Crown Lynn: Crockery of Distinction (with a touch of sauciness)

Crown Lynn: Crockery of Distinction (with a touch of sauciness)

This weekend the City Gallery, Wellington opens Crown Lynn: Crockery of Distinction, a celebration of New Zealand’s most iconic home ware producers. Drawing on public and private collections, the exhibition ‘considers the company’s vital role in a history of home-grown creativity, international influence and innovative design, and the nature of collecting itself’.

Understanding New Zealander’s love for Crown Lynn, the City Gallery have set up a special Facebook page, and are inviting collectors and passionate owners of the brand to upload images of their own Crown Lynn favs.

Sauce bottle, 1953, Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd (1948–1991), Carpay, Frank (1917–1985), New Zealand. Purchased 1984. Te Papa
Sauce bottle, 1953, Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd (1948–1991), Carpay, Frank (1917–1985), New Zealand. Purchased 1984. Te Papa

We also thought we would get in on the sharing and throughout the exhibition’s duration will highlight some of our favourite Te Papa pieces. Mine is this cheeky little sauce bottle by Frank Carpay, a Dutch designer who  worked for Crown Lynn in their ‘specials’ department for three years in the 1950s. Who could resist those fabulous heels!

Frank Carpay arrived in New Zealand from Holland in 1953 – a decision inspired by a postcard of Auckland featuring palm trees – and was introduced to Tom Clark of Crown Lynn by way of letter. Realising the potential of Carpay’s background in commercial and studio ceramics, including an association with Picasso, Tom Clark, readily created a job for Carpay in the company’s ‘specials’ department.

In November 1953, Crown Lynn proudly launched Frank Carpay’s Handwerk range of ‘experimental’ hand decorated pieces. On seeing Carpay’s collection, a critic at the Auckland Star described how ‘the fresh ideas of a continental artist can transform the stock patterns of New Zealand pottery into objects of uncommon attractiveness’. Indeed, determined to ‘wage war’ against New Zealander’s predilection for rose patterns, Carpay produced lively, modernist designs which referenced the art work of Picasso and Matisse, as well as European folklore. This ‘naked lady’ sauce bottle from Te Papa’s collection, reflects both these avenues of influence. (She is soon to be joined by a stylishly clothed counterpart so keep a look out on Collections Online).

In his first year at Crown Lynn, Frank Carpay took nakedness a little too far – while it might be acceptable on a sauce bottle on some dinner tables, as far as Royal souvenirs went, it was far too risqué. In 1953 Carpay produced a prototype for souvenir jug for the upcoming Royal Tour, and brazenly depicted Queen Elizabeth II in a sheer blouse with nipple in full view. Needless, to say the design did not go into production, and the offending prototype is now in the collection of the Auckland War Memorial Museum (alas the X-rated Queen not in the City Gallery’s show).

Frank Carpay worked for Crown Lynn until 1956, when he was ‘let go’, as they began to retreat from ‘experimental’ ranges, in favour of more utilitarian ware. Despite his short stay at the company, Carpay produced a wide range of designs, which over the last two decades have become highly collectable.

If you want to know more about Carpay and his years at Crown Lynn and beyond (he went on to design fabrics), try and get your hands on Douglas Lloyd Jenkins’ small but perfectly formed catalogue ‘Frank Carpay’, which was produced by the Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery in 2003. The catalogue has sold out but copies can be found in second hand book shops. The Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery are the proud owners of the Carpay Archive which includes ceramics, textiles, photographs and documents.

Crown Lynn Facebook page
View other Crown Lynn works in Te Papa’s Collection

Claire Regnault
Senior Curator History


  1. STOP PRESS – the Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery have sold out of Frank Carpay and Avis Higgs catalogues – so they are now collectible too! Your only hope is the second hand market or your local library!

  2. being a Kiwi by choice. lovely to see more of Crown Lynn china, I have a collection of the floral set.. think its Sapphire, blue flowers, its boxed in the garage.. plates. saucers. cups. jugs.. etc.. must see what else I have in the cottage, used to love the white swans…just realised I have another piece, white vase. Crown Lynn.. Love the sauce.. cheeky ones!!!

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