New Zealand Glass History

New Zealand glass
Above: New Zealand glass made by Crown Crystal Glassworks, Christchurch

Author: Angela Bowey (grateful thanks to Bruce Whitnall & Pauline Farrell)

The history of glass in New Zealand began in the nineteenth century when the first settlers from Europe brought their bottles and glasses from home. Maori history records the first Maori's came to New Zealand in 1350. James Cook landed and claimed the country for Great Britain in 1769. Missionaries were the first European settlers, and the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in the Bay of Islands in 1840. By this time whaling fleets and sealers ships crowded the ports of the North and the town of Kororareka (now Russell) was known as "the hell-hole of the Pacific" due its its taverns and brothels lining the waterfront. In the mid 19th century New Zealand was a wild and war-torn country, with all its manufactured goods coming by sea, mostly from England.

Home-based industries were started to supply local needs, and one of these was melting down broken bottles and blowing lamp chimneys, for which there was a growing and constant demand. No doubt by the 1850's some of these small-scale operators made plates and simple glassware too, but we have no records of their output, and it was tiny compared to the vast amounts of glassware imported from England.

Beer was brewed locally all over the country by the middle of the 19th century, and these breweries re-used the bottles from English beer. As they grew and wanted to establish a brand image, New Zealand breweries required bottles with their own names and these too were imported from England.

By 1870 the shortage of bottles had become so severe that Nelson Brewery petitioned Parliament to encourage an ale and porter bottle maker to set up here. There followed some fifty years of during which numerous attempts were made to set up successful bottle and glassworks in New Zealand, all of them failing. These failed ventures all faced the same pressures, -very high set-up costs, very high costs of imported sand, no local skilled glassworkers, and fierce competition from the importers. By 1902 there was a desperate shortage of bottles in New Zealand and Parliament took action in 1903 by putting bottles on the free import list. No longer restricted to buying from Britain, bottles and glassware poured into New Zealand from all over the world. From that point of view, this country is a collector's paradise!

glasses from Crown Crystal Glass

The glass shown above is etched with commemorative messages from New Zealand events like the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1907, the Dunedin Exhibition of 1925, and local events like the Hawera Show of 1917. They were etched at the shows, sometimes with messages like "From Charlie to Addie", but all the glass was imported from the USA. No doubt USA collectors will recognise it!

No further interest was shown in setting up a glassworks in New Zealand until the 1920's, when the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company, who were exporting masses of bottles to New Zealand, saw an opportunity. They built a bottle works in Penrose, Auckland which is still going strongly today.

In 1950 the same company set up Crown Crystal Glass in Christchurch to make tableware. This was the only pressed & blown glassworks to make tableware in New Zealand, and it survived until 1987. Kiwi's will recognise the glasses shown at the top of this page and those below as typical of their glassware.

Glass tumblers from New Zealand
Tumblers from NZ's one and only successful glassware factory, Crown Crystal Glass, (1950-1989)

The History of New Zealand Glass is told in more detail on a CD-ROM called New Zealand Glass. The third edition has recently been published with a huge amount of information. (click here for more information)

The History of New Zealand glass revolved around lamp chimneys and bottles until quite recently. It comprises an interesting economic and social history of 19th century company failures, the bottle works in Penrose, the story of Crown Crystal Glass, and the small studio workshops and glass artists. There is no doubt that today's New Zealand studio artists produce glass comparable to the best in the world. Perhaps their lack of a long tradition encourages great spontaneity.

New Zealand Glass history is featured in the author's book about New Zealand Glass. This book covers both extensive historical information and current glass artists in New Zealand, with some superb photographs and explanatory text.

INFORMATION about New Zealand Glass !
Including many original catalog pictures and dozens of photographs.
NOW available - this is the new second edition of this book and it covers the fascinating history of glass in New Zealand, the story of Crown Crystal Glass, NZ bottles and an overview of contemporary New Zealand glass artists.
Available as a paperback or as a Kindle book.

Buy Now or take a look

If you are in the UK, this link is better

If you are looking for New Zealand glass, you can usually find items on offer on ebay
click here to see New Zealand glass currently for sale on ebay.

You could also check out our Recommended Books on Glass.

Glass Museum Articles on Glass

If you have any questions about glass that you think we can help with, please ask at the Glass Club Message Board.
And special thanks to all of you who share your knowledge by answering questions on the Message Board.

Copyright © 1997 - 2021 Angela M. Bowey.
Web site designed by: Angela M. Bowey.

No material from this website may be copied or reproduced without written permission from Angela M. Bowey. Full acknowledgement of the author and Glass Museum URL MUST be included, and copying any pictures is forbidden. Please respect our copyright.
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