longwhitekid

Iced VoVos: Who Did It First?

In Arnotts Biscuits, Aulsebrook's biscuits, Baking, Hardman Biscuits, Hudsons, Iced VoVo on February 28, 2012 at 10.46

This is why you love me: I’m a truth-teller. And the truth is that Aulsebrook’s, a Kiwi biscuit company established in the 1860s,  were making Iced VoVos before Arnotts registered the name, an interesting discovery I made this week whilst cruising the newspaper archives.
The Iced VoVo is a biscuit covered by pink fondant with a strip of strawberry jam running down the centre and sprinkled with coconut, and at this point has been claimed as an “Aussie icon” much like the Gingernut has been in New Zealand. It’s status as such has never been challenged – until now.
You can find the Wiki entry with a link in references to the official page at the Arnotts site here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iced_VoVo

 The classic Arnotts Iced VoVo today. Photo courtesy of  Verity Grace, The Accomplished Woman blog.

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So, here’s the proof from The Star newspaper, 21 November 1905. Although Arnotts trademarked the name in 1906 – so say the company themselves -Aulsebrook’s were making them some time before that and continued to sell them through 1908 at least, I suppose until they perhaps had to concede to the legalities of the matter.

 Aulsebrook’s biscuits advert including the Iced VoVo – Star, 21 November 1905, Page 4.

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Brian Meagher, a descendant of the Hardmans who had one of the two largest biscuit concerns in Australia prior to 1946, is stamping his claim:

“The Vo-Voes (sic) were first produced by Hardman Biscuits in Sydney, not by Arnotts. Originally the Hardman Biscuits company was started by the Hardman brothers who had immigrated from England in the 1850s building themselves into a leading biscuit manufacturing company in Sydney. In 1946 after their large factory in Newtown was burned down, it is told by our family that Arnotts bought them out and so the biscuit became a receipt of theirs. There are many of the Hardman descendants (who) remember this story. I being one of them”.

It’s true the factory was in Newtown and burned down the year Meagher quotes; but before we even talk “who was first?”- I have a question about how Arnotts could have staked their claim forty years earlier if they didn’t purchase the rights to the VoVo until the mid to late 1940s. Given that, I can’t even begin to consider this statement a contested site. How people remember things, or how stories are passed down, and what the facts are – are different things completely.

A variety of Aulsebrook’s, Bycroft, and Hudson biscuits, Hawera & Normanby Star, 18 September, 1906.

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Yes, so – unless someone can actually provide a date that’s earlier than the Aulsebrook’s creation – the Kiwis win AGAIN. First the Pav, then apparently the first chocolate factory (according to Hudson history, truth be told I’m actually not sure I believe this claim until I look into it some more- but anyway, I will go with it for the time being)… and now this. Being hit multiple times in the pop-cultural/historical stakes has got to result in a K.O eventually.

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Update late July 2013: Another Hardman descendant has weighed in here  on the issue. Ross Hamilton Hill had this to say on the matter: “Iced Vo Vos (sic) were made by Hardman biscuits long before Arnotts took them over. Hardmans biscuits was first taken over from the Hardman brothers by a tri-partnership which included my grandfather, Henry Gough. Hardman’s biscuits was owned by this tri- partnership until the 1950′s when Arnotts took them over. It might interest you to know that the Arnott and Gough families were neighbours in Strathfield, Sydney.”

Trove actually shows that my date for the launch of this product has been usurped by Arnott’s who were selling a “Vovo” (no mention of being iced) by mid-June 1904. By 5th Sept 1905 it was being advertised as an “Iced Vovo”, as we know it today. This, for all official documented intents and purposes – scrapes in a mere three weeks ahead of Aulsebrook’s and scoops the title. It should be noted here that Aulsebrook’s had made a move across the ditch and set up in Sydney around 1890 where they successfully established themselves – one of very few brands to achieve that feat. So this begs the question – did Aulsebrook’s bring the Vovo with them, a lot earlier than 1904?  Still no mention of Hardman’s, anyway. For everyone’s claims in Australia that they were definitely first – I’m yet to see any evidence whatsoever! If you have an advert or some packaging that shows different, then bring it on.

Arnotts  Vovo The Mercury  Tuesday 14 June 1904 page 3 EDIT SML

Arnott’s Vovo biscuit, no mention of icing, The Mercury, Tuesday 14 June, 1904, page 3. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia, via Trove digitised newspaper archive.

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Arnotts Iced Vovo The Mercury Tuesday 5 September 1905 page 3 edit SML

Arnott’s Iced Vovo biscuit, The Mercury, Tuesday 5 September, 1905, page 3. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia, via Trove digitised newspaper archive.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

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  1. Iced Vo Vos were made by Hardman biscuits long before Arnotts took them over. Hardmans biscuits was first taken over from the Hardman brothers by a tri-partnership which included my grandfather, Henry Gough. Hardman’s biscuits was owned by this tri- partnership until the 1950′s when Arnotts took them over. It might interest you to know that the Arnott and Gough families were neighbours in Strathfield, Sydney.

  2. Hi Ross, thanks for your comment. A quick check of Trove actually shows that my date for the launch of this product has been usurped by Arnott’s who were selling a “Vovo” (no mention of being iced) by mid-June 1904. By mid-late 1905 it was being advertised as an “Iced Vovo”. No mention of Hardman’s. For everyone’s claims in Australia that they were definitely first – I’m yet to see any evidence whatsoever!

  3. Is it not just as likely that Auslebrook’s copied it from Hardman’s if they had a presence in Sydney prior to that? They could have adopted it and taken it back ‘across the ditch’.

  4. The problem is, that Hardman’s don’t come into it at all, except for a couple of people claiming it’s a fact. Because Arnott’s, as I say, did not purchase Hardman’s until four decades after they had already trademarked the Iced Vovo name. It’s possible that Aulsebrook’s copied Arnott’s and started making them in Australia and New Zealand, which is why a year or two later Arnott’s slapped a trademark on that sucker. it’s like the Hokey Pokey story. Everyone wants to stake their claim to a first, but second hand information is sketchy at best, and evidence is thin on the ground to non-existent.

  5. Of course Ross Hamilton Hill’s inferral that the family friends may have “nicked” the idea is an interesting one. But still, the story from both descendants is that Arnott’s acquired the Iced Vovo from Hardman’s when they bought the company – which just isn’t true. My advertisement, as well as government records, proves it. Unless they were being made by Hardman’s and called something else. But I doubt Arnott’s would have stood for that, family friendship allowing.

  6. Interesting though and I guess we will never know for sure. You have some amazing research and stories on your site. So much fun to read! I love history.

  7. Oh, I wouldn’t say we will never know. I more often than not get to the bottom of it. It just takes some time, maybe years! Thanks for the compliment. I try to keep it amusing as well as informative. I wish I had more time to spend on it in between other projects and studying!

  8. I noticed your discussions on the ‘Iced Vo Vo’ biscuit, and you may be interested in the Hardman family tradition about its invention, as told by Alice Hinds, the daughter of Elizabeth and Richard Hardman, and who was the grandmother of my wife.

    The ‘Iced Vo Vo’ was invented by a young Scottish immigrant lassie, Elizabeth Thomson, who worked as a confectioner for Hardman Brothers biscuit makers in George Street, Sydney in the late 1880s. The ‘Iced Vo Vo’ was a romantic union of the confectioner with the biscuit maker. It was put into production by Hardman Brothers at their factory at 4 Sarah Street, Newtown, Sydney.

    Elizabeth Thomson had became influential in diversifying the business into confectionary because she was romanced by her boss and son of the founder of the business Richard Hardman, Richard Joseph Hardman. Family tradition states that he took his fiance, and her sister Margaret Thomson, to see the famous French actress, Sarah Bernhardt perform to wild acclaim in Sydney in 1891. Elizabeth Thomson married at 20 years, Richard Hardman and they raised a family of 3 daughters, in comfortable middle class circumstances in Newtown. Elizabeth Thomson/ Hardman unfortunately died in her prime at 38 years at Newtown, and was buried in Rookwood cemetery, Lidcombe.

    After many years in biscuit manufacturing her widower Richard Hardman and his brothers were looking to retire and sold out of the business in 1928.

    • Thank you, that is interesting. I’m all for story telling, traditions and all that. There’s a lot of it around the Hardmans and their purported invention of the Iced VoVo. But for all of their claims still to date there’s no adverts, letters, packaging or anything else to corroborate their claims. I can only go on hard evidence for historical purposes.

  9. I have an old biscuit tin with AUSLEBROOKS BISCUITS SYDNEY stamped on the bottom…if a picture would be of interest let me know and I will send.

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