Becoming mother-of-the-bride led to a mass buy-up of Crown Lynn swans for our Collectors writer Pam Neville.
After a family wedding, Cleo (left) and Pam Neville found themselves with several dozen swans on their hands.
It all started three years ago with a wedding in the family. Sophie the bride wanted Crown Lynn swans on the tables at her wedding reception. They’d make the perfect vases for flowers, she thought, with the added advantage that they look great with simple, inexpensive floral arrangements: massed gypsophila, at a couple of dollars per bunch, or perhaps a single hydrangea.
A big Crown Lynn 170 swan and baby-sized 154s, which some brides use in rows, each holding a single hydrangea.
Enthusiastic collectables hunter that I am, this was a dream challenge. I enlisted sisters-of-the-bride Cleo and Alice and we began buying large Crown Lynn swan vases in second-hand and antiques shops and – especially – through TradeMe. No chips or cracks allowed, although a little gentle ageing was okay.
Gypsophila teams well with swan vases. This group has landed against a bedroom wall painted in Resene ‘Sorrento’.
The task wasn’t too difficult. A flock of big swans soon settled around the house. At about $100 per swan they were more expensive than your average vase, but that was balanced against the minimal cost of flowers in the wedding budget. Then, as the big day neared, Sophie changed her mind – a bride’s prerogative of course. Instead of large swans, she wanted the small ones. The big swans have an overall length of about 30cm, the little ones about 14cm.
So there I was, back on TradeMe and phoning contacts in antiques shops around New Zealand. Friends were dispatched to search, buy and collect and the father-of-the-bride was ordered to stop at antiques shops in every town he passed through on business trips.
Time was short, prices had gone up and stocks were limited. Four small swans winged their way from Nelson and others landed from Timaru, Invercargill, Hamilton, Gisborne and Whangarei. But I was paying around $40 per swan. At the start of the hunt 12 months earlier, little swans could be bought for half that.
Suffice to say, the mother-of-the-bride and her helpers pulled it off. Come the wedding day, we were almost as proud of the swans as we were of the happy couple. Small swans bobbed along at every guest table at the reception and the big ones landed in the church and on the bridal table.
So popular were the swans that sister-of-the-bride Cleo now offers them to other brides for their weddings. At my house, the wedding season has become known as swan season. The swans flit from venue to venue in foam boxes and so far – fingers crossed – there has been only one breakage.
A shimmering turquoise glaze sets this beauty apart.
Cleo and I could, of course, sell the flock we now share. Prices have pretty much doubled in the past few years. But I’ve become compulsively fond of Crown Lynn swans. The house is fully stocked with plain ones, but my purse is always open to swans from the times when Crown Lynn experimented with special glazes. My latest is a large swan in shimmering turquoise-green. And a year or so ago I made someone’s Christmas in Christchurch by paying top dollar for a swan with a mother-of-pearl lustre glaze. Got a little carried away on TradeMe!
Crown Lynn swans were made from the late 1940s to early 1970s.
Back stamps on the base vary as Crown Lynn used many versions. Some have no back stamp but most carry an impressed number.
The big swans are marked 170 (though a few later ones have a four-digit number). An early version of the Crown Lynn swan in a completely different shape also has 170 on the base. Some people call this the “medium” swan.
The small swan has the number 154 (though, again, a few have a four-digit number). Some have a yellow-painted beak; a few have trickle or lustre glazes.
Be aware that Crown Lynn-style swans are now made by Studio Ceramics in Auckland. These new swans usually have “NZ” painted on the base. They are heavier than the originals and the sizing is different. The Studio Ceramics version of the big swan is slightly smaller than the old 170 and the small Studio Ceramics swan is slightly larger than the 154. Collectors prefer the old originals, which cost about twice as much as the new swans.
Story: Pam Neville
Photographs: Jane Ussher