The Potteries of Sydney
Some of the best-known names in Australian pottery were established in Sydney, thanks to the opportunities offered to new business in the fledgling city. Martin Boyd, Regal Mashman, Bakewell Bros, Florenz, Diana Pottery, Studio Anna and Fowler all grew from the harbour city's roots, with the earliest potteries supplying critical infrastructure as well as decorative wares. By Meredith Slater.
Enoch Fowler arrived in Sydney in 1837 aboard the Adam Lodge, which sailed from Londonderry in Ireland carrying skilled migrants on a government-assisted passage. Fowler's wife and child died on the voyage and he remarried in 1838, the same year that he opened a small pottery business using local raw materials on Parramatta Street (now Broadway) in Sydney. Initially the pottery mainly supplied the building and industrial trades, producing clay pipes, jars and ginger beer bottles, the latter being mostly unglazed and usually in light grey or white. In 1848 the business moved to Glebe, and in the 1850s it took up a five-acre site in Camperdown. By this time the firm had 25 employees and could produce 800 metres of drainpipe a week, along with firebricks, tiles and chimney pots.
Fowler's son Robert (born in 1840) was both a pottery manufacturer and a councillor. In 1870 he became Mayor of the new Camperdown borough, and he took on management of the Fowler pottery in 1873. When he inherited the business in 1879 he became a wealthy man. In 1881 - the year after he became the Lord Mayor of Sydney - Robert built the family home Cranbrook, a grand Italiante house that still stands today. The house was built opposite the pottery, which was on Australia Street – Fowler Street in Newtown was later named after the pottery and the family.
After the turn of the century Fowler Pottery branched out into domestic wares to meet the growing demand. The 1911 Lassetter's of Sydney catalogue advertised 'Sydney' wares that included a range of earthenware canisters in pale grey with the words 'tea', 'sugar' etc printed on the fronts - these were from the Fowler pottery and were produced into the early 1920s, when tin-coated iron replaced pottery as the favoured medium with housewives.
During the 1920s and '30s Fowler also supplied a range of earthenware to several shipping lines, hospitals, railways and the Red Cross, with each organisation having its own 'badging', or transfer-printed logo, supplied by Fowler. Because most of the badging on these items has worn away or the companies no longer exist, they have become collector's items; badged Fowler ware can be found in black, blue, iron-red and green. There was also a sepia range produced for the Postal Institute of New South Wales, with the transfer image including a small view of the Sydney GPO clock tower.
In 1927 Fowler opened a second factory at Thomastown near Melbourne, with both potteries producing a range of Langley ware and branded Cornish tableware in white with blue or green bands and the words printed in black. Today Fowler is part of James Hardie and although the company remains in operation, its manufacture is limited to bathroom ware.
Karel Jungvirt arrived in Sydney from Czechoslovakia in 1951, and the following year he established the Studio Anna pottery in Neutral Bay. A couple of years later the business was moved to Marrickville, where it remained until its closure in 1999. Jungvirt was a sculptor and artist who initially found work at the Diana Pottery as a mould-maker. While working there he met Toni Coles, an illustrator who was also at Diana Pottery as a ceramics decorator. The pair married in 1953 and it was in the basement of their apartment in Neutral Bay that Studio Anna was founded.
Local council restrictions meant the pottery had to be operating from an industrial zone in order to be registered, so the move was made to Shephard Street in Marrickville. Orders began rolling in almost immediately, thanks to the pottery's displays at the Ceramic Art and Fine Wares Association exhibitions that were staged in Anthony Hordern's department stores. In 1956 the Proud's store in Sydney held a major exhibition of Australian ceramics to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics, and Studio Anna was well represented.
By this time there were more than 30 staff working at the pottery, with distribution covering Australia, Tahiti, New Zealand, Fiji, the UK, Canada and the United States. Jungvirt had identified the overseas tourist market as a lucrative outlet, and Studio Anna created slipcast decorated earthenware ceramics specifically for overseas visitors. Because there were no souvenir shops in Sydney in the 1950s, Jungvirt approached newsagents and offered the wares painted with local scenes and Aboriginal themes as a new range. The extended trading hours of the newsagents meant that Studio Anna could still sell its range of pottery to the tourist market when the department stores and gift shops were closed. The pottery also sent its best-known artists out to make personal appearances, sometimes travelling as far afield as Tasmania and Queensland for in-store demonstrations.
After weathering an influx of cheap Japanese ceramics into the market in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Studio Anna was in a good enough position in the late 1960s for Jungvirt to open his own souvenir shop. Located in the band new Australia Square in Sydney, he called the shop Australiana and eventually managed a chain of five stores in the Sydney area. He also introduced a range of cookware called Pyro-Ceracraft, which was designed to be taken from the oven straight to the dinner table - Studio Anna's answer to Corning Ware, which had been introduced in 1958. As hand decorated ceramics became less popular, Jungvirt concentrated more on domestic ware and in the mid-1970s the glazed kitchen range called Fiana was introduced, using decals instead of hand decoration. The company diversified further, catering to the hotel and serviced apartment market in Sydney and exporting glazed lamp bases to Japan before Jungvirt sold the pottery in 1999. He returned to Czechoslovakia, where he died the following year having battled many years of illness.
Diana Pottery opened its doors in Marrickville in 1941. Founder Eric Lowe produced cups, mugs and munitions canteens for the Navy during the war years, as well as teapots and milk jugs. After the war the pottery introduced a large variety of slipcast wares including vases, bookends, animal figures, tableware and kitchenware, using a wide range of colours and creating more than 200 different shapes. By the early 1950s there were more than 70 employees turning out a large quantity of hand painted wares, one of the best-known being the Waltzing Matilda musical mugs and jugs. The jug had a recess in the base for the musical movement, which played Waltzing Matilda when it was lifted up. The movements were imported from Switzerland and were not only very expensive, but difficult for the pottery to obtain and often the jug was sold without the movement at a reduced price. Ironically, the Waltzing Matilda jug was designed by two Czechs working at the Diana Pottery - Mirek Smisek and Tony Vacek. It's thought that around 6000 examples were made.
During the period from the early 1950s to 1957 Diana Pottery produced a wide range of domestic ware glazed in blue, yellow or pink, and decorated with large white dots. There was also a domestic range called Nefertiti which consisted of casserole dishes, serving platters and ramekins decorated in contrasting mustard and brown, and white.A range of hand painted decorated oven and kitchenware was introduced in the 1960s, with contemporary catalogues showing a range of decorated oven and kitchen ware hand painted in maple, poinsettia, cornflower, blackberry, wattle, flannel flower - and prawn!
Around the same time in the 1960s the 'Hollywood' range of slip cast vases was introduced, with a finish that was either brightly glazed or sprayed with a cream glaze to create a speckled texture finish. Diana Pottery also produced a range of small hand decorated slip cast vases under the Imperial name, which were sold through a gift shop in Sydney's Imperial Arcade. In 1966 the pottery - which has been described as Sydney's most prolific post-war pottery - closed its doors for good.
When Florence Williams began making pottery in an old stable in Marrickville in the early 1930s, she would never have envisaged the success that her business would become. Between 1934 and the early 1940s she produced intricately designed gumnut pieces that were noted for their high glazing and are very collectable today.
Florence died in 1945, and three years later her husband sold the Florenz pottery to Johann Harves and Max Archer. Harves had emigrated to Australia from Germany after the war, and although the pottery would change hands several times in its lifetime, Harves retained a major role in its management until its closure in 1980.
Under the direction of Harves, Florenz produced slipcast pottery vases, pots, ashtrays, basket and dishes for the souvenir and domestic markets, many pieces featuring drip-glazing with flora and fauna, indigenous or hand painted natural motifs. The pottery, which relocated to Brookvale on Sydney's northern beaches in 1962, attracted a number of studio potters, including Harry Memmott, Andrew Halford, Lino Alvarez and Diogenes Farri. A range of marks were used, including printed underglaze stamps, incised marks and paper labels.
Mashman Bros Ltd
Established in 1885 in Willoughby in Sydney's north by James Sandison and the Mashman brothers William and Henry, who had been trained in the UK at Royal Doulton, Regal Mashman was originally named the Mashman & Sandison Pottery. William and Henry had arrived in Sydney on the Windsor Castle in 1883 and the site they chose for their pottery was known for its good clay.
The pottery began as a brickworks but also produced ginger beer bottles, jars, water filters, jugs and various other domestic pottery. After two more of the Mashman brothers joined the company they began producing salt glazed domestic wares and the business flourished. An 1886 North Shore Pioneer Industrial Exhibition listed the following items on display from Mashman & Sandison: 'Bread pans, butter pots, bird fountains, demijohns, ginger beer bottles, pipkins, chimneys and other domestic wares.'
In 1899 Regal Mashman advertised that they would 'brand' their stoneware ginger beer bottles with the customer's name if desired, something that was not widely done at the time.
After the death of Henry Mashman in 1922, his son Ernest James Theodore - Theo - became chairman and managing director of Mashman Bros Ltd. He inherited a small and old-fashioned pottery works and in 1927, after a visit to America, Theo installed new imported American machinery.
In the 1930s the Mashman Bros pottery introduced its range of artware, which was sold by Grace Bros. The richly coloured vases and pots featuring drip glazing were instantly popular - due in no small part to Theo's promotional appeal of 'Australian made, Australian workmen, Australian artists and Australian clay.' This new line - called Regal Art ware - included ornamental bowls, vases and jugs produced using modern methods and high quality materials, and offered at a priced that was affordable for the average housewife. The pottery is particularly known for its adaptations of Art Deco design elements, including the nude female form which it featured on a vase that is now highly collectable.
During the Second World War the company produced hospital and industrial wares for the government as part of the war effort, retaining an interest in the production of sanitary ware once the conflict had ended.
In 1957, in something of an historical symmetry, the pottery merged with Doulton & Co and production was moved to Kingsgrove, where hand-thrown pottery continued to be produced. Theo Mashman retired as director in 1960.
Bakewell Bros was established in Erskineville in Sydney in 1884 by William and Thomas Bakewell, who had emigrated to Australia with their brother John and widowed father Christopher in the 1860s. The brothers were trained builders and bricklayers and their first business was constructing houses in and around Sydney. At the pottery they began producing bricks and salt glazed pipes for the building industry as well as kitchen and domestic wares, including stoneware bottles. In 1893 the pottery was praised for its architectural terracotta range of chimney pots, ventilators, moulded bricks, garden vases, edging tiles and pavers by The Building & Engineering Journal.
Soon after 1900 William Bakewell oganised for skilled workers from England to travel to Australia in order to improve the quality of the pottery's printed earthenwares. By 1902 the firm was capable of producing up to 2000 wall and floor tiles per day and employed around 250 workers, with a city showroom in Hunter Street. William Bakewell died in 1917 and although the printed wares that he triumphed continued in production until the early 1920s, they were not considered commercially viable.
The pottery introduced a line of floral patterned cream-coloured tableware in green and sepia in the early 20th century, to compete with the Doulton ware of a similar design that was being imported at that time. But the pottery is best-known for its Beulah ware range of household crockery (introduced in the mid-1920s) and Newtone range of art ware that was first released in 1937. The decorative vases and pots of the Newtone range featured hand painted landscapes and Australian flora and fauna painted by artists such as Daisy Merton (who painted at Bakewells from 1934 until 1939, when she set up her own kiln) and Joy Yeoman. In the early 1950s the firm also released the Trent line of vases. The pottery closed in 1955.
Martin Boyd Pottery
Guy Martin Boyd, who hailed from the famed Boyd family of Murrumbeena in Victoria, named his pottery after both his middle name and his uncle, the author Martin Boyd. Guy established the pottery in 1946 with partners Norma and Leonard Flegg, after first training as a sculptor at the East Sydney Technical College. Guy threw the pots and Norma fired the kiln and did much of the decoration, with additional decorating being done in the early years by Guy's brother David, his wife-to-be Hernia, and Peter Rushforth.
The pottery soon expanded and in 1949 it moved to larger premises in Ryde. Guy Boyd returned to Melbourne in 1951, where he established the Guy Boyd Pottery, and Leonard's brother Ronald joined the firm as joint production manager with Norma. Orders were received for a wide range of domestic items, including ashtrays, beer mugs, egg cups, biscuit barrels, honey pots, fruit bowls, coffee sets (15 piece), luncheon sets (30 piece), flower pots, lamp bases, pots, vases, mugs, plates and chargers - and nearly one million ramekins. By late 1956 there were 177 items on the Martin Boyd Pottery price list and the range was sold through department stores and souvenir shops. Well-known artists such as John Perceval and Klytie Pate worked on the hand painted slipcast plates, mugs and chargers that featured Aboriginal motifs, landscapes, figures and landmarks.
When George's of Melbourne hosted the 1956 Australia Today exhibition to coincide with the arrival of overseas Olympic visitors and showcase Australian excellence in production, the store manager wrote to Flegg to say: 'You will be interested to know that (he) was able to have one of the main front windows for this Made in Australia show and have mainly concentrated on Martin Boyd Pottery.' The pottery was further promoted in The Argus newspaper, which said: 'Frolic in a Fiesta of Colour, Match them or contrast them, Alluring Handmade Pottery by Martin Boyd. Who says mealtime can't be colorful? This is Personality Pottery. The kind you've only dreamed about...Soft pastels-riotous colours, bright and gay as Carnival Time! Martin Boyd-A great Australian Exponent of the Potters Art-ranking with the finest in the world.' Qantas placed a number of orders for Martin Boyd Pottery featuring Aboriginal designs in 1956, and some of these items were sent to the London office. The pottery reached is production peak in 1957/58 when it had around 85 employees.
Leonard Flegg continued to operate Martin Boyd Pottery in Sydney until its closure in 1964, brought about largely by the recessions of that decade. There is a collection of Martin Boyd Pottery in the National Historical Collection of the National Museum of Australia.
3 Marrickville Potteries by the Marrickville Heritage Society, published 2005.
The People's Potteries by Dorothy Johnston, published 2002.
This information first appeared in a previous issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.