Thursday, May 14, 2009

Comments criticisms and clarifications invited.

Please feel free to respond to any article published in ProDesign. I will happily set up a forum to discuss any topic that anyone cares enough about to post their views or questions.
Over to you.
Michael Smythe

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


KIWI NUGGETSTM is a series dedicated to extracting artefacts from the goldmine (or should that be minefield?) that is New Zealand design history and interrogating them through a design lens. The focus will be on products and brands designed for medium to high-volume manufacture.

KIWI NUGGETSTM stories are works in progress. Readers are invited to collaborate in the ongoing process of digging deeper, creating context and polishing perceptions.

Firstly, you are invited to post comments below this introduction to suggest subjects for this series - or if you prefer, contact the writer by emailing

Secondly, each story will be presented as a summary of what we know and what we still want to find out. Your comments, corrections, clarifications and any new information will be most welcome.

Air New Zealand Koru

The full text of this story The tail of the flying waka can be found in PRODESIGN 87, Feb /Mar 2007, p.78.

What we know

c.1946. Bill Haythornthwaite and George Moore designed a stylised maroro, a flying fish, logo for Tasman Empire Airways.

1965. TEAL changed its name to Air New Zealand, when it was expanding routes to North America and Asia by replacing Lockheed Electra turbo-props with DC-8 jets.

1970. Air New Zealand Marketing Services Manager Bernie McEwen briefed a number of the advertising agencies to creatively consider ‘a new promotional image’. Initial recommendations were presented in November.

Dailey & Associates, Los Angeles, noted that “no one carrier presently operating in the South Pacific is doing the image job that the area connotes (romantic, exotic, Polynesia, etc), argued for retaining the blues and greens while simplifying and upgrading the existing maroro and Southern Cross and proposed the theme “The Pacific Adventure”.

Grant Advertising International, Hong Kong, recommended a strong, simple, modern Air New Zealand symbol and a visual expression of Air New Zealand’s personality as the airline that ‘knows the Pacific best’. They suggested that “the story of the Great Canoes from mythical Polynesian/Maori culture” provide the design themes.

Grant Advertising, London, proposed countering "Pan Am’s 747 – the plane with all the room in the world” and “Continental 747 – the proud bird of the Pacific” with “Air New Zealand DC-10 – the Pacific Island in the Sky.” Concepts for exterior livery and interior themes also reflected the “Pacific Island proposition”.

Dobbs Wiggins McCann Erickson, Wellington, saw the New Zealand people and the government as a critical audience. Their “logical, sensible, believable” proposition presenting the airline as “New Zealand’s international airline serving the Pacific” was to be expressed in a “bold, imaginative, memorable and succinct design concept”. They proposed “the canoe – a magnificent symbol of navigation, of exploration, of travel and of adventure”. They explained that Maori applied the words ‘manu rere’ – flying bird – to both canoes and aircraft and suggested red ochre and teal blue as the corporate colours.

Dobbs Wiggins argued the case for using a Maori motif. “No one can deny the place of the Maori in New Zealand’s culture and the history of the Pacific,” they wrote. “Parallel to this is our present emerging nationalistic feeling and pride in the rich Maori part of our history.”

Roundhill Studios artist Ken Chapman remembers Bernie McEwen coming to the studio with a model of the DC-10, the Dobbs Wiggins concept of a Maori waka stern post bearing a Polynesian pattern and a strong view that the teal and blue colour scheme was preferred.

1973. The first DC-10 bearing the new livery was rolled out in January to general acclaim.

It was some years later that concerns were raised by some Maori about the Air New Zealand koru as an example of cultural appropriation – probably in the lead up to placing the Wai 262 claim before the Waitangi Tribunal. Air New Zealand argued that the acknowledgement of Polynesian heritage had been completely respectful and the result of a thorough professional process, including consulting Auckland Museum ethnologist David Simmonds.

What we would like to know

Anything we have missed about the Air New Zealand koru development.

Documentation or recollections relating to Maori objections and concerns about the use of Maori imagery by Air New Zealand.

Poly 1 Educational Computer

The full text of this story Promising Polycorp pipped can be found in PRODESIGN 86, Dec 2006 /Jan 2007, p.86.

The Poly1 Computer, discovered at Motat,
attracted immediate attention because of its physical presence and well resolved form. The story behind it exemplifies the fate of state-supported Kiwi leadership at a time of economic revolution.

What we know:

In 1980 a niche market in the education sector was recognised by Neil Scott and Paul Bryant of the Wellington Polytechnic School of Physics, Electronics, Telecommunications and Electrical Engineering. They successfully pitched a concept to the Minister of Education, Merv Wellington.

Scott was assigned to the project full-time and worked with a development team of about six engineers and technicians. 50 working prototypes were built in eight months using the leading-edge technology of the time. The Poly1 began with 64 kilobytes of memory (four times the maximum available on an Apple II) and a video card so that video was overlaid with graphics on a Philips 14” colour television monitor.

The government’s Development Finance Corporation partnered with Perce Harpham’s Lower Hutt company, Progeni Computers, to form Polycorp which took over the design of the operating system and post-prototype production. Progeni’s customised version of the Motorola OS9 microchip had 32 bit addressing (Intel were offering only 8bit addressing). The software become a world-leading product in its own right.

At the Education Department Kevin Hearle managed the production of computer-friendly course material for which Polycorp became the agents. Sixty teachers worked through the 1980-81 summer holiday to write course content into ‘shells’ created in the software. Polycorp presented their product as a reliable, robust, networked, teacher and student-friendly closed system specifically designed to deliver computer assisted learning across curricula as well as computer awareness, computer studies and support for school administration.

The Design School at Wellington Polytechnic was brought into the project to encase and express the qualities of this unique product. Tutors Mark Pennington, Gerry Luhman and others addressed performance criteria including resilience, reliability, accessibility and simplicity. The optimum slope of the keyboard was extended to float the box off the desk while providing carry handles. Placing the parting line on this slope allowed for a rolled edge at the top of the screen without creating a complex moulding. The GRP casings were to be made in a range of six colours (easily achieved with different gel coats) so that each student would relate to ‘their’ unit. The internal assembly facilitated easy repair and upgrading. It had functionality and ‘X factor’.

The Poly1 was superseded by the Poly2 which used a boring, beige off-the-shelf box to house what was still a differentiated evolving system.

The Poly computer was at least eighteen months ahead of the Acorn BBC Micro computer that eventually dominated the education sector in the UK and elsewhere (having been developed and promoted with the involvement of government institutions). What went wrong?

Kiwi can-do cooperation is matched only by our cruel capacity for clobbering. The fledgling micro-computer industry set about building its market base for imported PCs by bad-mouthing bureaucrats and boffins for denying it rightful access to the state education sector. A low blow was landed when someone claimed that an early working title, ‘Polywog’ (as in tadpole), was racist.

By late 1981 when the market-ready Poly1 had completed field trials, the National government had scraped back with a one-seat majority. Behind the scenes right-wing interests were beginning to decree that government participation in the business world was not politically correct. The Government succumbed to lobbying and reneged on its purchase agreement for 1000 Polys per year for five years. Cabinet minister Warren Cooper told Perce Harpham that he and his colleagues "could see no reason why Government should spend money so that teachers could do even less work." A story soon surfaced concerning one US computer company’s New Zealand operation being headed by someone who had been a senior National minister’s campaign manager and that another ex-minister, then representing New Zealand abroad, was a major stakeholder.

Several thousand Poly1 units were sold, but the base New Zealand market evaporated when each school was given a free Apple II computer and offered more at 25% retail price. Progeni picked itself up and pressed on. They won a contract, against 42 contenders, to supply the Australian Army. The long process of establishing a market in China began with Progeni achieving another ‘world-first’ by developing a separate graphics processor for Chinese characters. Initial success was interrupted by the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The DFC was declared insolvent and stopped trading in late 1989 so Progeni was on its own. About a year later, just as the Vice President of the Agricultural Bank of China (1.4 million employees and 40,000 branches) signed a letter of understanding to use Poly2s exclusively for their educational needs, the Bank of New Zealand placed Progeni in receivership. Like many businesses unable to meet demands for immediate cash to bail out the BNZ at its time of crisis, Progeni was liquidated.

What we would like to know:

Anything that expands on this story.

The whereabouts of any Poly1 Computers now.

Danish Batter Ball Pan

The full text of this story Raising Dough for Denmark can be found in PRODESiGN 84, August /September 2006, p.58.
What we know, and what we still want to know.

Artefact 1990/546 was donated to the Kauri Museum in Matakohe, where it was classified as an Egg Poacher. Visitor Ingrid Thomas recognised it as identical to a pan she had at home and encouraged her mother Vera Stanton, then 90, to write down recollections of her own mother Mary Nielsen’s entrepreneurial efforts in introducing this product to New Zealanders.


When Mary and Niels Nielsen arrived from Copenhagen in 1905 and settled in Christchurch, Niels found employment as a fitter and turner with New Zealand Railways. Mary worked on the home front making ends meet while raising four daughters and dreamed of returning to Denmark for a dose of familiarity. In 1927, at the age of 43 when her daughters were aged from 12 to 24, she cooked up a plan to cure her homesickness.

Mary decided to offer something not available in New Zealand – cast iron pans designed for baking Danish batter balls, a traditional pre-Christmas treat. Niels made the pattern ‘as he remembered it’ and Mary’s application for design registration was received at the Patent Office on 7 January 1928 (granted 8 March 1928). Booth Macdonald’s Christchurch foundry cast the pans and Mary, with a team of six helpers, embarked upon a five year selling programme across the length and breadth of the North and South Islands.

What happened to the Booth Macdonald foundry in Christchurch?

Does anyone know where the original pattern, Reg 2539, might be?

What makes Mary’s enterprise even more impressive was that it got underway just as the Great Depression began. Export prices fell by 40% between 1928 and 1931. Public Service wages were cut by 10% in both 1931 and 1932. By 1932 the Christchurch Mayor’s Fund dealt with 10,000 applications per week for relief. Nationwide unemployment reached 51,000 (women were not counted) by October 1933. At that time a return trip for two to Denmark would have cost more than a year’s wages – the average weekly wage of a fitter and turner was £4/2/6 ($8.50). The New Zealand pound was further devalued in 1933 so that it took NZ£125 to buy £100 sterling.

The pan design seems to date back to earlier days of cooking over open fires, hence a hoop handle which can hang on a hook. Although electric and gas stoves were in production in the 1930s, the coal range remained at the centre of many households well into the 1940s. Gas and electricity showrooms happily hosted public demonstrations of the Batter Ball Pan before Mary and her team of canvassers went from door to door. While the pan design was directly adopted from Denmark, the product that was made in it was adapted to New Zealand tastes.

In Denmark the ‘æbleskivepande’ is used to make ‘æbleskiver’ (‘apple slice’) – a hollow ball of pancake mix which is usually dusted in sugar and sometimes filled with jam (see recipe). Stove-top rather than oven cooking is required as the balls need to be turned in the process of cooking. They are usually consumed with gløgg – similar to mulled wine. It seems that the slice of apple embedded in the original æbleskiver is no longer a compulsory component. In New Zealand there is evidence that each depression in the pan was used to make a 64mm dia mini meal. “Cook bacon first and then add egg and it looked like a rose baked in an oven,” recalled Vera, Mary Nielsen’s daughter.

Does anyone recall ‘square meals in round holes’, or anything else, cooked in these pans?

It seems that Mary’s iron casting Reg 2539 sold like hot cakes (what else?) because the return visit to Copenhagen did take place. When Mary and Niels returned the pans were again put to good use. “The Smith Family fund put on an All Nations Fair and the Danish stall was run by my mother. She had seven pans working. There would be four queues waiting to buy a Batter Ball for one penny [the price charged to go fishing on the Sumner pier during the depression]. Dusted with icing sugar they were a meal to the hungry out of work people.” They lasted a week and must have been good value because Vera, who would have been about 27 then, recalled people walking away with “sugar bags full to bursting, but no one counted them!”

Friday, September 01, 2006

Timber Jack

The full article on this Kiwi Nugget IT’S A TIMBER JACK AND IT’S OK is published in PRODESiGN magazine, June/July 2006, p.92.


Exploitation of New Zealand Kauri forests began in the 1820s. The principal tool for moving logs was the handspike, a lever cut from a sapling.

The timber jack is a mechanical device which transfers the rotary motion of a double-ended handle to the longitudinal extension of a steel bar or ‘spear’, which is used to stabilise or roll very heavy logs. Does a diagram of its internal workings exist?

The earliest documentation of a timber jack we have found is an 1815 John Constable painting which shows a similar appliance in the foreground. Has any earlier record been found?

Will Robinson, a saw doctor and smithy employed at Henderson Mill, “was reputedly the first man in New Zealand to have built a timber jack. Built at the mill, the jack weighed about 170 pounds and took two fit men to carry it.” That would have been between 1846 when the mill opened and 1866 when Robinson moved on. Do any timber jacks made by Robinson still exist? If so, where?

A Thomas Davison saw two jacks being used for loading spars on an English ship in the Hokianga in 1844-5. He bought one but because its weight, 200lb (91kg), made it unsuitable for use in the bush he had a 60lb jack made to his design by a pioneer blacksmith named Vickery. It is not clear if the company formed later, Vickery and Mansfield, produced them in volume. Davison reported that their version was superseded by an improved design made by the Price Brothers in Thames – some 15 years later. When was Vickery and Mansfield formed? Do any V&M timber jacks still exist? Were they manufactured in volume?

Will Price, son of A. & G. Price founder Alfred, understood that the firm’s first jack was made for the manager of the Kauri Timber Company in Thames in about 1870. “The design and information handed to my dad was very crude. ... It was not until a lot of alterations and improvements were made that a saleable article was produced.” When was the first ‘saleable’ Price timber jack produced? Where are the patents?

In spite of many references to the ‘patented Price timber jack’, no record has been found. Patent 354, filed in 1879 in the name of John McLeod, Engineer of Auckland, substitutes a ‘perpetual conical cam’ for the ordinary wheels, pinions and screws used for moving the spear. The advantages he claims include a much longer thrust, prevention from recoiling under weight and increased safety and effectiveness through its reduced size and weight. There is no evidence that these improvements went into production. The patent lapsed in 1881 through non-payment of the renewal fee. There is a drawing of what can be described as a spiral cam included in teh patent. Were McLeod’s improvements ever applied to manufactured jacks?

Will Price joined A. & G. Price in 1893. By the time he retired the firm had made over 23,000 timber jacks and production was still going strong. The example in the Waipu Heritage Centre collection has the number 21421 stamped on it, which suggests they were numbered consecutively. What is the largest number known to have been stamped on a timber jack?

The Waipu museum has been told that A. & G. Price made the timber jack by hand for many years before turning to mechanised production. This may make it one of New Zealand’s first mass produced products and one of the longest running. What production methods were used? When did production stop? Is anyone still using timber jacks? If so, what for?

Was this kind of timber jack produced in volume elsewhere in the world?

A&G Price Timber Jack No. 21421, steel, cast iron, kauri and many coatings of oil. Waipu Heritage Centre. Photo: Peter Davies.