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

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