Imitation Nation

In Kiwi Boot Polish Co, Kiwi Polish, Reckitt and Colman, Sara Lee Corporation on July 28, 2012 at 10.46

The classic Kiwi tin design


I began a dialogue with someone a few weeks ago about a rather odd looking version of a classic Kiwi shoe polish tin. I used to own some examples in the 1980s – long since parted with – when they were much easier to find for a nominal price, but I haven’t seen one of these before (below). From what I have seen of other well known products that have these anomalies, known not to be misprints, but dating from the 1940s, I conject that this is the result of paint and ink rationing during WWII.

The Evening Post,2 November, 1927.


Kiwi has been adopted by New Zealanders as a national brand icon and arguably no other product has been a worldwide ambassador for Aotearoa and it’s flightless, endangered national treasure, like this little can of coloured paste has. It is of course probably little known at this point that much like those of the trans -Tasman names Woolworths, Frosty Boy, Riviera, Sanitarium, and rival polish brand from Reckitt & Colman, Nugget – to name a few – it is originally an Australian creation. I can’t imagine that will please too many people yet again.

Unusual version of the classic tin, which probably was the result of paint and ink rationing during the Second World War.


Kiwi was invented by a man named William Ramsay. This very early ad turned up recently on Youtube:


and purports to be one of the earliest film ads around, however Kiwi was first produced in 1906 so it must be after that date and I would hazard a guess that the early to mid 1910s.

American-produced promotional matchbook cover, photo courtesy of and © Neocles Serafimidis.


Looking at this ad from 1914 in the Australian Screen archive,


it has exactly the same design of borders around its text frames so I think we have the answer to a more exact window of time. Ramsay’s spouse was a New Zealander and it was during a trip there that he had the privilege to see the shy nocturnal bird and decided that it would be a great logo for the new, fine footwear polish that he had created – of a quality that was the precursor to modern day Brands.

A variety of designs from old to new: Contemporary version on left and a 1970s version at centre. Photo courtesy of and © Miranda Hensleigh.


It’s great success was spurred during the early years of WWI where the product was adopted by both British and American troops. It was known as the best polish available at the time with superior qualities the others did not have; those of shine and suppleness, water resistance and colour restoration. as a result of this popularity the product’s market had spread over fifty countries by 1924.

From a Self Help cook book of 1939.


The company name remained more or less the same – Kiwi Boot Polish Co. -until in 1967 when it was rather belatedly updated to Kiwi International to reflect its cemented global success of a number of decades. In 1971 it was acquired by Nicholas international Ltd. to become “Nicholas Kiwi” .

The 1980s version of the tin.  


The company was snatched up by the Sara Lee Corporation in 1984 just following their significant acquisition of Reckitt & Colman. Most recently it was sold off to American Company S. C. Johnson & Son – the makers of Johnson Wax and other household products.

Of course it is still going today and is the number one shoe care brand in America, Britain, and Australia as well as New Zealand – and is available in nearly 200 countries worldwide. But for all its popularity and success – this Kiwi just ain’t a native – sorry, folks.


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