longwhitekid

Edmonds: Taking The Cake

In Acto baking powder, Allen and Sons, Allen's confectionery, Architecture, Baking, Bird's custard, Biscuits, Borwick's baking powder, Cakes, Classics, Custard, Desserts, Edmonds, Fielder's Cornflour, Goodman Fielder, Jellies, Jelly Crystals, John Thomas Edmonds, Moa baking powder, Philanthropy, Sharland and Co, Sure To Rise Cookbook on January 31, 2012 at 10.46

I suppose that eventually I had to get around to doing a post on Edmonds. I mean, it’s so obvious a brand that I almost don’t know where to start -when I look at my collection of images I literally have over 150 advertisements, tins, boxes, and cookbook pages to choose from to illustrate an article. No doubt I’ll do at least another three posts over time on Edmonds in different categories given the volume of material I have.
Even though I’ve always been in love with the Edmond’s baking powder package design (which has changed very little from inception, that’s a big part of its charm) I’ve been putting it off .

A chemist, Ron, who worked at the Edmonds factory remembers these “Slip over” labels being glued on thousands of cans which were left overnight on long tables to dry. He kept one and donated it to Kete Christchurch. Later they were made redundant as the design was printed straight on the metal (previous picture, can probably dates from late 1960s- mid 1970s, and is from my personal collection).

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This is because it  always seems almost pointless given that when people think of Kiwiana -the images that come to mind are the ubiquitous Buzzy Bees, Pavlova, Jandals, Ches and Dale, Kiwifruits, gum boots,  fish and chips,  and more often than not Edmonds baking powder is chucked in –  so well-known is it as one of  New Zealand’s most popular and enduring Brands.  In fact at one time Edmonds were so aware of this that they were even using the slogan “part of New Zealand’s heritage” on the packaging.

“Kiwiana” stamp set issued by New Zealand Post in 2008.

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It’s even been featured as a stamp design more or less intended to be recognised by the font alone – just by the letter E. But I guess my modus operandi has from the outset been to cover the obvious as well as the obscure. So here we go.

Back is inscribed”Thomas Edward Edmonds selling baking powder door to door”. I am assuming this is a simple error with the middle name. Kete Christchurch. Probably the early 1880s.

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Thomas John Edmonds (1858-1932), was born in Poplar, a suburb of London, and had the  previous background of having worked for Allen’s,  the well-known confectionery company which like Edmonds  has stood the test of time and is still going today.
He arrived in Lyttleton, Canterbury on the sailing ship Waitangi as a twenty year old  in 1879 having just married his wife Jane . He didn’t waste any time and immediately  established a grocery business in Woolston, Christchurch  (the site is now the south-west comer of what is now Edmond and Randolph Streets ) where he began by manufacturing sherbet.

Edmonds advertisement, Evening Post  8 March 1937.

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It wasn’t long before he was carefully listening to the complaints about other products on the market such as the unreliability of the available baking powder brands (it was first invented by chemist Alfred Bird of Bird’s Custard fame in 1843 from a mix of sodium bicarbonate, cream of tartar and cornstarch for his yeast-allergic wife).

Edmonds advertisement, Colonist, 9 November 1910.

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Looking around for ideas to boost business, and thinking he could most likely do better, he started experimenting out the back of his shop to create a superior product to others that were on the market – amongst them Borwick’s, Hudson’s , Hudson’s Balloon Brand, as well as Sharland and Co’s Moa and self-named brands ( Surely it couldn’t have been any worse than what was on offer from Sharland here in my favourite story by Lisa Truttman at Timespanner – ” A jam roll death in Freeman’s Bay”  http://tinyurl.com/6pta9xt ).

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A rare bulk Edmonds baking powder tin. I’ve never seen another.

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Edmonds advert circa 1907, Printed Ephemera Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library (Ref: Eph-A-VARIETY-1907-01-centre]

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It wasn’t long before he presented his own product with the first 200 tins going on sale before the year was out. The story goes that upon being questioned whether his powder would be as good for the job he confidently (and probably a little tartly, the way I imagine it) replied “Madam, it is SURE to rise”, and thus gave birth to an instantly recognisable slogan and subsequent “sunray” trademark which has been in use now for more than 130 years.

Tea Ohou Journal, Spring 1953, National Library NZ.

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He was a man of astuteness when it came to marketing techniques; and full of innovative ideas. Initially he tackled the low demand for his product by going door-to-door with sample-size tins to spruik his product and offering to take back any that were not met with satisfaction.
Next he offered a free cookbook to any housewife that wrote in asking for a copy. The famous Edmonds  cookery book was first issued in 1907. It started life as the “Sure To Rise Cookery Book” , with only fifty pages of recipes. Only two known copies of the first edition survive making it a very rare item.

Egg powder made an apparently brief appearance in the scheme of things, in comparison to other Edmonds products – lasting only between the 1880s and 1910s. Courtesy of the NZ Electronic Text Centre.

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As of 2008, with a 60th  edition issued, it has been in print for over 100 years.  At one time it was “sent unsolicited to every newly engaged couple in New Zealand” whose commitment appeared in print. A little presumptuous and risky –  but ultimately good publicity I guess,  as it has now sold well over three million copies and is the country’s bestselling book  of all time. Full of no-fail recipes for everything  from chocolate fudge to bacon and egg pie, It’s now apparently considered a sort of Kiwi rite of passage  to receive a copy from your mother when you first leave home.

The Guthrie-designed building of 1922 which has become an iconic image.

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Small printed metal Acto tin, probably mid 1960s.

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Eventually with his clever strategies to publicise the product, demand grew to the point that by 1912 he was moving one million cans a year, and by 1928 – two and a half million.
During the depression years he was the first to introduce a forty hour,  five day week to his workers, changing the face of employment in New Zealand irrevocably. He even helped his workers with their mortgages.

Tinted powder seems to have been a somewhat superfluous Edmonds product in the late 1940s-early 1950s, hence didn’t have a robust lifespan.

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In the early 1890s he was becoming fairly established and built a large wooden shed for manufacturing in Ferry Road, not that far away from the original grocery shop. In 1922 Edmonds  replaced this building with his landmark Guthrie brothers-designed  “Sure to Rise” factory and expressed his great interest in botany with its elaborate circular gardens; hothouses on the grounds were filled with imported tropical plants were open to the public and employees alike for their enjoyment. Always at the forefront of cutting edge ideas, Edmonds prescribed to the early 20th century European “Garden City Movement” of which the main concept was that “factory owners should provide recreation facilities for their workers, and beautify the surroundings of their factories”

Large printed metal tin which probably dates from the mid-late 1960s, from my personal collection. This design was also on a cardboard box, and was still in use when I was a child in the early 1970s.

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The iconic building is the one that has been featured on the covers of the cookbooks ever since. In what is considered quite a controversial and rather stupid move, it was demolished in 1990 and the gardens destroyed . So much for “part of New Zealand’s heritage”. The land to the west was bought by the Christchurch City Council the following year and Bluebird Foods Ltd donated the money required for a recreation of the gardens in 1992 – again an attraction.

The former 1929 Band Rotunda is now a restaurant honouring Edmonds’ name.

The couple were great philanthropists and the Edmonds family substantially funded or donated many landmarks in Christchurch city including parks, the Theosophical Society building in Cambridge Terrace, the Radiant Hall (now the Repertory Theatre) in Kilmore Street, and for the fifty year anniversary of their arrival they donated the Band Rotunda (now the Thomas Edmonds Restaurant) in Cambridge Terrace, the clock tower and telephone cabinet in Oxford Terrace – amongst others.

A cake baking powder tin that probably dates from the late 1950s-early 1960s. (I’m not sure what differentiates this product from Acto or the regular Edmond’s product).

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Edmonds maize cornflour ad, Tea Ohou Journal, Spring 1954, National Library NZ.

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Fielder’s  cornflour box from my personal collection, late 1980s-early 1990s

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Apart from the perpetual baking powder product range (Edmonds , Sure To Rise, Acto , Cake Baking Powder, and briefly coloured Cake Baking Powder in the late 1940s), Edmonds have also produced custard powder (“Sure To Please”) since at least 1907 in several varieties from raspberry to banana cream, as well as being famous for their jelly in many flavours. Fielder’s Cornflour, Edmonds maize cornflour and wheat cornflour have been a range staple for many decades. The 1960s and 1970s saw instant drinks and desserts like Tang and Jiffy Jel added to the brands’ products, along with the Prima pasta range, Coat’n’Cook for baking and frying, cake and pastry mixes, and instant meals like boxed risotto.

Edmond’s Jelly box, early 1970s.  Photo courtesy of  courtesy of Mike Davidson (Kiwigame on Flickr) . Below baking powder tin dates from the early 1950s, Object number CT78.283, photo from the collection of Owaka Museum Wahi Kahuika The Meeting Place “a rest on your journey”.

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Today the brand is a division of  Goodman Fielder Ltd and the company currently produces nearly 60 products from dressings to bread baking mix.

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Thomas John Edmonds is now considered one of New Zealand’s top 100 most influential people of all time, all because of a couple of dud cakes.

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Addendum early January 2013:

thoms edmonds band rotunda destroyed By shelby-dog flickr EDIT

Unfortunately the Thomas Edmonds Rotunda was badly damaged in the Christchurch quakes and is set to be demolished, if it hasn’t already been done. The ruins are at the least fenced off but it doesn’t look like there is any hope of saving it at all. The above photo shows the wreckage of this lovely example of public architecture – almost  like it has been sheared off with a gigantic knife. Image courtesy of and © all rights reserved by shelby-dog on Flickr.

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Edmonds 1st edition 2nd printing mith & anthony 1909 2 EDIT

A 1st edition, 2nd printing published by Mith & Anthony in 1909 turned up for sale on Trade Me in December. Bidding was extremely fierce for this very rare item and it went for around the $750.00 mark. The following week a 2nd edition, 2nd printing went for around $450.00. In five years these are the only ones I have seen for sale publicly.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2012. All rights reserved.

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  1. I find it fascinating ever since i can remember Edmonds has been in the cuboard be it the cookbook/ flour baking powder in tin’s etc.Yes i remember edmonds jelly edmonds cookbook and product’s are like old friend’s reliable

  2. Thanks for visiting, Jim!

  3. I have come across 2 of the tins in your story that were advertised in the ” tea ohou journal 1953″ numbered no.4 and no.35. Do you have any idea as to there worth?

    • Hi Brett, thanks for reading. They are all pretty common I’m afraid so not worth much at all. The coloured cake baking powder ones, as well as bulk or war versions are rarer. It’s the early edition cookbooks that are worth some real money. A first edition is worth around 900-1000 bucks, a second edition around 500-700, etc.

      • The latest sale for a first edition was 1600 bucks. Second edition now goes for 750-900, third edition 350-500. Prices are rapidly escalating.

  4. My father was the engineer at T.J. Edmonds for many years and invented automative machinery that released many workers into serving in the forces during the 2nd W.War.
    His name was Bill Stevenson.
    I have so enjoyed browsing through this website.
    Thank you,
    Patricia Grant

  5. I used to work at Bluebird who made Edmonds. We had the entire collection of cookbooks and scrap books going back to the late 1880s praising his baking powder

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