn" Air New Zealand Dinnerware Set

The original  full set of "Crown Lynn" dinnerware
manufactured for Air New Zealand, 1965
[From my own collection]

This is the story of what has now become a classic New Zealand icon. In 1965, the newly re-branded Air New Zealand, which was shortly introducing new Douglas DC8 airliners on its Pacific routes, desired dinnerware for their first class services which would "showcase New Zealand to the world and what the country had to offer".

The pre-eminent New Zealand pottery firm of "Crown Lynn" based at New Lynn in West Auckland were tasked with designing and producing a set that filled this somewhat challenging brief. What they achieved is acknowledged as a triumph, now being considered a truly iconic piece of New Zealand artwork and design. 

Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, describes the planning that went into the design for this set; 

"Jet flights were glamourous affairs and the national airline chose this design as part of their plan to showcase the best New Zealand had to offer in terms of food and wine, natural flora, and Māori culture."

Close-up of the "Tohora" motif on the
Air New Zealand dinner plate.
[From my own collection]

The New Zealand pottery firm of "Crown Lynn" was, by 1965, already a well established manufacturer of well designed, and more importantly for an airline, lightweight crockery. Their chosen design, "Tohora", would be superimposed on an attractive turquoise glaze which in fact mimicked the primary colour used on the new DC8 airliners. The use of turquoise had in fact a long history with the airline, being used by their previous namesake, Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), and would continue to be used by Air New Zealand for the next few decades.   

The "Tohora" motif, being a striking example of indigenous New Zealand Māori kōwhaiwhai iconography, symbolizes a 'tohora' or whale, often being be found carved on the frontage of pātaka (storehouses) and which, rather appropriately, signifies "abundance".

Val Monk, who has researched and written a detailed history of "Crown Lynn", notes that; "The first design for this ware was gold on turquoise, but the gold wouldn't stand up to industrial dishwashers so they chose brown instead". While a traditional Māori design, which individual artist was responsible for the final design and placement on the set is unfortunately not noted.

The Air New Zealand cup with distinctively
shaped handle, manufactured 1965.
[From my own collection]

This 10 piece dinner set comprises of the standard colour glaze dinnerware pieces for which the company was by now succesfully producing in some quantity for the New Zealand market. This included a dinner plate, side plate, cup and saucer, and dessert bowl. The cup featured a striking new design with a distinctive stylized handle. A heavier vitrified version of this same design, but in a pleasant maroon shade, would be introduced from 1971 on the New Zealand Government Railways new express services. I believe that, apart from the eye catching design, part of the reason for the reasonably wide styling of cup and the handle design is that it made stacking the cups possible and having tried this myself on another example I can confirm that this would appear to be correct. Thus another example of excellent and well thought out commercial design. In fact, a reproduction version of the cup and saucer (but with very subtle differences to the original) were made by Steiner Ceramics and sold as part of Air New Zealand's 75th anniversary celebrations in 2015, this attribution being clearly marked on the underside of each piece.

Dining on board an Air New Zealand DC8 and
featuring the new "Crown Lynn'" dinnerware.
[From an Air New Zealand promotional photo]

The full Air New Zealand set perfectly suited not just the specific in flight dining and space requirements on board their airliners but also enabled the efficient serving of extensive and elaborately presented meals. As previously noted, the airline's first class food menu also sought to showcase New Zealand food and wine which would, as we can see from the period photos, be presented and served with considerable 1960's styled flair and panache. The airline determined that service in the air on their new DC8's would stand up to anything offered on the ground and evidently took some pride in this fact. 

The exquisite Air New Zealand
Salt & Pepper shakers
[From my own collection]

Added to the basic five piece dinnerware set would be a new and distinctively shaped soup bowl (obviously with no intention of re-using the standard dessert bowl), an oval vegetable plate, a butter dish, and I must say, particularly attractive salt and pepper shakers. Again, some thought obviously went into new and very practical but visually attractive designs for these items. The reverse on all pieces carried an "Air New Zealand" and "Crown Lynn Potteries" attribution but curiously with the same "Maroro" or flying fish symbol which had been the company logo for Tasman Empire Airlines Limited, so a real throwback to the airline's former identity. The new cutlery (of which I hold two examples) also carried the old "Maroro" logo along with "Air New Zealand" so the change to the new company logo and identity was rather slow off the mark in comparison to the design and production of the new dinnerware by "Crown Lynn". 

I assume this was simply due to the "re-branding" from (the New Zealand Government owned) Tasman Empire Airways on the 1st April 1965 and the delivery of the new Douglas DC8 aircraft from the 20th July 1965, so time was rather limited. The Douglas Aircraft Company, who had been given the order for the new aircraft as far back as 1962, had however anticipated the change of name so painting of the airline name onto the already painted fuselages was deliberately left until the very last. But the old airline name of "TEAL", having been pre-painted, would remain emblazoned on the Air New Zealand DC8 tail fins until as late as 1967.

The backstamp on the "Crown Lynn" designed
Air New Zealand dinnerware showing the
old TEAL "Maroro" Flying Fish symbol.
[From my own collection]

The matter of a new corporate logo simply appears to have also been of lessor priority than the basic airline renaming and rebranding. I believe I have seen the new, and still well known, "Koru" logo on at least the butter dish as, apparently being a promotional item, these were perhaps manufactured in more than just one run. But with all other pieces of this dinner service obviously being manufactured in one large bulk order the old "Maroro" logo could still be seen on the underside of the existing dinnerware until it was discontinued nine years later in 1973, but perhaps past this date on the cutlery. Overall, all pieces of this new service were practical, reasonably durable, visually attractive, and specifically designed to suit the needs of First Class dining on Air New Zealand services. 

The small butter dish remains the the most commonly available piece today due to the fact that they were manufactured in quantity and given out by the airline as a "complimentary" gift. An example in good condition will today (2024) still sell for at least NZ$30.00 I do not however know if this dish was an occasional promotional giveaway item or given to all on board First Class passengers. But what I do know is that it came in a small box with a printed explanation of the Māori motif which reads; 

"The motif on the enclosed complimentary ceramic dish depicts the stylized Maori [sic Māori] representation of the head of the whale or tohora. This old design, symbolizing abuddance, traditionally dominately the elaborately carved facia boards of food storehouses (pataka) in the fortified villages of the New Zealand Maori [sic] whose artistry is among the most advanced of the Polynesian people". 

Dining on board an Air New Zealand DC8 and
featuring the new "Crown Lynn'" dinnerware.
[From an Air New Zealand promotional photo]

As with the classic New Zealand railways cup and saucer, this Air New Zealand dinnerware set has now reached 'iconic' status which is a testament to not only its design but also the imagery that it represents of international travel and of New Zealand's indiginous culture and traditions. Prices for items that come onto the market have, over recent years, climbed substantially and to the extent that many would be collectors have given up on collecting the complete set. Cup and saucer duos and the salt and pepper shakers in good, undamaged condition appear to now be the rarest items and while they come onto the market occasionally it will require rather deep pockets to beat off other serious collectors. And I do wonder if some collect this set as an art investment with the not unrealistic expectation that prices will continue to rise. The "brown" Tohora pattern, actually being a very dark shade of brown, certainly appears to have worn reasonably well and most examples show no more than superficial knife marks. Very worn, cracked or chipped examples will exhibit damage that either incurred during or after Air New Zealand 'in flight' usage and would certainly not have continued to be used in passenger service in that condition, perhaps being disposed of to staff members.

A reproduction of a coaster used to promote the
new Air New Zealand DC8 International air
services, designed 1965.
[From my own collection]

As to my own full set, which is in excellent condition and carries the original 1965 production "Mororo" flying fish logo, it is my intention that it will never be on-sold but will eventually, and subject to collection policies and the professionalism of the institution, be donated to a securely managed public museum - should they wish to accept it of course. It would give me the greatest pleasure to know that others can view and also enjoy this truly beautiful set which is now an intrinsic part of not only succesful New Zealand design and manufacture but also of how New Zealand, through the medium of Air New Zealand and international air travel, literally presented itself to the world through the use of practical and exceptionally well designed dinnerware.   

All Rights Reserved

Sources :

- All items, unless otherwise stated, from my own collection

- Te Papa Tongarewa / Museum of New Zealand

- New Zealand Pottery Net

- Air New Zealand

Sunday 10 March 2024

The Earlier and Truly Original 1940's New Zealand Railways Cup & Saucer

The now "iconic" New Zealand Railways classic
Cup & Saucer produced from 1956 to 1970's.
[From my own collection]

Many of us will be aware of the now "iconic" and much sought after "Crown Lynn Potteries Limited" New Zealand made Railways cup and saucer featured above which bears a blue crown and "NZR" stamp, being made from 1956 to around the 1970's. Saucers now appear to greatly outnumber cups but this may have to do with a large stock of saucers being held when this style had been discontinued. I can certainly recall a shop in Christchurch in the late 1980's (Iron Horse Hobbies?) slowly disposing of a large stock of "blue" font NZR saucers. Now very collectible, these New Zealand made sets often come up for sale but at a good price. A duo in good condition will now sell for anything from NZ$150.00 upwards. 

But let us delve into the earlier history of New Zealand made railways crockery which is, I believe, a rather fascinating subject, having originally come about as a result of wartime expediency.

The now classic but earlier version of the
New Zealand Railways Cup & saucer
produced c.1948 to 1955
[From my own collection]

How many of us are aware that the classic 'blue' duo featured above was in fact preceded from 1948 to 1955 with the same style of New Zealand made "Crown Lynn" cup and saucer but with the font and crown printed in black? Cups and saucers with the black font carry a scrolling "Crown Lynn" logo and the word "Vitrified" on the underside. Vitrified is simply a type of firing at very high temperatures which adds a very durable enamel layer to items of crockery. A paired "black" duo in good condition is now reasonably rare and holds a much higher value than the more common post 1955 to 1970's "blue" logo version. I have seen "black" logo examples sell for well over $250.00

Two versions of Temula Potteries cups
made for the New Zeland Railways
circa mid 1940's to mid 1950's

From around the late 1940's to the mid 1950's the Temuka potteries in South Canterbury produced cups stamped with either just "NZR" or with "NZR" and a crown and these occasionally appear for sale. While still of value, these do not, for some reason, seem to command quite the same prices as the classic "Crown Lynn" examples. Many Temuka examples are either broken, chipped or cracked, generally bearing the scars of having usually been thrown out railway carriage windows. This was, believe it or not, quite a common practice and saucers would literally become frisbees. As trains did not, until the early 1970's have refreshment carriages, stops would be made at stations with refreshment rooms where passengers would made a made dash to the counter for a cup of tea and something to eat, carrying their cup, saucer and eats back onto the train. Thus a number of cups and saucers were "disposed" of by illicit means before the guard came through the carriages to collect them, either being thrown out the window or hidden to take home. This was despite the clear "NZR" branding to discourage usage by other than the railways. One NZR branded crockery set was even discovered in use in a London restaurant in 1956 while the same writer noted having seen an example in a hut at the "high altitude" of Mount Ruapehu. Maybe still better than being unceremoniously thrown out a railway carriage window! But oddly, and to the best of my knowledge, no extant Temuka made "NZR" branded saucers have ever been found and one would have thought that even pottery shards would be relatively common. So were Temuka saucers even made?

The original and now much sought after "AMBRICO"
New Zealand Railways handle-less cup with matching
saucer, produced from 1942 to mid 1940's.
[From my own collection]

But this now brings us to what is the truly original New Zealand Railways cup and saucer, being the main feature of this post. Prior to the Second World War all railways china had been imported from Britain and a myriad of examples, many now quite valuable, exist in museums and private collections up and down the country. But with the usual breakages, pilfering, and the afore-mentioned "disposal" of crockery out of railway carriage windows, there was now a pressing need for new stock. But the war meant that by 1942 production from England was no longer available and only "essential" items could be shipped and even that carried some risk with high shipping losses. What was to be done?

Enter the Auckland based "Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company", usually now known as "AMBRICO", being a forerunner of the better known "Crown Lynn Potteries" of New Lynn, West Auckland. After the installation of an oil-fried continuous tunnel kiln in 1941 the AMBRICO company now embarked on the production of tableware. Under direction from the wartime Ministry of Supply, the company supplied crockery for not just domestic use but also for military use, including for the American forces stationed in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. 

The Original "AMBRICO" New Zealand
Railways Mug. Produced 1942 to mid 1940's
[From my own collection] 

Thus, from 1942, AMBRICO was contracted to supply the New Zealand Government Railways with cups and saucers. But therein lay a problem that just could not be satisfactorily solved, being (one would have thought) the relatively straightforward process of adding a handle to the cups. But try as they may, no one in New Zealand had the expertise to permanently or at least satisfactorily affix handles to their cups. So thus was born the now highly sought after "handle-less" New Zealand Railways cup, often also referred to as a "beaker" or "mug". With the cup bearing a large "NZR" stamp in black or dark green, the saucer was similarly stamped in a smaller font in the centre, ordinarily being hidden by the cup. The stamp is often crooked or smudged but this is now just part of the character of these unique items of railway crockery. This is indeed the original and authentic New Zealand Railways cup but their rarity means that they are now lesser known than the rather more modern and widely available versions. There are also examples of this solid style of cup with a more rounded bottom and the colour of the clay for all examples varies from white to straw. But the version shown here would be the most common. Whatever version still exists is likely to show either cracks, crazing, chips or breakage but an intact example offered for sale in reasonable condition will now, due to their rarity and value to a dedicated Railways china collector, command a hefty price tag.

A period "AMBRICO" Paris design saucer
with the "NZR" stamp, being indicative of that
used by the New Zealand Railways.
[From my own collection]

With not having handles there were naturally complaints about burnt fingers and hands but there was, in wartime conditions, simply no alternative. I daresay many passengers simply used their saucers to attempt to steady the cup as holding it up would have risked injury unless perhaps holding it with a handkerchief. The saucers themselves are of the basic but not unattractive "Paris" pattern with the distinctive ridges running around the perimeter. A cup was also produced bearing these ridges (known as "beehive" cups) but railways usage demanded a heavier duty type of cup, hence the rather more solid cup featured in this Blog. The "Paris" cup is only noted as being used at the Paekakariki Refreshment Rooms, probably due to an extreme shortage of cups. All Ambrico Railway cups (as far as I am aware) have no markings on the bottom which, along with the missing handle, makes them easy to identify. The majority of earlier "Paris" design saucers, apart from the "NZR" stamp, are unmarked, but a small round "Made in N.Z." stamp appears on the underside of later versions. All cups produced by Temuka Potteries, including all English made cups, are in one way or another clearly marked underneath so it is very easy to differentiate between each version or manufacturer. As an aside, I note that in later years, and obviously due to not knowing their history, the handle-less NZR cup was occasionally sold by collectible shops as a railways shaving mug!

The Paekakariki Railway Refreshment Rooms 
serving a large number of people  before
returning to their train, circa 1950's.
[Source : NZHistory.Govt.NZ]

I have not personally come across any examples of the AMBRICO "handle-less" cup with an intact handle but some examples are believed to exist. Quite how long the AMBRICO "NZR" cup was in production for is unknown. It was not until after the war when skilled staff were recruited from England that the problem of affixing handles to cups was adequately solved. This also allowed not only an expansion of the whole range of items produced by the factory but also the manufacture of better quality crockery. It is however generally acknowledged that the newly branded "Crown Lynn" pottery only started producing the above mentioned and more familiar black "NZR" and crown white china cups and saucers from 1948. Depending on contracts, Temuka potteries may also have filled the void from the war's end until 1948, along with imports of English made crockery, specifically by "Maddock" of Burslem in Staffordshire, of which I hold a few examples.

A shard from an original New Zeraland Railways
saucer superimposed on the classic AMBRICO
1940's "Paris" design saucer.
[Source : NZ Pottery Net]

I have never seen an intact "AMBRICO" NZR stamped saucer but shards have certainly been found as per the example shown above. The example shown further up this page, while of the genuine "Paris" design and age, is for illustrative purposes only. I think it goes without saying that both the handle-less cup and the "Paris" saucer would be paired and the cup certainly sits securely on the "Paris" saucer.

It is not however my intention to give a definitive history of these items, merely a generalization for the purposes of this Blog. While we thankfully have the illustrated booklet "Railway Refresh in New Zealand", being the result of very considerable research by the late Christine Johnson and of Michael O'Leary, I am aware that further research work on this fascinating subject is being undertaken which will continue to expand on our knowledge of New Zealand Railways crockery as a whole.

Should you wish to suggest any additions or corrections, I may be contacted using the "Email Me" button in the right hand menu bar.

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Sources :

- All items from my Personal collection

- "Railway Refresh in New Zealand" by Christine Johnson & Michael O'Leary, 2020

- New Zealand Pottery Net

- NZ History Net

- Papers Past