longwhitekid

Brotherly Confection

In Chocolate, Collins Bros, Collins' Lolly Shop, confectionery, cordial, Ice Cream, jam, tomato sauce on May 20, 2012 at 10.46

A few months ago I picked up this lovely label on Trademe; you can’t see in the image but it’s also printed with gold over the rich design. I’ve seen similar labels made for jars for the St. George jams range under Irvine and Stevenson‘s in the early-mid 1920s; but this appears to be a bit older than that. This actually ended up being a bit of a disaster because it was yet another lost package courtesy of ever-unreliable New Zealand Post, but the seller was kind enough to look for the other one that she knew she had stashed away somewhere – and although it was quite stained she was happy to send it to me as a replacement free of charge in a paid envelope I provided. After quite a few emails exchanged, a lot of back and forthing to the bank and post office, scanning and some retouching to the damage – and here we are finally.

Collins’ Lolly Shop, Thames Star, 24 December 1912

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There is not much to be known about Collins Bros.  From experience this may be because not only were they a small concern; but also perhaps they didn’t last very long. Based in Pollen Street, Thames they were in competition with at least two other sweet shops including Palmer’s which had been established for over  forty years by the time Collins’  arrived on the scene.  They are apparently registered as “J. Collins, confectioner” (singular)  in the pre-1930 catalogue of The Treasury – which is an archive catalogue compiled by the Coromandel Heritage Trust.

Collins’ new soda fountain, Thames Star, 20 December 1916

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I can’t actually find in any record that they manufactured jam; but clearly they did, as fruit is featured in the design with a tomato as the central motif. They were in fact manufacturing tomato sauce in the early 1910s – but whether this was sold in a jar or bottles is unknown. This multi-purpose label would be applicable to either, I imagine – and may have even been pasted on boxes for other products as well.

Collins’ new chocolates, Thames Star, 8 January, 1914

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As demonstrated by the ads that I found featured here, “Collins’ Lolly Shop” as it was called locally according to the papers, were best known for their confectionery though – sweets, chocolates, ice cream, as well as a range of cordials – over their sauce and jam. They must have been one of the earlier ice cream manufacturers in the country with their locally popular Vanilla Ices – pioneering the way for the boom of the 1930s; another business I can think of is Dustin’s (later Southern Cross biscuits), which I wrote on last year here,  and which much like Collins’ store, had an American-style soda fountain. One has to wonder if the parents’ tenure in the U.S. had any bearing on this, at the time, novel idea.

Seafood store for sale, Thames Star, 24 September, 1908

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However food business seems to have been the consistent thing in the lead-up to this enterprise; I found an advertisement for a certain J. Collins of Pollen Street trying to offload a fish shop in 1908 – No doubt the same person.
Any further information about the mysterious “J” is unknown – with fairly common names it’s just too difficult to tease any information out – devoid of clues like a first name, or anything else that would lead me in some kind of direction.

 Thames Star, 17 May, 1913

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There’s quite likely a Parawai-Morrinsville-Thames connection; I find a Selina Delbridge (born 1849) married James Collins (born 1845)  in 1869 at Gunnislake, Cornwall and they soon emigrated to America, where they had a daughter, Minnie Maud Collins (I also found a record for an Annie Collins, born in Chicago, and a Joseph Collins, also native of the U.S. – interred in the same cemetery).

Collins Brothers’ confectionery and fruit – Thames Star,  22 December, 1916

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They then settled in the gold area of Thames, New Zealand (going by Wise’s Directory I’m estimating around 1886) where James Collins is on record of being in the profession of mining first in Mount Pleasant then later in  in Parawai where the family settled. It seems he also ran cattle on his property “Reservoir Road” there  by the late 1890s, where they were residing. They had a total of six children according to Minnie Adams’ great-granddaughter. I think this is somewhat of an underestimation – as there were at least five siblings that didn’t make it past 6 years. however I can only verify aforementioned Minnie, as well as Selina, Rosie, Fred and Ernest.

 Thames Star, 20 December 1916

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Interestingly, Later on in the Thames Directory of 1909-1912 Ernest Collins is listed in a seemingly relative profession of fruiterer in Pollen Street. So if the descendant’s information is accurate – then who was the missing child? Let’s see – who is the odd one out? Seemingly a J. Collins working as a storeman in Paeroa is a logical choice, because he’s the only J, Jas, or James Collins over three decades who isn’t in the profession of mining in the area. I’m guessing a James Collins jnr – or the aforementioned Joseph born before they arrived in Aotearoa. I speculate that he and Ernest, by this time ex fruit and seafood respectively, set up together as “Collins Brothers”. It seems that they may have been open for business together from 1912 until Ernest died early, in his mid thirties in 1918. After that the trail fizzles out. This is conjecture of course, and I could keep going until it makes more sense – but I’m a little short of time lately and so we will leave our investigation there. Perhaps I’ll find some more pieces of the story in the future to make sense of it.

The Collins brothers, circa the mid-late 1900s, from left: Frederick, Joseph, Ernest, and James. image courtesy of Cherie Hamlin.

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Addendum, late May 2012: It seems quite a lot of my guesswork was correct. This information came in later from Cherie Hamlin, a Collins descendant: I pegged the right family; but slightly wrong on the brothers who ran the shop. 

Between 1869 and 1871 James and Selina Collins emigrated to the USA, where they had four children: Rose Jane (1871), Annie (1875), Joseph (1878) and Minnie Maud (1879).  Between 1879 and 1881 the family moved to New Zealand and had another five children: Frederick James (1881), Ernest (1884), James Edgar (1888), Jessie (1890),and Selina May (1891).

Joseph was the proponent of the brand and  along with James E made up the “Bros.” Ernest – although he had his fruit shop in Pollen Street – was not involved (but probably helped procure ingredient supplies).  Joseph died in 1948  listed as a “Retired Confectioner”, and James E in 1960, as a “retired gardener”. He is also recorded as having a previous career as a copper-smith prior to enlistment in WWI (he spent a year in service while Collins Bros. was operating) and is remembered by the family as “helping” Joseph with the business.  

Iris Parkes, niece of Joseph, is still alive and can remember Joseph Collins making pastry and sweets and says he could  “could turn his hand to any delight”. Iris recalls Joseph and James as being “great mates as well as brothers, and were always together” – the fish shop, however, she is unsure of. How Joseph got into the trade is also unknown, but she speculates that since the family grew fruit and vegetables it may have been a natural progression to then use the produce. I think that although he may have had a brilliant natural talent – he undoubtedly must have trained under someone else; and it’s likely that he did so under one of the two other local established confectioners such as Palmer’s, before going out on his own.

Ernest Collins probably started his shop to utilise some of the harvests from the Reservoir Road farm and Joseph would have used the fruits in pastries and sweets, preserves, syrups and sauces.  In 1898 Joseph wins a prize in the Kidney potato category in the local flower show; and Ernest and  Fred win for lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower in 1898 – both instances  recorded in the Thames Star, demonstrating a long history and knowledge of fruit and vegetable growing. 

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  1. Great article, I assembled the pre1930 register you mention. so great to see more info.

  2. Thanks for your comment and efforts. It is due to the diligent work of historians such as yourself that I have the resources to put stories together in the first place.

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