The Crown Crystal Glass Co.

The Early Years 1926 - 1934

Crown Crystal had its roots in Melbourne in the early 1870s, when wholesale chemists and druggists Felton and Grimwade decided that it would be cheaper to bring glassblowers from England to Australia and set up their own glassworks, than it was to import bottles. Felton and Grimwade built a small furnace, initially just to press bottles for their drugs (notably their eucalyptus oil). This modest start spawned the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works Company (or Melbourne Glass).

To combat interstate tariffs, factories were sought and/or built, first in Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, and later in Perth, and Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. In 1916 (after the Sydney Glass Bottle Works and the Adelaide Glass Bottle Works had been established as part of the franchise), the owners of the company combined the three under a national umbrella company, which they registered as Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd (or AGM). The preferred modus operandi was to buy out small, struggling bottle works and use improvements in technique to turn profits around. There were too many of these to list here.

In the late 1890s and 1900s, Melbourne Glass first employed William (WJ, or Gunboat) Smith. Smith was a driving force behind the success of Crown Crystal and the umbrella companies AGM and Australian Consolidated Industries (ACI); however, the archives reveal a possibly difficult character, though undoubtedly a successful businessman. He started with the Melbourne Glass at the now unthinkable age of 12 (allegedly being 'unable to get along with his teachers', according to one obituary). Smith was as troublesome an employee as he was a student: he was active in the union from quite a young age, and came to the belief that his union activity lead to his employers 'making life hard for him'. Eventually, he decided to leave the company and stowed away back to Sydney without completing his apprenticeship. He was promptly sued for breach of contract by the Melbourne Glass, lost all his earnings to that date, and had to be bailed out by his father. After spending a short time in the Ross Glass Works (at that stage in Liverpool), he joined the company that was to become AGM in Sydney.

Smith and AGM would part three times in the course of the next twenty years. Although he was clearly headstrong, he seems to have had entrepreneurial flair, and AGM appears to have welcomed him back each time.

Between 1924 and 1926, Smith ran Zetland Glass, and in a little under two years had brought that company from a position of near bankruptcy to profit. Crown Crystal itself was formed in 1926, when Smith was invited back into AGM. Following the standard Melbourne Glass formula, Smith amalgamated three not particularly successful glass companies with Zetland glass. None of the three had existed for very long before this time, and information about their output prior to amalgamation is sketchy. The first of these, Balmain Glass Works is most likely to have operated between 1919 and 1926, when the plant closed and employees were transferred to the Crystal Glass Works. They had produced items mainly for the Government Railways: water bottles and carriage globes. Secondly, the Crown Glass Works apparently commenced production in 1920, continuing until 1927, producing bottles and tumblers. Third was the Crystal Glass Works, situated in Waterloo, which produced the now hugely collectable carnival glass. The headquarters if the newly formed Crown Crystal Glass Company was formed in Bourke Street, Waterloo.

The new, combined company celebrated by bringing out a range of domestic glassware, on a scale that hadn't before been seen in Australia.

#2661 "Panels and Diamonds" Goblet

The pattern names used here come from the Australian Glass Pattern Sheets, copyright Gary Workman (of the Australian Glass Collectors' Society). Many collectors in Australia have used these names for many years. Other names that have been coined will be mentioned once only, in the interests of not confusing people. Much of the information herein has come from Gary.

Items were pressed in flint (which was Crown's name for clear glass: it contains no lead), citron (which does contain uranium oxide), rosalin (a rosy pink), a light blue and lettuce green (some of which contained uranium oxide), and amber. There are slight variations within the colour range which are beyond the scope of this site. After flint, the lettuce green colour was the most common. Ironically the green is now one of the more sought after colours.

One of the more effective geometric patterns, this "Waffle and Comb" salver (pattern #4075) is in "Citron".

The same salver, showing the pattern. Salvers are flat topped and designed for cakes. Comports are cupped.

The famous and very collectible "Waratah" pattern, in a 9" salver (pattern #5375). Waratah is found mostly in flint, but also appears occasionally in citron, blue and green.

"Waratah" from above.

#5170 "Butterfly" comport in flint. These items have only ever been reported in flint and rarely in amethyst. I don't know at this point how to distinguish between genuine amethyst pieces (of which there are some) and sun-affected pieces - I'm told it is impossible to tell, but this remains to be proven. Before the first world war, Crown Crystal produced its good clear and coloured glass in a 12 pot furnace, which was able to heat up smallish batches of 12 individual colours at once. As such, any pattern could turn up in any given colour. Pieces out of the pot furnace (sometimes labelled "Pot Metal" to distinguish them from the "new machine" items) had quite a large degree of hand finishing, fire polishing and often ground bases. In contrast were items from the "New Machine". These must have been mass-pressed, and have an almost grainy surface texture in comparison. New Machine pieces are always clear or green.

#5160 "Butterfly" Water Jug.

#3960 (jug) and #3967 (tumbler) "Diamond Arches" Water set in citron, Jug and tumbler shown.

#6584 "Brickwall" 6" dressing table vase and #2401 "Ring of Ovals" 5" nappy bowl, in two different shades of pastel blue. The small sweets bowls are called nappies in the catalogues, so it isn't just an American term. A few more of the vases have turned up now. Blue is a rare colour for Crown, but not the rarest.

#4512 "Diamonds and Fans" footed oval bowl. It's a little curious that this pattern only appears on four shapes. One old worker suggested to me that the pattern was range was abandoned because of the intricacy. Alternatively it could be an imported item, or the moulds could have been bought from an overseas factory.

A "Palms" vase. Fascinatingly, this pattern bears a huge resemblance to a Hortensja Palm Tree pattern discovered by Glen Thistlewood. Having compared my items with those on Glen's site, I think at this point that there are sufficient differences to make suggest that Crown was responsible for at least some of these pieces.

#2936 "Petaloid" Sugar in flint. Remnants of the Petaloid range continue right up until 1960. A "cocktail seafood" cup (known in 1929 as the 2909 custard) appears in the 1960 catalogue.

#3924 "Diamond Arches" Salad in rosalin.

#4000 "Waffle and Comb" nappy in rosalin

#4801 Nappy.

#6520 Brickwall Salad. (Originally called "Brickette" by the company). This pattern was issued in 1927, and was continued up until the mid- to late- 30s.

#6615 Poinsettia Oval Boat-shaped Salad. This pattern first appears in catalogues in 1927.

#6760 Panelled Circles Jug. Pattern first appears in 1927 catalogue.

#6800 "Ovals" Nappies. This pattern has been seen in all the Crown colours, and sometimes with the baked ceramic surface.

Three items in Rosalin pink: Clockwise from top - #2920 "Petaloid" 7 1/2" salad, "Horseshoe" or "Goodluck" ice plate and 40 series "Diamond Arches" ice plate. "Horseshoe" does not appear in any public catalogues, but does appear in some in private hands so is definitely a Crown Crystal product. Note the different shades of rosalin.

#5571 A 7 1/2" low comport showing the simple single flower pattern called "Rosette". This, and the "Leaf Panels" series are the most likely to be seen in blue.

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The content and photography on this site is copyright Catherine Bannister 2004. All rights reserved.