They were designed by Dorothy Thorpe 'of California' a glassware designer whose clients included movie stars and the seriously rich. Tom Clark formed an alliance with her because he wanted to make a real design statement, partially to help Crown Lynn break into the American export market. As well as the cups and saucers the Dorothy Thorpe Crown Lynn range included milk jugs:
And a sugar bowl.
This is the Laguna design. I bought the set as a reward when I finished my first book. It cost about $300 at the time and would be worth more now. I love it, soft soft pale mossy green inside and mauve outside. There were other designs - Pine and Palm Springs (both by Crown Lynn designers) Brocade and the garish Monterey, handpainted in pink and yellow.
Here is a photo of some of Billy Apple's amazing collection at the exhibition in Auckland last year. Note the coffee pot centre stage. Unfortunately it was crazily topheavy and few survive today. I don't own one, wish I did. (Though imagine the stress of looking after it!)
The Crown Lynn staff hated making this stuff, though in retrospect they talked about it with pride. At first the ball handles drove them nuts because they exploded in the kiln, but then they hit on the idea of putting a tiny hole in the base of each ball to release the pressure. Dorothy Thorpe had exacting standards. Previously backstamps had been literally stamped on; she insisted that each one be applied as a separate transfer. Which was much tidier but sometimes the transfers folded up and came out like this:
Most of the ball handled ware was exported, but defective pieces such as this were sold in the seconds shops. When the range was released in NZ the ball handles were ditched and a more conservative shaped handle adopted, though the wide flat saucers and wide cup shapes were retained.
Sadly the Dorothy Thorpe range was not a huge export success. She didn't have the US marketing networks that Crown Lynn expected, and the ball handles were probably just a bit too eccentric to sell well. The two New Zealand designs, Pine and Palm Springs, were adapted further and sold in New Zealand as standard shaped dinner sets for many years. Pine (below) is sought after, Palm Springs less so because it is more common.
Even in the good old days you hardly ever saw a ball handled item in a second hand shop. This is my sad story: When I was collecting things to photograph for my book George and I went up north for a junk shop weekend. Back in Auckland, I showed him a photo of a ball handled cup. And this is what he said: 'Hey I didn't realise that was Crown Lynn. There was one in that junk shop in Kerikeri. Didn't you see it?'
No I didn't see it. Oh well no doubt it made someone else very happy.