I was cleaning out the cupboard the other day and I came across this old lid carefully packed away, which I’ve had since I was around 12 years old. I found this half -buried under a Victorian villa in Newton Gully, where my aunt lived in the early 1980s in an apartment underneath the building. The thing I remember most about it was that it was quite close to the Lion Breweries on Khyber Pass, Newmarket – and the smells wafting as the beer fermented in various stages ranged from amazing (apple pie) to absolutely sickening (foot odour). It was also was the first time I had seen cockroaches as we generally didn’t have them in New Zealand and at night they would swarm over the footpaths like a sign of the apocalypse – I suppose attracted by the ingredients like malt and hops, combined with the heat generated by its maturation in the gigantic vats nearby. Anyway the couple who owned the house were quite happy for me to climb underneath with a torch and fossick around and over time I found a number of things including this polish tin which I have kept packed away until now.
Dome Boot Polish, the Northern Advocate , 1 November 1910.
Brasso liquid polish can, circa 1920s-1930s
I’ve found references to Dome polish in New Zealand only between 1909 and 1912 so I feel fairly confident it is that old. I’ve always liked it because the radiating stripes reminded me of the old Brasso polish tins, and just recently I found out exactly why this is – because both products were produced by Reckitt & Colman at the same time and used elements of the same bold design. R & C also made Zebra (solid stove paste) and Zebo liquid polish (often advertised together), aforementioned Brasso (liquid metal polish ) as well as Reckitt’s Blue for laundry, Colman’s (starch, flour, laundry blue, mustard), and Keen’s (curry powder, laundry blue), Silvo liquid silver polish and Rinso laundry powder also came along in the 1920s.
Brasso newspaper advertisement, 1915
I don’t know how long Dome lasted but I only find this one simple advert, and a fun reference to it around the same couple of years in South Africa -from newspaper The Herald in 1909, where the article recalls the success of a local advertising firm in a novel publicity crusade:
” Dome Boot Polish, the latest product of Reckitt and Sons Ltd, have undertaken a successful advertising campaign, just as the streets were filling with business men on Saturday, led by a youth carrying a large poster announcing that “Your boots will be polished free today by the Dome Polishing Brigade”. Then came a string of neat boys, dressed in red and blue jerseys with red caps, each carrying a Dome polishing outfit, this brigade slowly paraded the main streets of the town drawing the attention of every passer-by. Shortly after nine o’clock each boy dropped out of the line at his appointed station, where ’til 12.30 he was busily engaged in polishing boots free”.
Perhaps as attention-grabbing as the drive was, it may not have worked long term for Dome doesn’t appear again that I can find.
J&J Colman began with mustard in 1814; and Reckitt & Sons started manufacturing starch in 1840 and quickly diversified into cleaning products. Both were established in Britain and merged in 1938 to form Reckitt & Colman Ltd. Colman’s Mustard was being sold in NZ as early as the 1850s, and the company’s laundry blue and starch from at least the 1860s. Flour and cornflour followed, and Colman’s Breakfast Semolina seems to have been short-lived attempt at breaking into the burgeoning breakfast cereals market in the1910s as it moved from your standard oatmeals to more specific consumer-driven “instants”.
Colman’s Starch advertisement, Otago Witness, 22 November, 1905.
Never mind a couple of failures: they had acquired Robinson’s Barley, Groats, and associated products in the deal with the Keen’s brand some time back and were doing great business. The war of the 1940s did nothing to quash their boom years and in 1940 the company changed names from Colman-Keen (NZ) Ltd to Reckitt-Colman (NZ) Ltd; by this time they had added Robinson’s Lemon Barley Water crystals, and they were marketing several new products in the Antipodes like Steradent (false teeth cleaner), Dettol and Sanpic (disinfectants) and Steelo (steel wool scourers and aluminium cleaner).
Three-in-one advertising for a trio of Reckitt & Colman’s most popular and enduring products, Evening Post, 1931.
By the early 1960s they had really branched out with many products which were handled by Dormer-Beck, and I name-checked some in my post on the advertising agency here:
These included cleaning, food and toiletry items such as Boon and Twin Cleaners, Airwick freshener, French’s Mustard and Hamburger Seasoning , Goya Perfume, Cedarwood Men’s Toiletries, Janola, Plush Carpet Cleaner, and Robin Starch just to name some. Most eventually came and went (Goya International lasted well into the 1980s when they still had enough business to maintain a separate factory premises in Mount Roskill). Out of the lot, Janola is the brand that has gone on to become a household name.
Zebra polish tin, circa late 1930s
Reckitt & Colman’s Zebra Polish ad, Evening Post, 2 November 1938
Robert Scelly remembers working in the bakery division on the biscottes line, but doesn’t specify what brand (I wonder if this is the answer to the Red Band mystery? https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/band-of-old/ ). A report from the UK of 1961 mentions acquisition of “Biscottes ( New Zealand) Ltd, a small company making Dutch rusks”, and this date matches the year Red Band was registered as a trademark.
At this point the company had been re-jigged to Reckitt, Colman, Nugget (New Zealand) Ltd.
In the early 1960s they were producing Nulon hand cream. Shirley Gussey also remembers biscottes as well as pretzels by the late 1960s (but unfortunately she can’t remember the name either, I’d say it was Slim Janes – which were produced in plain salted, onion, cheese, and celery flavours into the 1970s), along with cordials, lemon barley water, soaps, talcums and perfumes, various condiments, Nugget brand solid and liquid polishes, Disprin and other pain relief brands, antacid, and baby food – this she recalls was all being produced out of “massive premises in Rosebank Road, Avondale”.
By the late 1970s- early 1980s R & C had added Lucozade, a firelighter line, aerosol products like Mortein insect spray, and a fruit juices division – in particular Jif (reconstituted lemon juice which came in a yellow plastic fruit shaped bottle. Remember them? ) as well as Colman’s Self-saucing Sponge Puddings or “spongy pud” as they were called in the quirky ad, which is now considered a classic:
Zebo and Zebra polishes advert, October 1932
As the 1980s rolled on they were also churning out dozens of lines including Harpic toilet cleaner, Finish dishwasher detergent, a spice range ,powdered drinks, and a line of Gale canned fruits (boysenberries, feijoas, kiwifruit, strawberries, whole plums, tomatoes, blackberries, and golden tamarillos).
In 1995 the Colman’s brand was demerged from R & C and sold off to Unilever (UK) Ltd.
In 1999 the company merged with Benckiser NV to become Reckitt Benckiser which is now the largest supplier of cleaning products worldwide. Today they still produce many of the products that have lasted through the decades to become the firm household faithfuls and favourites we are all so familiar with.