Thursday, April 23, 2020

Royal Oak Pottery 1946 - 2014

When we consider Royal Oak Pottery, this is what usually springs to mind.  Quite heavy 'rustic' kitchenware, often with stylised daisy flowers.  But the full story is much richer and more interesting.  Hence, this is the longest post I have ever written. I have tried to trim it down but believe me this is the best I can do.

Through most of the 1940s Owen Salisbury’s Auckland factory turned out thousands of hand-painted Salisbury Ware vases. (See previous post). Then in 1945 the war ended and imported English ware came back on the market. New Zealanders lost interest in homegrown Salisbury Ware and the factory closed in 1946.  

Undaunted, Owen Salisbury set up a workshop in his family garage in the Auckland suburb of Royal Oak. He hand-painted little cactus planter pots from Spartan Products, and placed them on wooden Mexican-style wall shelves. Soon he was able to give up his paid employment and concentrate on the business.

Above: the first Royal Oak ware. Owen Salisbury made wooden shelves and added cactus pots - and a few little Santas - by Spartan
Photo courtesy Edward Salisbury

As his business grew, Owen Salisbury bought and decorated more bisque ware blanks from Norm Stevens and Dave Stewart at Spartan.  Then Spartan closed, and for a time Owen bought his blanks from Norm Stevens, now a struggling sole operator. From 1952 he was supplied by Cameron and Dorothy Brown at Sherwood Potteries.  

Above: Butterfly wall vase decorated at Royal Oak.  Blank from Sherwood Potteries. 1950s
Louise de Varga photograph, from Julie Cardon collection. From memory about 15 cm height. 

Owen Salisbury’s new business took off and he went back to Crown Lynn for a better supply of blanks. Owen suggested many of the shapes that Crown Lynn made for him. As well as castware, he bought vases hand-thrown by Ernest Shufflebotham at Crown Lynn and sprayed them with bands of paint, mainly in pastel colours. Output quickly expanded and he hired Ted Heart from Crown Lynn to help with decoration.

Above: wall vase in the shape of a hat, decorated by Ted Heart for Royal Oak. 16 cm end to end.  The maker of this shape is still under discussion - either Crown Lynn or Sherwood.

Owen Salisbury was always looking for new ways to expand the business. By the early 1950s he had commissioned metal mesh (lacemetal) ware and wrought iron ware including plant stands and planters, telephone tables, fire screens, magazine holders, umbrella stands and wall-mounted shelves in various configurations.  Much of the metalwork held vases, pots and planters made by Crown Lynn or Sherwood Pottery and decorated at Royal Oak.

Above: Royal Oak lacemetal planter. The green leaves were cut out of old food tins then painted. Vase probably by Sherwood. 21 cm end to end.

Above: Royal Oak metalware wall decorations and ornaments.  Pottery blanks by Crown Lynn and (probably) Sherwood Pottery. Image from a Royal Oak catalogue, courtesy Edward Salisbury. 

In 1956, Owen’s son Edward Salisbury started work at his father’s factory – just before the entire factory burned down. The business moved to a nearby building in Manukau Road and Edward’s first job was to clean up the remains of the burned factory.   Only a few days later Crown Lynn also had a huge factory fire.  Despite these setbacks production continued, with hand-decorated vases and ornaments selling as fast as they could be made.

Through the years the business had its ups and downs, and staff were hired accordingly.  Key staff at various times included Ted Heart and Darryl Hargreaves (decorators) and modeller Peter Cooke.

By the end of the 1950s, the Royal Oak metalware catalogue had expanded still further, and stand-alone vases and ornaments also found a ready market. In 1956 the family established a warehouse in New Plymouth, run by Owen’s brother Raymond.  Output was limited only by inconsistent supplies of Crown Lynn blanks and by import restrictions on metal mesh.   Royal Oak sold metal ware until about the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s Royal Oak made Formica coffee tables and tea wagons and at times also sold imported crystal, bone china, porcelain, lamps and dinner ware.

Above: Royal Oak planters. These pots were first made by Crown Lynn in 1964
Photograph courtesy Edward Salisbury. I don't have one of these to measure but I estimate that the tallest would be about 80 cm in height. 

Above: This ornamental shell, decorated at Royal Oak, was first made by Crown Lynn in 1961. Length 27 cm. 
From 1961-1964, Royal Oak was still buying blanks from Crown Lynn, including candle stick ends, a butterfly,  a crocus vase and the familiar shell above.   Royal Oak also sold finished Crown Lynn ware including whiteware vases and swans. At Crown Lynn, Daniel Steenstra made and decorated a range of planter pots, vases and kitchen jars for Royal Oak.  Some were unmarked; others had a Royal Oak stamp on the base.  Some Crown Lynn plates were also stamped Royal Oak and presumably retailed through the Salisbury family.  

Above: a planter made and decorated by Daniel Steenstra at Crown Lynn and sold at Royal Oak. Photograph courtesy A. A-S.. Height estimated 19 cm. 

Above: this Crown Lynn colourglaze dessert bowl carries a Royal Oak stamp

Royal Oak kitchenware
In the early 1960s Owen Salisbury began making pottery from scratch.  He imported a kiln from England and began mixing his own clay body. Young Edward dug the first clay out of a hillside in Waiwera and later supplies came from Auckland’s north-western motorway construction site and the big deposits near Matauri Bay in Northland.  

At first Royal Oak made mainly ornaments, but by the mid-1960s the family was making thousands of pieces of practical kitchenware.   

Salisbury called his new range Colonial Ware, but in about 1967 it was renamed Winfred May Pottery – after a Mrs Winifred May Cullen who was hired to market Royal Oak ware to retailers.  The range included coffee sets, mugs, storage jars, salt pigs and oil bottles. Later there were casseroles, ramekins and jugs.

Above: Royal Oak’s Winifred May ware.
Photograph from a catalogue, courtesy Edward Salisbury

Above: Mugs were a consistent best seller for Royal Oak.  The bottom layer are the popular 'P30' shape. It is estimated that through the years about 250,000 of this shape alone were sold.  

Sadly, Mrs Cullen soon fell ill and later died, leaving Royal Oak without a marketer.  In 1969 Owen Salisbury again joined forces with Arthur Martin. Trading as Martex, Martin sold Royal Oak kitchenware under the brand name SAMA, an amalgamation of the names Salisbury and Martin.  
Above: Royal Oak salt and pepper with the Sama stick-on label. Height 9 cm. 

By 1974 Royal Oak was selling direct to retail shops. New glaze colours included white, nut brown, orange, dark blue and mottled brown, almost always with shiny dark brown around the top.  
Above: Royal Oak ware from the early 1970s.
Catalogue images, courtesy Edward Salisbury 

In 1976 Owen’s two sons Edward and Stewart moved production to a much bigger factory in Henderson. By this stage Owen was content to work on glaze development and his own small-scale projects and it was some years before he too made the move from his workshop at Manukau Road to the Henderson factory. 

Edward Salisbury and the rest of the team were great do-it-yourselfers.  They tackled everything from kiln repairs to modelling, mould making and slipcasting. Clay body and glazes were made by the family using recipes created by Owen Salisbury and tested in their own laboratory.  All Royal Oak ware was slipcast, so they kept away from circular items like plates which Crown Lynn could make much faster on their mechanised jiggers.   Most Royal Oak has a flat dry base with no discernible foot ring. However sometimes Edward carved a foot into the base of the plaster mould. 

In 1978 Owen taught Royal Oak’s first artist, Lynley Trail, to decorate ‘Daisy Ware’ with simple stylised flowers in brown, blue and later pink.  By 1979 there were over 20 staff turning out 1000 storage jars a month, along with teapots, coffee sets, mugs, salt pigs, egg cups, oil bottles, jugs, ramekins and casseroles - and even a hanging garlic holder.  The simply decorated ware was quick to make, with only one trip through the kiln. At first, lettering – eg ‘sugar’ – was hand-brushed. Later, transfers were used.

Above: Royal Oak Daisy pattern teapot. Cane handles (and corks) were bought in bulk and fitted at the Royal Oak factory. 

Above: Royal Oak Daisy Ware. Brown sold better than these blue and pink colourways. Blue jar at rear, 12 cm excluding cork. Wet/dry spoon holders 8 cm. 

In about 1979 Stewart Salisbury left the family business and moved to Australia. After a couple of years he came back to New Zealand and established Stewart Pottery in Henderson.

1979 was the year of peak production. Edward Salisbury estimates that at least 250,000 of the basic ‘P30’ shape coffee mugs were made over the years.  In the early 1980s, Tasti Products ordered 10,000 jars for ginger.  Some Royal Oak pottery was exported to Australia and the Pacific Islands.  In the 1970s the Royal Oak shop also sold Temuka ware, but Edward recalls that it was inclined to chip and customers complained.  

For several years Royal Oak focused on the popular hand-painted Daisy Ware, but in 1982 they began using German-made transfers –  brown and orange ‘Autumn’ for the South Island and ‘Rustic Rose’ for the North Island.   

Above:  Royal Oak kitchen containers with the ‘Autumn’ transfer. (To my regret I did not buy this lineup. Photo taken in the shop, hence price stickers)  Height estimated 14 cm.

Above:Kitchen jug with the ‘Rustic Rose’ transfer. Height (from memory) 14 cm. 

In 1 March 1985 the family patriarch Owen Salisbury died, and his workshop in Henderson was emptied out and closed.  By this stage demand had begun to ebb and parts of the big Henderson factory were progressively shut down.  It finally closed in 1996. 

For the next few years, Royal Oak pottery was made in a workshop at Edward Salisbury’s home in Green Bay.  There was a big order for mugs for Apex Valves, with recipients’ names hand-lettered onto each mug.

In the year 2000 Edward moved to the small Waikato town of Paeroa, and after that he continued making Royal Oak on a smaller scale, selling mainly at craft markets.Without the burden of running a factory he was able to create more shapes, for example kiwi, pukeko, lizard and john dory fish figurines. 

In 2014 Edward Salisbury retired and production of Royal Oak pottery ceased completely.

Owen Salisbury 

Above: Owen Salisbury in 1962
Photo courtesy Edward Salisbury

Until Royal Oak Pottery moved to Henderson in 1976, Owen Salisbury was very much involved in day-to-day production.  After the move he stayed at his workshop in Manukau Road and had time to experiment with new glazes, shapes and decorations – and to go fishing.
From this time, Owen’s work can still be identified as Royal Oak but many pieces have his own style. He made and decorated slipcast coffee mugs, wine goblets, decanters, vases and the like. Some carried the Royal Oak sticker, and a few pieces were signed on the base with Owen’s mark. He created his own ‘Lava Glaze’ from scoria dug from under his home, and marked the product with specially printed labels.

There has been a suggestion that the thick speckly glaze as seen on the salt and pepper below is Lava Glaze, but the family is very clear that the term was used only by Owen for a few of his products.

Above: this salt and pepper is in White/Brown, not Lava Glaze. Height 4.5 cm.

Owen Salisbury’s work was sold through his on-site shop as well as the Royal Oak Pottery outlet store.  For some time, his entire output was bought by a Queen Street gift shop.  When the lease on the Royal Oak building expired, Owen joined the rest of the team in Henderson. Until his final illness in 1985, he had  his own workshop close to the main factory. Owen's son Edward estimates that there were 300 buckets of various glaze mixes in the workshop when it was cleared out after his death.

Above: Floral mug by Owen Salisbury. He also made vases and other ware in this pattern
Photo courtesy Edward Salisbury

Above: 'Lava Glaze' vase by Owen Salisbury. 
Image courtesy A. A-S.

Above: Wine container by Owen Salisbury. There was also a 'Rum' version and possibly others. Height 18 cm. 

Identifying Royal Oak 

Much of Royal Oak Pottery's output is not marked.  Most carried a sticker when it left the factory, but of course once an item has been used a few times the sticker disappears.
Because all the shapes, moulds and glazes and clay body were made in-house, Royal Oak is quite distinctive. Its heavy country-style look struck a chord with New Zealanders who were ready to move on from the precision and symmetry of Crown Lynn.

Below: Royal Oak stickers and stamps 

Early Royal Oak sticker. Used (I believe) on the hand-painted ware made C 1946-1960s

Royal Oak Pottery sticker. Used from 1975 to 2014

Winifred May Pottery.  C 1967-1968

Sama by Martex sticker C 1969-1970

Colonial Ovenware sticker late 1970s 

Royal Oak Pottery stamp. Occasionally found on Royal Oak kitchenware

With the compliments of Royal Oak Pottery Used by Crown Lynn when making glazed ware for Royal Oak 

Royal Oak Potteries stamp.  Used by Crown Lynn when making glazed ware for Royal Oak

Below: Owen Salisbury's marks and stickers from late 1970s - early 1980s 

Above: Owen Salisbury's impressed mark.

Harvest Brown Ovenware

Lava Glaze from Volcanic Cones... 

With the compliments of Owen Salisbury.  Royal Oak Pottery

Royal Oak Pottery Owen W Salisbury


1946 – Owen Salisbury established Royal Oak Pottery in a workshop at his home at 714 Mt Albert Road. First ceramic blanks supplied by Spartan Potteries.
1947 – As Royal Oak Pottery expanded, blanks were supplied by Norm Stevens (ex Spartan), Cameron Brown (Sherwood Pottery) and then Ambrico/Crown Lynn. By now Royal Oak was also selling various metal scroll ware items – plant pot stands etc.
1956 – Royal Oak Pottery was registered as a company. A branch warehouse was set up in New Plymouth and managed by Raymond Salisbury (Owen’s brother).
1956 - Edward Salisbury started working full-time for the family business. In December 1956 the factory was destroyed by fire.  
Early 1957 – A new factory was established at 697 Manukau Road, Royal Oak.
1959-1964 - Crown Lynn was making some moulds for Royal Oak
1960 – The first kiln arrived from England and Owen Salisbury began making his own ware. Modeller Peter Cooke moved from Crown Lynn to Royal Oak. 
1967 – Winifred May kitchenware was introduced.  Metal ware was discontinued.
From C1969 –Arthur Martin sold the entire output as ‘SAMA by Martex’.
C1973 – Owen’s younger son Stewart joined the family company.
By 1974 Royal Oak kitchenware was marketed direct to retailers. It came in six colours - white, nut, orange, blue, mottled, and earth.
1976 – Royal Oak Pottery moved to 28 Henderson Valley Road. Owen Salisbury stayed in Royal Oak
1978 – The hand-painted daisy pattern was introduced in brown and blue (and later pink).  Some pottery exported to Australia and the Pacific Islands.
1979/1980 – Stewart Salisbury left the family business and later established Stewart Pottery.
1983 – Autumn and Rustic Rose transfers introduced. 10,000 small ginger jars made for Tasti Products.
1985 – Owen Salisbury died.
1998 – The Henderson factory closed. Royal Oak pottery continued at Edward Salisbury’s home in Green Bay.
2000 – Edward Salisbury moved to Paeroa, still making Royal Oak pottery sold mainly at craft fairs.
2014 – Edward Salisbury retired and production of Royal Oak pottery ceased

My heartfelt thanks to Edward Salisbury, son of Owen and Cecily Salisbury, for the large amounts of information he gave me. This came from notes and records complied by Edward, plus an interview I recorded with him.  Further valuable information is from Ev Williams and the New Zealand Pottery Forum website and from the book New Zealand Pottery, Commercial and Collectable by Gail Henry.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Salisbury Ware 1940-1946 (and a note about Partridge/Harwyn)

Owen Salisbury and his descendants made ceramics in Auckland for over 75 years, first as Salisbury Ware and later as Royal Oak Pottery.

This post is about Salisbury Ware.  I will tackle Royal Oak next.

When Salisbury first came to my notice – say 15 years ago – there was plenty of the distinctive hand-painted ware around. Now, of course, it’s not so easy to find.  But keep looking.  They are there. You might just have to pay a bit more than we did back in the day.

The Salisbury factory in Khyber Pass Road in Newmarket in Auckland operated for only about six years. It opened in 1940 and closed in 1946.  That’s over 70 years ago.

The story begins in 1939 when Owen Salisbury began decorating hand-thrown vases made by West Auckland potter Jovan Rancich and his young apprentice Wally Silva.  Owen and his friend  Arthur Martin thought there would be a market for this type of decorated ware, and by 1940 they had set up a factory and were producing on a commercial scale.

They bought Jovan Rancich/Silva’s fired but undecorated vases (bisque ware) and sprayed them with cellulose lacquer. Sometimes commercial transfers were stuck on over the top of the paint. At the time, the same style of pottery was imported from England, but Salisbury and Martin found a ready market for their New Zealand version.

Above: Salisbury Ware vases, hand thrown at Jovan Rancich's pottery, almost certainly by Wally Silva. They were decorated with cellulose lacquer and the two in the centre have had stick-on transfers added. The bowl on the left contains a separate ‘frog’ with holes to accommodate flower stems. Heights range from 6.5 cm to 13 cm.
Below: This vase from a private collection has a more successful transfer.  
Jovan Rancich died suddenly in 1942, leaving Salisbury and Martin scrambling to find another supplier. Rancich's widow Vera and Wally Silva continued to run the pottery for about two more years, but Salisbury also bought increasing amounts of blank pots from Tom Clark from Ambrico (later known as Crown Lynn).  At that stage Clark was still developing his glaze mixes and techniques. Selling unglazed blanks relieved him of the uncertain process of decoration.

The products from the Khyber Pass Road factory, almost exclusively vases, were marked with a stick-on paper label, most commonly ‘Salisbury Ware NZ’.   Other labels from this period included NZ Mattone Ware and NZ Sunset Ware.

Above, Salisbury vases with different labels.  From left, Sunset Ware, height 14 cm; Salisbury Ware, 19 cm; Mattone, 18 cm. Blanks from Ambrico.

This was the heyday of Salisbury Ware.  A team of artists decorated the vases with hand-brushed flowers and garden scenes, or spray-painted using stencils.  During the 1939-1945 Second World War, non-essential imports came to a halt and New Zealand was forced to rely on locally made products. Salisbury Ware helped fill that gap and the factory prospered, even while Owen served in the Pacific Islands between 1942 and 1944.

Above: Salisbury Ware vases, slipcast by Ambrico and hand-decorated with cellulose lacquer.  Height 11 cm. 

Post-war, New Zealand again imported English ware and Owen Salisbury’s Khyber Pass Road factory faltered, finally closing in 1946.  This was the end of the Salisbury Ware brand.  In its place Owen Salisbury established Royal Oak Pottery, but that story will have to wait for my next post.

Glazes vs paint

The two vases below are both made by Crown Lynn, both shape number 13. Height 14 cm. So why do these vases look so different? The dark brownish one was finished at Crown Lynn. It is covered in a hard shiny waterproof glaze. The pale blue vase was decorated in matt paint at the Salisbury factory. Both would have been made in the early to mid 1940s.

Below: the vases above as seen from the base. Left, the glazed vase showing the early Ambrico mark. Right, at various times different prices have been pencilled onto the base of the hand-painted vase.

Sometimes Salisbury Ware pieces are in a poor state with badly flaking paint. The vase below will give you an idea with its white flaky patches around the rim – I have seen them much worse, but I don’t buy them.  

The difference in durability is because glaze is fired in a kiln to a high temperature and becomes glass-like, while the cellulose paint is simply dried. Paint is thus more vulnerable to wear and tear, especially if it gets wet.  However paint has one big advantage – it is less complicated to apply.  Whether sprayed or brushed on, it doesn’t need that extra trip through the kiln that glaze requires. Whatever their condition, these vases are historic treasures. When you think that they were made 70-80 years ago, we should be impressed that they have survived at all.

EDIT:  Jovan Rancich and Wally Silva

After I published this post it was brought to my attention that the early Salisbury pots which I at first attributed to Jovan Rancich are very similar to marked examples by Wally Silva. I agree and I have edited this post accordingly.

Wally Silva joined Rancich as an apprentice (aged 11 or 12) in 1937/1938. Thus, we can be sure that young Wally made at least some of the hand-thrown pots which were sold as blanks to Owen Salisbury and others.   Jovan Rancich died quite suddenly in 1942 and Wally Silva and Rancich's widow Vera kept the pottery going until 1944, when it was destroyed by fire.  It is most likely that Silva still supplied some pots to the Salisbury factory after Rancich died, but I believe that from about this time, Owen Salisbury and Arthur Martin were also buying an increasing number of blanks from Ambrico.

Owen’s son Edward Salisbury can find nothing in the Salisbury family records that suggests a commercial arrangement with Wally Silva, but unfortunately neither Owen Salisbury or Arthur Martin, or Wally Silva himself, are alive to tell us the full story.  A document written by Owen Salisbury for researcher Gail Henry describes Rancich's sudden death as 'a set back to us.' Salisbury then describes the approach to Tom Clark of Ambrico, who began making their blanks. When we look at Salisbury Ware, Ambrico shapes outnumber Rancich/Silva shapes by a very large margin.

The Silva family also recalls being told that Wally Silva sold once-fired blanks after he set up his own pottery in 1945. It is highly likely that he supplied Partridge/Harwyn, and he may also have sold some to the Salisbury Ware factory, which closed in 1946.

My thanks to Lance Silva, Edward Salisbury, Brian Ronson and Ev Williams for helping sort out this puzzle.

Harwyn/Partridge Ware

During the war years, Owen Salisbury was not the only decorator of unglazed blanks. The Partridge family of Harwyn Potteries used similar techniques to decorate vases from Rancich/Silva, Ambrico and Glen Afton Pottery.  The painting on Harwyn ware is generally lush and detailed, mainly of flowers.  Harwyn also hand-painted flowers on small glazed Ambrico vases.

Above: two vases decorated by Partridge/Harwyn. Left, hand-thrown blank from Jovan Rancich/Wally Silva, height 7.5 cm. Right, slipcast blank from Crown Lynn, 18 cm. 
Below: Crown Lynn vase hand-painted over glaze by Partridge/Harwyn. Height 8cm.

1939 – At the age of 28, Owen Salisbury began decorating hand-thrown ware made by Jovan Rancich/Wally Silva. 
1940 – Owen opened a factory at Khyber Pass Road in partnership with Arthur Martin. They began selling ware with stick-on ‘Salisbury Ware’ labels.
1942 – Jovan Rancich died. His widow Vera and Wally Silva kept the Rancich pottery going, but it is believed that most blanks were then supplied by Ambrico (which later became Crown Lynn). 
1942-1944 – Owen Salisbury served overseas on war duty in the Pacific Islands. The factory continued operating in his absence. 
1946 – The Khyber Pass Rd factory closed as imports from England were restored after the war ended. This was the end of the Salisbury Ware brand.

Identifying Salisbury Ware
Many pieces of Salisbury Ware are not marked, because the original stickers have been removed.  The early Rancich/Silva vases are almost invariably marked with numbers impressed separately into the base - eg in the example below.
Later, Salisbury Ware was marked with stickers - most commonly Salisbury Ware, but also Mattone and Sunsent Ware.

Above: stamped numerals typical of Salisbury Ware made by Rancich/Silva
Hand Made Salisbury NZ sticker

NZ Sunset Ware sticker

NZ Mattone Ware sticker

My heartfelt thanks to Edward Salisbury, son of Owen and Cecily Salisbury, for the large amounts of information he gave me. This came from notes and records complied by Edward, plus an interview I recorded with him.  Further information is from Ev Williams and the New Zealand Pottery Forum website, from Lance Silva, son of Wally Silva, and from the book New Zealand Pottery, Commercial and Collectable by Gail Henry.