The Colour of Clay – From New Lynn to Matauri Bay

The first items AMBRICO (Crown Lynn) made were a creamy yellow colour because of the local New Lynn clay they were using. Crown Lynn scientists experimented with over 2000 clays from across New Zealand finally settling on a mix of 14 minerals that made up the new white clay body.

Lump of raw clay from Matauri Bay site

AMBRICO ‘Porcelain Specialties Department’

Before Crown Lynn was known as Crown Lynn, they went by the name of AMBRICO; which is derived from the name of their parent company ‘Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company Limited’.

In 1930, Thomas (Tom) Edwin Clark II was taken out of school at the age of 14 and put to work in the brick factory. Tom learned how to dig clay and make bricks and sewer pipes. At the age of 21 Tom was made assistant general manager, when he successfully persuaded the directors to give him £5,000 to set up an experimental department where he and his small team worked on diversifying the company’s clay products – this was known as the ‘Porcelain Specialties Department’, most common from this time are the trickle vases often referred to as ‘Specials’.

Ambrico 'Specials' vases, 1940s

Ambrico ‘Specials’ vases, 1940s

On the 28th of June, 1941 the Auckland Star reported that ‘a small additional factory had been completed, capable of manufacturing floor tiles and all types of sundry porcelain ware used for electrical fittings.’ Later in 1941 they started producing simple mixing bowls, eggcups and jugs.

Tom’s potter aunt, Briar Gardner assisted with setting up the pottery to make domesticware. In 1940 the department had 8 employees, by 1948 Ambrico was the largest pottery in the Southern Hemisphere, with 300 workers producing six million pieces a year.

Local Clays

The first items AMBRICO made were a creamy yellow colour because of the local New Lynn clay they were using. Then in the late 1940s they started developing a new white body from a deposit of white halloysite clay from Northland. Crown Lynn scientists experimented with over 2000 clays from across New Zealand finally settling on a mix of 14 minerals that made up the new white ceramic body.

Two cups showing different clay bodies. 'White' cup from 1948-1955, 'yellow' cup c.1940s

Two cups showing different clay bodies. ‘White’ cup from 1948-1955, ‘yellow’ cup c.1940s

New Zealand China Clays LTD

In 1969 New Zealand China Clays (NZCC) was established by Crown Lynn, which tested and developed clays for the industry. The main clay pit was in Matauri Bay in Northland where they mined pure white halloysite clay. This clay pit was particularly valuable because of the extremely low iron content at .3% which makes the clay body ultra-white.

Cup and saucer, New Zealand China Clays Limited 25 year anniversary (1969-1994).

Cup and saucer, New Zealand China Clays Limited 25 year anniversary (1969-1994).

Clay straight from the ground in Matauri Bay in its raw state comprises of 50% hallyosite  and 50% silica. This cup and saucer was made to show NZCC’s most popular product ‘Premium Plus’ made from halloysite clay that has been ultra-refined to 90% halloysite and 10% silica. Which is used to create a fine china body.

Lump of raw clay from Matauri Bay site

Lump of raw clay from Matauri Bay site

New Zealand China Clays was a subsidiary of Ceramco Corporation Limited. In the year 2000 New Zealand China Clays was sold to French industrial minerals company Imerys (and at the same time CERAMCO changed their name to Bendon Group Limited.)

An article written in the year 2000 stated “NZCC, a china clay mining, processing and exporting company, produces around 15,000 tons per annum of high quality halloysite clay, mainly for the global tableware market.”[1] Speaking to Imerys NZ General Manager Matthew Arthur he said that 99.5% of all clay from Imerys NZ is exported and that the smallest amount they sell is one 20 foot shipping container full which is about 14-21 metric tonnes (depending on the moisture content).

In 2016 Imerys exported 11,000 dry tonnes of clay a year, and at this rate they calculate that there is another 20 years in reserve.

clay samples - ready for export

clay samples – ready for export

The clay samples in jars are the most common ways that the clay is sold to customers around the world. Imerys ships this clay to 25 countries and 85% of the clay is used for tableware and 15% is used in specialist fields including filters for the food & beverage industry.

This Northland deposit is one of the finest in the world, only 4 commercial hallyosite pits exist globally – New Zealand, China, Turkey and USA. So next time you look at a plate remember it’s made from clay, use it carefully and enjoy it.

Cup and saucer, made by Rhön-Porzellan Stadtlengsfeld, in Thuringia, Germany This cup is made using Imerys’ clay as a finished example of what their product can do. This cup probably comes from the 1980s-1990s. It was part of the Imerys’ archive at the works in Matauri Bay.

Cup and saucer, made by Rhön-Porzellan Stadtlengsfeld, in Thuringia, Germany
This cup is made using Imerys’ clay as a finished example of what their product can do. This cup probably comes from the 1980s-1990s. It was part of the Imerys’ archive at the works in Matauri Bay.

Article by Finn McCahon-Jones

[1] http://www.ceramicindustry.com/articles/85566-imerys-acquires-new-zealand-china-clays