New Zealand collectors had a new area of interest in the 1920s with the introduction of local cigarette cards. Most were reprints of cards from Britain (where they had first appeared in the 1880s), but sets were also produced in New Zealand on subjects such as birds, rugby players and racehorses. Cards were traded by collectors.
The cigarette-card craze ended around the Second World War, and these were supplanted by cards produced by manufacturers of breakfast cereals. Most prolific was the Sanitarium Health Food Company, which issued its first cards in 1941. Within 50 years it had produced well over 100 sets of cards, a number which continued to grow in the 2000s.
Free with Weet-Bix
In the decade from the mid-1950s, the Sanitarium Health Food Company issued some 18 different sets of cards with its packets of Weet-Bix cereal. The subjects included the history of flight (a set of 50 in 1956), famous ships and racing cars, as well as animals, birds and reptiles. The 1962–63 set ‘Reaching for the moon’ reflected the growing interest in space exploration.
The Timaru Milling Company, manufacturers of breakfast food Diamond O-TIS, issued cards from 1936 to the late 1960s. Cards were also provided in Gregg’s jelly crystals, from 1954 until the early 1980s.
Antiques and other collectables
Antiques were brought to New Zealand by British settlers in the 19th century. Antique collecting increased from the 1960s as more New Zealanders were able to travel to the United Kingdom by air. In 1957 the first National Antiques Fair was held in Palmerston North, and its success led to the formation of the New Zealand Antique Dealers Association.
Victorian furniture was popular, being practical and of the same period as many of the nation’s homes. Budget-conscious collectors were interested in more everyday items and bric-a-brac.
Language scholars believe ‘poozling’ is a uniquely New Zealand word which probably arose in the 1960s. A 1980 dictionary describes poozling as ‘going through abandoned houses scheduled for demolition and removing the (usually antique) fittings that strike your fancy. Until recently this was a socially acceptable practice (although not strictly legal), however, as demolition contractors catch on to the value of these fittings legal and moral pressure is exerted to discourage the practice.’1 Its origins are unclear.
From the 1960s urban renewal and the demolition of old houses provided opportunities for ‘poozling’, the scavenging of abandoned items. A wide range of collecting interests was catered for by a local magazine, The Collector (1972–83). The country’s first antique market opened in 1974, on Auckland’s Ponsonby Road, and the first club for bottle collectors was formed around then.
By the end of the 1970s there were four coin clubs in the country, while the introduction of New Zealand’s first phone cards by Telecom in 1989 provided another fertile area for collectors.
Connecting with history
A growing awareness of local history was reflected in the formation of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1954, which was renamed Heritage New Zealand in 2014. Firearms were part of the nation’s history and were owned by most farmers, and by 1972 the New Zealand Antique Arms Association had some 400 members. Others collected model soldiers, 19th-century patchwork quilts and antique dolls. Historic links with Britain ensured the popularity of royal commemorative ware.
Another stimulus for collecting was a succession of period revivals – Victorian, art nouveau, Edwardian, art deco and the 1950s and beyond – that began in the 1960s. This was encouraged by popular publications, and in the mid-1970s by the British television series Upstairs, downstairs, which spanned the period 1903–30. The decorative arts of these periods became highly collectable, in particular those by British ceramic designers such as Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper.
Downfall of a collector
In 1996 Wellington accountant Bruce Gall was jailed after he embezzled money from his employer to fund his well-heeled lifestyle, which included collecting New Zealand art. Gall purchased his first artwork in 1978 and amassed an impressive collection while working in the financial sector. After losing his job after the 1987 sharemarket crash, he was employed at auctioneer Dunbar Sloane. The pay cut was considerable and Gall stole from his employer to keep up appearances. His collection was sold at auction in 1996.
Art collections by private individuals grew during the 1960s, with one of the best-known being that of Wellingtonians Les and Milly Paris. Their first major purchase was ‘Maori boy’, by Peter McIntyre, and they went on to develop a substantial collection. Part of their collection was to be auctioned in September 2012. When private collections are sold, the items may become part of other collections.
Other notable art collectors who began collecting around the same time as the Parises included Jim and Mary Barr and Jenny Gibbs.
A new, cooperative approach to owning and enjoying art began in mid-1979 with the formation of the Prospect Collection by merchant banker Graham Reeves, art dealer Peter Webb and lawyer Warwick Brown, all of Auckland. It was based on the share group concept (where people pool their money to buy art that is owned by the group), and proved a huge success, accumulating one of the finest collections of contemporary art in New Zealand before it was sold in 1986. It also inspired some 50 other art cooperatives throughout the country.
During the 1980s art collecting was also taken up by the corporate world, with some of New Zealand’s larger law and accountancy firms developing their own collections.