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Archive for the ‘L D Nathan & Co Ltd’ Category

History Department: James Smith And His Store

In Alexander Pringle Smith, Canterbury clothing, Cuba Street, Cuba Street Wellington, Department Store, Drapery, Erskine College, Erskine College Wellington, Fagg's Coffee, Farmer's, Farmer's Co-op, Farmer's Trading Co., George Winder, Howard Williams Smith, Hudson and Halls, James Smith & Sons, James Smith Limited department stores, James Smith Market, James Smith's Corner, L D Nathan & Co Ltd, Manners Street Wellington, Smith and Caugheys, Te Aro House, The New House, Turnbull Smith & Co, Whitcombe and Tombs, Witcombe & Caldwell, Xmas Parade on January 27, 2014 at 10.46

1 blue_80g_carrier_bag edit copy

A recreation of a James Smith store shopping bag that was for sale on Trade Me recently. I’ve reconstructed it using a plain paper bag and remade the graphics on to it. With its Deco styling it looks quite old, but in fact- the term “retail therapy” wasn’t created until the 1980s.

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So here we are back in Wellington. I don’t think we’ve been around since I covered a story on Fuller Fulton a couple of years back. However don’t let that fool you; the place was a hub for all things Longwhitekiddish. Is that not a word? Well, it is now.

When I recently covered the story on the Erskine College cache, one of the catalogued items was an old tag from a school uniform garment that had been fitted to measure – and the item had been torn off the article of clothing and discarded down a hole under some loose flooring by the lazy boarder. I was asked for assistance in dating these items and as I looked into each article I naturally investigated James Smith, which was the name printed on it -to see if I would get any clues that would narrow a time frame. Yes, I went off on another tangent.

2  james_smith_corner copy

James Smith building, image courtesy of  and © Decoworks Pty Ltd.

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2c  View of unidentified woman modelling at a fashion show at James Smiths Ltd, Wellington, 1959 and mural edit copy

Unidentified woman  photographed in the James Smith Tearooms in between modelling at a fashion show, 1959. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper, Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: EP/1959/2946-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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It turned out to be rather a local institution – dating well back into Victorian times. Such an institution, in fact – that Like Stewart Dawson’s, the business has given its name to the intersection. All windy city locals, if they didn’t know the landmark for the store – know it for the name. In fact to a point that the locale is just referred to as “James Smith Market” or even more simply “James Smith” , and businesses like “Life Pharmacy James Smith”. ” James Smith Basement Cabaret”, and “Starmart James Smith” are named after it. Even the car park just around the corner from the store site at 162 Wakefield Street is named after him. The man’s name lives on, for sure. So who was he?

2C1A  McCall pattern James Smith, Ltd, Cuba and Manners St Wellington1940

Imported American McCall pattern. from James Smith, Ltd, 1940. Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: Eph-B-COSTUME-1940-03-front. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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2c1B 8740306826_daf0f1bfa2 James Smith Ltd were a garment and show store in Wellington poss Cuba St

Tag from an altered-to-measure school uniform garment, probably early 1960s, found under the floor of Erskine College. Image courtesy of and  © Kylie Walker.

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James Smith (1834-1902) was one of the area’s earlier settlers, travelling to New Zealand on the Prince of Wales and arriving in June 1863, to Port Chalmers. On the voyage with his wife Annie, he kept a record of the trip, the passengers and goings on. The tooled Moroccan leather-covered book is now in the National Library of New Zealand collection (it was also later issued as a promotional publication by his company in 1967).

2C1C 2 72680117 copy

Keeping an old lady all schmick. Image courtesy of and  © Fritz Schöne on Panoramio.

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2c2  Colgate Soaky bubble bath 1963  Donald Duck & Mickey Mouse for James Sith Stores NLNZ edit copy

Soaky bubble bath by Colgate. Photographed for James Smiths Ltd promotional material. K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-212939-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New ZealandThere was a huge archive of photos pertaining to James Smith Ltd and I had to edit a selection down from hundreds of images to under seventy for this article.

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He had been born near Edinburgh, Scotland and early in life entered the soft goods trade in the Melrose area, soon proving to be adept and very confident in sales. After some time gaining experience in his home country, he moved on to London where he stayed for five years with drapers James, Shoolbred and Co. Upon arrival in the South Island of Aotearoa he immediately made for Wellington, where he found employment with the wholesale firm of W. and G. Turnbull and Co., quickly rising to management of their drapery department.

He stayed in this position for three years, then he purchased and established his business in 1866. Beginning on his own he quickly became very successful. The department store was ensconced in Te Aro House, 84-92 Cuba Street, Wellington – which had previously operated as Mary Taylor’s Drapery.

2c4  Wellington Santa Parade, sponsored by James Smiths Ltd copy

The James Smith Xmas Parade: All images Negatives of the Evening Post from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. Clockwise from top left: Refs: EP/1958/4005-F, EP/1958/3999-F, EP/1958/4008-F, and EP/1958/4000-F.

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2ca  James Smith's store Te Aro House copy

James Smith’s store Te Aro House, 1866-1898. Apparently the building still stands and is now known as the Deka building, and hosts a Rodney Wayne hair salon amongst others. Image courtesy of ngairedith on Family Tree Circles.

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In 1877 he started an additional business, when he became partners with one of his previous employers, Walter Turnbull. Turnbull Smith & Co., operated from Customhouse Quay until 1888 when it was acquired by Sargood, Son and Kwen.

He rebuilt a new store on the Te Aro House site in 1886, designed by Thomas Turnbull. This was likely spurred by a fire in the building of 1885. He remained here in the new premises (diversifying from fabric into menswear, boyswear, and hosiery) through to 1898 when his business suffered financial collapse.

2cb diary-te aro house  copy

L: James Smith’s Diary, kept on his voyage to New Zealand 1863. It was later republished by the business in the 1960s.  Ref: MSX-3502. R:  James Smith (on left) with his staff, Te Aro House in the late 1870s.Ref: PAColl-3332-11-3. Both images from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. 

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2cc  Te Aro House - James Smith etc 4 versions

Clockwise from top left: James Smith and staff at Te Aro House, 1880, Ref: PAColl-3332-17-2. Te Aro House, in 1924 after the Smiths were no longer associated with it, Ref: 1/1-038758-F.  The New House (James Smith & Sons), 1900, Ref: PAColl-3332-17-1. James Smith Store before 1932, Ref:  EP-0585-1F/2-G. All images from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Nevertheless, he quickly bounced back – investing in slightly spiffier premises in Cuba Street. A photo from James Smith Ltd Collection in the Alexander Turnbull Library, shows a different building with the business now called James Smith and Sons. Apparently this was known as “The New House”, and it was situated on the northwest corner of Dixon and Cuba opposite the Te Aro House building. The new business motto was “famous for low prices.”

2cd New House premises was on the corner of Dixon and Cuba Streets opposite the Te Aro House building

Cart from James Smith & Sons’  “The New House” on Cuba and Dixon Streets, Wellington, circa 1902. Ref: PAColl-3332-11-1. Image from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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2Ce james_smith_corner foyer 2 copy 1

The  foyer of the James Smith department store building in 2009. Image courtesy of  and © Decoworks Pty Ltd.

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James Smith had by accounts been in ill health for some time when he died at his Wellington home, and had stepped back from the business just after The New House had opened. Management then passed to one of the two sons Alexander Pringle Smith (1873-1948). The other offspring involved in running the business was J. G. Smith – and there were also five daughters from the union. However James continued to advise both of them in business matters until just a couple of weeks before he passed away.

Upon his demise the business was described as “the largest drapery establishment in the North Island”, and he as a “most enterprising, popular and progressive colonist.” By this time he was wealthy and influential – being one of the original shareholders and one of the chairmen of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company and a member of the New Zealand Board of Directors of the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia. The Justice Department hold a record of a coronial inquest into James’ death but what the reasons were behind this inquiry, I don’t know. He was interred in Kaori Cemetery.

2CG Miss Mollie Massey and unidentified collegue at James Smith Ltd department store, Wellington women underwear 1959 edit

Miss Mollie Massey and colleague at James Smith store Ladies’ Undergarments department, 1959. Ref: EP/1959/0516-F. Image from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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2CG1  FAGGS NZ COFFEE BAGS vintage  3 designs edit copy

Local brand Fagg’s coffee, established in Wellington in 1926, were behind the coffee bars and lounges in all of the James Smith departments stores. These bags are possibly from the 1970s.

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The final and grandest building, which the business was to remain in for more than 85 years, was on the corner of Cuba and Manners Streets in the Te Aro area of Wellington – at 49-55 Cuba Street to be precise. It had originally been constructed for ironmonger and importer George Winder In 1907 by architects Penty and Blake. He had owned the land since 1898 and ergo, it was known as “Winders’ Building “. His business “like many others, had deteriorated due to his inability to obtain stocks from overseas due to the dearth of shipping caused by the First World War”, according to Don Ratcliffe, who worked as a message boy through 1921 and recalls the work of the move from one premises to another in detail, when James Smith and Sons purchased it in 1921. In 1932 the entire building was revamped to its current look by King and Dawson, with interior murals by Ruffo and Steve Templer – making it into an iconic landmark of the downtown area.

2D1  book department 1966 whitcombe and tombs JAMES SMITHS NLNZ copy

The Whitcombe & Tombs book department at James Smith, K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-210236-FCourtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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2d1  Mr Doug Smith of James Smith Ltd 1956  JAMES SMITHS NLNZ edit

Mr Doug Smith, James Smith’s grandson, eventually became the managing director in the 1950s. This portrait taken 1956, Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper, Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-210236-FCourtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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By this time directorship had passed to subsequent Smith descendants – Alexander Pringle Smith ‘s sons Howard Williams Smith (1912-1993), and his sibling J.G. Smith Jr. Eventually by the late 1950s it was in the control of grandson Douglas Alexander Smith – and from then on A.P. Smith was only occasionally seen pottering about the halls.

At the time of the early 1930s image overhaul, the store was divided into departments for the first time consisting of Haberdashery, Manchester, Dress (fabrics), Mantles (off the rack fashions), Hosiery, Furnishings, and Ladies’ underwear, which one staffer remembers “included the well boned and delicately shaped undergarments, usually packed in long narrow cardboard boxes, which today would comfortably house a French loaf. Their distinctive shape made them conspicuous and they often formed the subject of my deliveries…. ” A Miss Thwaites was the mistress of the Corset Department, and “my only brush with her occurred when under orders I was cleaning some high lamp shades from a ladder, when the disturbed dust fell on some of the reinforced and shapely objects…”

2D2 Crown Lyn section at store 1962 JAMES SMITHS NLNZ

Crown Lynn section at James Smith store, 1962. K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives, Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-213392-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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2d3  Window display ofMoore's  men's hats, James Smith's department store, Wellington c 1939 edit copy

James Smith Ltd. window display of Moore’s hats for men, 1939. Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: PAColl-3332-03-34. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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An addition was built in 1934 down the Manners Street side, and two additions along the Cuba Street side in the 1960s. Cuba Street was always the flagship store. No doubt it had all the fairly standard departments – but those specifically recalled as far back as the 1950s were: Fashion, Shoes, Juvenile clothing, Corsetry, Hosiery, and Kitchenware. The Millinery area was on the first floor.

In the 1960s employees recall departments for Cosmetics, Jewellery, a record bar, Watches, Haberdashery, Knitwear, Swimwear, Toys and Stationery, Novelties, Home Services (appliances) and Books. There was also an in-house hairdresser’s to cater to those ladies who lunch (and also those that didn’t) in more formal times, when you got your bonce baked and lacquered to an almost indestructible finish at least once a week.

2D4  Man at counter displaying model ship 1961 NLNZ Ref 12-212697-F edit

Salesman at counter of the James Smith Model Ships and Toys Department, 1961. Alexander Turnbull Library, NLNZ Ref 12-212697-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.  

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2G  Wellington Santa Parade, sponsored by James Smiths Ltd copy copy

 The James Smith Xmas Parade: Clockwise from top left:  Kent or Cambridge Terrace  by K E Niven Ltd, 1962-1968, Ref: PAColl-3332-05-08. Noddy float, Negatives of the Evening Post, 1958 Ref: EP/1958/4007-F.  Shopping for Christmas cards 1955, Negatives of the Evening Post, Ref: EP/1955/2797-F. Gulliver float by K E Niven Ltd, 1962-1968, Ref: PAColl-3332-05-07All images  from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. 

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There was a wool bar, justified in the days when home crafted items were more of an expected necessity – than a cutsey revivalist hobby. There was a TV and Service division for that relatively new-fangled form of entertainment. Also a travel booking agency, and a post office – Ray Judson remembers “the James Smith branch was my first postmaster job and was I so proud. I had four staff and what a busy office it was. However I used to (find time to) slip into the fashion shows, just to see what was what!”

3a Shows Te Aro House after the fire of 18 April 1885 copy copy

Staff  busy hanging lengths of fabric from the windows and roof  to dry out after the fire at Te Aro House of 18 April 1885. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: PAColl-3332-1-3. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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10a display of women's hats, James Smith's department store, Wellington - Photograph taken by Thomas Hugh Tingay 1940

James Smith Ltd Window Display for women’s hats, taken by Thomas Hugh Tingay, 1940Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: PAColl-3332-03-37. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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There was an Advertising department as well as a design studio and workshop for the enormous amount of labour-intensive window decorating that came with the territory. One of the perks of changing over the displays was “entertaining all of the drag queens from in the windows”, remembers one designer of the 1970s. I suppose they may be referring to customers to-ing and fro-ing from the infamous “Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge” not far away, as well as the notorious “ladies” of the night that frequented the local area plying their trade.

10B   Woman doing a demonstration of facial care with Max Factor products, James Smith Ltd, Manners Street, Wellington 1960 edit copy

Demonstration of facial care with Max Factor products, 1960. Negatives of the Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: EP/1960/1508-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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10B  Comic drag at James Smith Ltd staff Christmas party 1953 edit ccopy

Male staff in drag, putting on a comedic fashion show at a James Smith Ltd staff Christmas party in 1953. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: PAColl-3332-3-1. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Underlining the idea touched upon in the Fuller Fulton article that Cuba Street and surrounds was a hotbed of bohemia – a coffee bar was introduced with a machine serving espresso – customers could order cappuccinos, as well as more standard cafe/milk bar fare of the era like Spiders. Jean Kahui, who worked there, remembers this was quite innovative for the time , even into the following decade. The coffee bars – if not straight away, then certainly by the next decade were operated by Fagg’s – a local Wellington brand (established 1926) that later went national and is still going today.

10b Exterior of James Smiths building 1962  JAMES SMITHS NLNZ copy

James Smith’s Corner in 1962by K E Niven Ltd. Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Ref: 1/2-213413-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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10b Women's marching team, James Smith Ltd, Wellington 1930 AP & JG Smith pictured

The James Smith Ltd Women’s marching team, 1930, with managers A.P. and J.G. Smith. Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Ref: PAColl-3332-01-01. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Brands carried by the store in the 1960s included Canterbury clothing, Crown Lynn china, Farren-Price watches, and Whitcombe and Tombs books. The two level Porirua store with a large car park launched to much fanfare in 1964 and included a cafeteria. Eventually the department store had branches in Upper Hutt and Lambton Quay too, which also had a delicatessen. By the 1970s there was also a store in Johnsonville. There was also a Sports Depot in Willis St (formerly Witcombe & Caldwell, acquired by James Smith sometimes after the early 1960s).

10c James Smith Ltd work on floats for procession 1958  copy

James Smith Ltd display department at work on floats for the Xmas parade of 1958. Negatives of the Evening Post,  Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: EP/1958/3939-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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10D Hairdressing Department, Beauty Salon, James Smith Ltd Wellington edit

James Smith department store Hairdressing Department and Beauty Salon, by K E Niven Ltd, Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Ref: 1/2-211677-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Into the 1970s the main store had a Pattern dept on the second floor, Men’s Suits, Men’s Ready to Wear, Boyswear, Girl’s School, Young Fashion, and Ladies Fashion and Sportswear (the Miss Wellington line had its own section). There was Men’s and Ladies’ Shoes, Sports and Sportswear, Home Appliances, Knitwear/Swimwear, Dress Fabrics, Soft Furnishings, Corsetry, China and Glassware.

10D Woman modelling in a fashion parade for outsize women at James Smith's department store 1950 edit copy

Model in a fashion show for “outsize women”, 1950. Negatives of the Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: 114/204/04-G. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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10E  Model (Barbara Goalen) on catwalk in tearooms,

Barbara Goalen modelling in a fashion show held in the James Smith tearooms,by K E Niven Ltd, Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Ref: 1/2-210005-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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One dresser recalls an amusing story of knocking over the large display China Bull from Hereford, “breaking off its crown jewels”, as well as “having cabbages thrown at us by Hudson & Halls, yet again at the expense of the department buyer”(I don’t quite understand why this happened or what it was about, unless the couple of TV cooks had some kind of product that needed to be merchandised). There was Greeting Cards/Stationery, Costume Jewellery, and a coffee lounge. Cosmetics now included the swinging Mary Quant brand straight from Carnaby Street.

13b Shoppers looking at records, James Smith Ltd, Manners Street, Wellington copy

Shopping in the Record Department, 1960. Negatives of the Evening Post,  Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: EP/1960/1515-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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14 Male staff members and one woman assembled along tables in an office interior, James Smith Limited 1933 JG and AP Smith at corner

All the menfolk and just one gal: Meeting of James Smith Ltd male staff members, 1933. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: PAColl-3332-15-3. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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The 1980s saw Lingerie, Childrenswear, Babywear, Handbags, Accessories, and Whitegoods departments as well as “Young World”( probably Tweens), and a beauty salon. Salesgirls at the makeup counters spruiked Shiseido, Clarins, and Estee Lauder. Behind the scenes was an executive suite, and the offices known as “the goldfish bowl”, for the typing pool and operators running the switchboard. Christine Lamberton remembers “I was the telephonist, working on the old plug and cord- type switch. Many a time I put toll calls through and then had to page the buyer who put in the request!” There was also marking off, credit control , and computing departments.

17 Woman seated on washing machine ca1960, JAMES SMITHS NLNZ edit copy

Housewife on a washing machine, photographed for James Smiths Ltd promotional material. K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: 1/2-215299-FCourtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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18 carpark of new Porirua store ca1964 JAMES SMITHS NLNZ copy

The new James Smith Ltd Porirua store in 1964. K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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It makes me lament the times gone by that stores had specific departments just for what seems strange and obscure things now – but were in the era quite an everyday thing if one wanted to “keep up standards.” So many of those rituals have fallen by the wayside in just a couple of decades. Who sends greeting cards these days, let alone devotes a department to stationery? And, with the amount of unbecoming muffin tops I see spilling out of hipsters these days – some corsetry wouldn’t actually go astray.

18aa Secretary doing shorthand, JAMES SMITHS NLNZ copy

Secretary taking shorthand  in the executive suite, K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: 1/2-214625-FCourtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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18AAA TV Department of James Smiths store 1961,  JAMES SMITHS NLNZ copy

The TV Department of James Smith’s in 1961, K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: 1/2-213170-FCourtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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James Smith were also famous for the Wellington Xmas Parade which was a serious event in Wellington in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as well as their themed window displays and Santa’s Grotto. Patricia James McDonald, who was an employee in the mid-late Sixties, remembers the annual Xmas parade was a big thing for staff and audience alike. A number remember playing Santa or elves. Sally Lewis who worked for the store from 1961 to 1965 remembers: “Every Year I was the Noddy in the Christmas Parade as I was the only person who could fit into the car!”

18aB Unidentified James Smith Ltd department store workers and lorry loaded with My Fair Lady records 1958 copy

 James Smith Ltd workers with a lorry load of My Fair Lady records, 1958. Negatives of the Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: EP/1958/4262-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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18b FISHER-PRICE adverts for James Smith 16 August, 1960 copy

Musical Fisher-Price pull toys, 1960, photographed for James Smiths Ltd promotional material. K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, all images courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. Refs Clockwise from top left: 1/2-212236-F, Ref: 1/2-212232-F, Ref: 1/2-212235-F, and Ref: 1/2-212231-F.

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Sometime between 1982 and 1987 the business was sold to L. D. Nathan, now Australia-based behemoth Lion Nathan. Probably resulting from a redundancy agreement made with a portion of employees, around this period came a mess of legal issues – Administrative & Related Workers Industrial Union versus James Smith Limited (Dispute of Right) in 1982, New Zealand Shop Employees Union versus James Smith Limited (Dispute of Right , personal grievance of Miss E. Orr) in 1983, and Shop Employees versus James Smith Limited (personal grievances) in 1985.

20 SANTA PARADE James Smith Christmas Parade; float in the shape of a cow 1960s

 The James Smith Xmas Parade, by K E Niven Ltd, 1963-1968. Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Ref: PAColl-3332-05-05, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. 

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22 Preparation of Christmas window displays, James Smith Ltd 2

The display department at James Smith Ltd. In three years and over 100 articles I’ve never had a personal family connection to a story yet. In an interesting incident, three days after I had written the story, a relative told me that my first cousin, whom I never got to meet, had worked at James Smith doing display, and I immediately showed this set of images to see if he was possibly one of the men. I was blown away to find that he is, and that’s Michael Begelman crouching on the right. Image by K E Niven Ltd, 1950s, Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Ref: 1/2-209977-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. 

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Further to that James Smith Limited along with Woolworths and McKenzie’s was tangled up in a court case with the planning/environmental tribunal in 1987. Possibly in order to improve their public image, James Smith Ltd. donated hundreds of children’s car seats to the Plunket Society in 1984 in the midst of all this disruption.

In the aftermath of the sale, Summons were issued by the Financial Markets Authority to the New Zealand Stock Exchange, Doyle Paterson Brown Limited, and Australia International Ltd in enquiry into dealings in James Smith Ltd-issued securities in 1988.

22A Preparation of Christmas window displays, James Smith Ltd Michael Begelaman R

The display department at James Smith Ltd, hard at work on Christmas window elements. My first cousin  Michael Begelman is again on the right, putting finishing touches to a papier-mâché pudding. He was also employed window dressing for D.I.C. department store in Wellington. Image by K E Niven Ltd, 1950s. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: 1/2-209976-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. 

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22C Canterbury men's socks ca.1960,   JAMES SMITHS NLNZ copy

James Smith Ltd Window Display for Canterbury men’s socks, circa 1960, by K E Niven Ltd, Alexander Turnbull Library collection,  Ref: 1/2-215328-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Into the late 1980s Geraldine Brackley recalls “I spent some concentrated time in the display department operating that horrible letter press for the sale cards, I think they thought I needed penance!” With the very old-fashioned switchboard as well as the letterpress in use late into the game , it sounds like they were lagging way behind the times in administration and work practice . It would be no surprise to learn that one of the reasons for the sale of the business may have been a downturn in profits due to inefficient management, but the legal matters on record with the government tell a story of unrest, underhanded treatments and a hostile work environment.

23 Fridge 1963, photographed by K E Niven & Co of Wellington James Smith NLNZ copy

Fridge in the Whitegoods Department at James Smith’s, by K E Niven Ltd,  Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: 1/2-213411-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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23AA James Smith various departments copy

 Various departments of James Smith’s store in Cuba Street. Clockwise from top left:  Service TV and Appliances Ref: 1/2-213236-F,  Post Office and Travel 1963  Ref: 1/2-213432-F,  Kitchenware 1966 Ref: 1/2-213943-F, and Toy and Stationery 1963 Ref: 1/2-213430-F. All images by K E Niven Ltd, Alexander Turnbull Library collection, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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However even though more than a couple of times former staff make reference to the “awful pay” – most people seemed to have very much enjoyed their time at the company – and for the most part have good recollections of the previous two decades in particular, and even for the most part the Eighties. But how quickly things can change.

The store closed for good in 1993, when L.D. Nathan passed it to Farmers’ Trading Co. Some remaining staff were transferred to Farmers’ Cuba Street and Lambton Quay. People specifically mention it “closing down” so Farmers’ clearly called it a day on the James Smith enterprise – and retained what staff they could.

23AB Spring hat window with wooly lambs, James Smith Ltd copy

James Smith Ltd. window display of  spring season hats for women, probably late 1940s. Image by K E Niven Ltd, Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Ref: 1/2-208553-F. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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23B Shoe and hat departments of store 1963,  JAMES SMITHS NLNZ copy

Various departments of James Smith’s store in Cuba Street. Top: Women’s Hat Department, Ref: 1/2-213429-F. Below:Women’s Shoe Department, Ref: 1/2-213428-F. Images by K E Niven Ltd,  both taken in 1963,  from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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James Smith was ultimately the best known department store, in the district for over seventy years. One former staffer declares that that every time she goes to Smith and Caugheys it reminds her of the James Smith stores, so given that S&C is basically the equivalent of Australia’s David Jones – James Smith Ltd must have posited themselves as quite upmarket. This led me to wondering whether there was a connection. Marianne Smith founded Smith and Caugheys in 1880 primarily in fabrics, but there seems to be no relation to James Smith excepting the coincidence of having the same surname and being in the same line of business.

25a YOU TOO MIGHT  LIKE TO BE A SALESGIRL Shop windows 1960 James Smith NLNZ edit

“I got the underwear job!” Employment opportunities with James Smith Ltd, 1960. Image by K E Niven Ltd, Alexander Turnbull Library collection, ef: 1/2-212977-FCourtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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26 new tearooms at James Smith  copy

The  new James Smith Tearooms: All images by K E Niven Ltd  from the Alexander Turnbull Library collection, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand. Clockwise from top left: Refs:  1/2-211392-F , 1/2-211398-F, 1/2-211402-F, and 1/2-211390-F.

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Nevertheless after all the decades of business as well as some turbulent issues towards the end of its life, the store still stands today, now a retail centre. The gloriously deco five story building is painted in perky pastel colours, enhancing its good looks and still proudly proclaims down the front that it is “James Smith’s Corner.”

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2014. All rights reserved.

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Perfitly Preserved

In "K" Brand, Agee, Alex Harvey Industries (AHI), Australian Glass Manufacturers Co. Ltd (AGM), Bond & Bond, Choysa Tea, Don and Marjorie Symonds, Finch and Company, Gregg & Co, Gregg's, Gunn Gollin Ltd, Home Preserving, Irvine & Stevenson, L D Nathan & Co Ltd, LD Nathan Wholesale Ltd, Lion Nathan Limited, National Can Industries (NCI), Oak, Perfit, Preserves, Professor Helen Leach, Pyrex, Q-P baking powder, Quality Packers Ltd, Roma tea, S Kirkpatrick and Co Ltd, St. George, Susan Baker, Thompson & Hill, Unilever, Wiltshire NZ Ltd on April 20, 2013 at 10.46

1 Susan Baker Warhol  copy

The eternally cheerful and supremely confident preserving wiz Susan Baker, Warhol-style.

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For a long period of history, bottling was the main method of preservation of foods – and there doesn’t seem to be much “specific” history of it in New Zealand since it is obviously not endemic; and therefore didn’t have much of a separate development geographically. It is what it is; stuff in jars, found the world over – even the earlier traditions of potting, drying and smoking of Maori culture weren’t that different from any other parts of the world.

2 Perfit Seal Large D1 Dome Perfit Seals - edit QUALITY PACKERS owned by LEVER   liquidation by 1993 these are probably 1980s

Perfit dome lid box, by Quality Packers (Q-P), probably produced in the late 1970s-late  1980s. The booklet price is listed as fifty cents at this time.

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Although, Professor Helen Leach, a food anthropologist and historian from the University of Otago, reckons the history of it is, inexplicably, far more enduring in Aotearoa than that of the U.K. or U.S. She does have her suspicions as to why, though. I listened to an interesting broadcast on the topic where she skirted around the obvious economic issue; we’ll get to that in a moment.
MASON AND GOLDEN STATE JAM PRESERVING JARS RITCHIE'S Otago Daily Times 17 February 1920 Page 8

Ritchie’s preserving supplies, Otago Daily Times, February 1920.

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It was a given that the accomplished housewife would have a skilled knowledge of cooking and preserving. Sometimes hundreds of pounds of produce were ‘put down’ while it was in season. Anything that could be saved for later, was – even pickled eggs, which sound kind of revolting now – were quite popular for a number of decades, as anyone who watches Boardwalk Empire would have observed.

Preserved Plums about 1899 or 1900 - Puke Ariki collection New Plymouth, Taranaki

Preserved Plums c 1899-1900, courtesy of Puke Ariki  Museum collection New Plymouth. Accession No A92.979

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Anyway, there is likely a lot more to it than sheer financial reasons, but I know my mum did an awful lot of bottling for that very reason – we could “pick-our-own” produce locally in the semi-rural area where we lived for very little – the kids would be put to work coring, peeling and chopping in preparation – and we’d have a greater variety of food for later in the year at a low cost. I can say as far as our family, it certainly was not done for any sense of accomplishment or sheer joy as the alternatives suggested.

PRESERVING SEASON 1902  - Ashburton Guardian - 13 February 1902 - Page 3 EDIT  copy

Fletcher’s preserving supplies, Ashburton Guardian, 13 February 1902.

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NZ History online states New Zealanders had an “obsession with bottling (and) good housewives were expected to know…”  This is a bit like saying fruit grows on trees under a blue sky, since in those days it was more a given necessity than a pastime of any sort. Also – thrift, or even the exhibition of it – through perceived activities such as home arts in the culinary manner, was seen as virtuous. Ergo, there was hardly an exception when it came to cookbooks including extensive sections on this prudent approach; as well as a plethora of them completely devoted to the topic.

4A1 100_4099 edit  smaller probably late 60s-early 70s as booklet now 30 cents up from 1968

Back of small orange G dome box with the booklet price  listed as 30 cents. This indicates it probably dates from the  late 1960s – early 70s. 

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Domestically-based commercial canning and bottling of foodstuffs was beginning to become prevalent in the late C19th (Kirkpatrick’s “K”, Thompson and Hills‘ “OAK” , Irvine & Stevenson‘s “St George” to name some ) – however this did little to dull the ardour for home preserving – which flourished, although the technique probably may have had a significant downtime in recent decades with a notable nosedive in the 1960s (yet, Perfit claimed that in the mid 1960s Kiwi women were still squirreling away twenty million bottles per annum collectively).

4AB 100_4104 edit smaller probably late 60s-early 70s as booklet now 30 cents up from 1968

Front  of small orange G dome box above. Manufacturer is Finch & Co.

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The drop-off was due to a number of factors. The advent of easy accessibility to home refrigeration and new-fangled methods of freezing food meant perishables, where possible, were chucked in the ice chest to use as needed. Mass advertising of goods that became more prevalent in the 1950s began to capture an audience to branded product; and the corporatisation of just about everything possible seemed to be on the rise from the early 1960s (what big business wants people doing it themselves? There’s no money in that). By the time these factors were combined with a marked rise in time poverty – especially because of women entering the workforce full time in droves – there was no real chance of recovering the decline and ever going back to those halcyon days.

4A perfit1large booklet edit

The Perfit home preserving book was published in at least four editions through the 1960s and 1970s, and was available for a nominal price by writing to the company.

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However that has not at all stopped enjoyment of the same products over time – whether home or factory made. And it has certainly had a hobby revival in the last few years with the re-trending of vintage Kiwiana and home cooking – as people have a yearning to get back to old-fashioned ways, signifying simpler times and other unfounded romantic ideas that enter their heads. “It did have a bit of a lull for a while, but it’s never really gone away”, says Marjorie Symonds, one of the current owners of Perfit.

100_4109 edit sml probably late 60s-early 70s as booklet now 30 cents up from 1968

Back of large blue dome box. This probably early 70s as booklet price is now five cents up from around 1968.

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Preserving memorabilia is in a little category of its own, not quite lumped in with food and drink products, but associated kitchen ephemera – “cooking stuff”. Brands of bottling gear were imported (Atlas, Mason, Fowler, Ball, Mason to name some) and a lot of companies got in on the lucrative preserve seal/ cover act like Reidrubber, KB (by IGA ), Deeko, and Jet Set (by Lane Latimer who were well known for their King brand of foodstuffs). There was Four Square and Pam’s (by Foodstuffs NZ Ltd) as well, but the two most popular were domestically produced brands Agee, and of course Perfit – which is in the oeuvre of an iconic NZ brand remembered by a number of generations.

100_4112 edit sml probably late 60s-early 70s as booklet now 30 cents up from 1968

Front of large blue dome box. Manufacturer is Finch & Co.

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Perfit is an old French /British surname which originally stems from “Parfait” although the name of the brand seemingly has nothing to do with that and is simply an amalgamation of two words – “perfect” and “fit” referring to their function as a superior method of sealing preserved goods.

Perfit Screw Bands 12  Green copy copy

Perfit screw bands during the period they were sold in plastic rather than the classic box.

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For decades Ms. Susan Baker, Perfit‘s ”home preserving consultant” has beamed beatifically from the cartons, with a confident glow that says “of COURSE you can do it, and all your efforts will turn out perfectly, so I’m not expecting a letter from you.” However if you ran into problems, she was at your service ; you could write to her, and she would do her best to answer. Oh – and also, for the nominal fee of a few cents, send you a home preserving handbook ( which was being produced in the 1960s and 1970s that I know of, and also L D Nathan & Co Ltd. had produced an earlier one, thought to be from the 1940s that is in the MLNZ ephemera collection). I always imagined her sitting on a spindly, high stool at her little wooden desk in the high-ceilinged Perfit warehouse somewhere in a 1950s-looking industrial division in South Auckland, with a few reference recipe tomes book-ended, and a soft lamp at her elbow, earnestly answering letters from housewives as storemen bustled around in the background preparing orders. So who was this Susan Baker, that, if you were like me – was gazing back at me every time I opened the cupboard that held the Edmonds jelly crystals, Gregg’s spices, Maggi stocks, cake decorations, and bits of preserving gear? She became an unwitting icon of our childhoods. Yet, we knew nothing about her.

Perfit Seal 12 Green Screw Bands (B2) EDIT  copy

Perfit screw band box showing contents. This looks like a recent revived version of the box.

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As it turns out – Susan Baker was not a real person – she was invented by the marketing department of the time. “She was a fictitious character, made up when Unilever had it. They just picked out a name and put the picture of some lady on the box. There was no such person as Susan Baker”, says Marjorie Symonds, who with her husband Don acquired both the Agee (in the late 1990s) and the Perfit brand in 2000. In reality, it would have been employees like Diane Horne , who, working at L.D. Nathan‘s Fort Street building in the 1960s – who answered the inquiries during her tenure working for Ray Lowe in the Perfit Seal Division.

42 Home Preserving by Susan Baker of Perfit - Nelson Photo News - No 75 February 4, 1967

Home Preserving article by Susan Baker (apparently) for the Nelson Photo News, No 75, February 4, 1967.

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I can’t say for sure but the brand was likely created by Nathan ( today the international behemoth based in Australia –Lion Nathan Limited ); when it was known more formally as “The Perfit Seal” – the earliest ads I can find mentioning the Perfit product are 1944-1945. Museum collections show preserving jar seals by that company from the 1950s but do not mention an actual brand name.

perfit seal auto preserver and box Kauri House Auctions 2012 cropped

An early version of the Perfit auto preserver with original box, waiting to be auctioned in Havelock North last year. This one is probably from the late 1950s-early 1960s. Image courtesy of Kauri Auction House.

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Don Symonds has had a long history with brands prior to that – spanning thirty years or so with agents Gunn Gollin Ltd who handled the Agee product. Belinda Cimino, a former employee, recalls that GGL dealt also in “half of New Zealand’s tea”, as well as pineapple, herbs and spices, seeds, frozen seafoods, steel and cast iron kitchenware, wine and spirits. ”

“I started with Gunn Gollin (GGL) in 1981 as national sales manager, and in this role I looked after the Agee brand along with several other brands – for many years. GGL was the distributor for Agee. This came about because GGL imported and supplied the compounds to make the rubber seal, to what was then named Alex Harvey Industries (AHI), manufacturers of the metal components. AHI did not have the expertise to market the product – hence we at GGL assumed that role. “

Perfit Seal Electric Home Preserver (M EDIT  copy

A late 1960s version of the Perfit auto preserver.

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Marjorie seems to think that both Perfit and Agee stemmed from the same original business, which could be true, however the sealing components for the jars (domes, rings, seals) were both made in the same factory in Mount Wellington. I have two boxes that state “manufactured by Finch & Company Ltd.” Don Symonds says: ” I think that Finch were taken over by AHI later on. Agee and Perfit were manufactured side by side – the only difference was the colour of the compound and the outer packaging. These were both made in AHI‘s Mount Wellington factory which later became National Can Industries (NCI). Packing of the product was originally done by the Blind Institute, and later contracted out.”

100_4071 edit to blue B1 box  copy

The recent revived version of the classic blue Perfit screw band box. Most of these items are from my own personal collection.

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Eventually like everything domestic that was hanging on, the factory could no longer compete with foreign manufacture and the new owners of the brands had to look overseas for another component fabricator . “Eventually they closed manufacture of the line down, hence why we now import them”, says Don. These days the product comes from Canada.

41  Ellesmere Guardian Volume 66 Issue 12 16 February 1945 Page 6 Advertisements Column 2 ORMANDYS

An early mention of Perfit in the  Ellesmere Guardian, February 1945. I’m not sure when Perfit was on the market but I am assuming that it was at the end of WWII.

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The actual Agee bottles themselves were first made by Australian Glass Manufacturers Co. Ltd (AGM, established in 1915 ), their logo commonly found on many New Zealand bottles and handy for dating. The company were later famous of course for Agee Pyrex cookware – as well as insulators and baby feeders also under the Agee brand. “I believe that originally the jars were made in Australia but it could have been in the 1970s – I’m not sure of the exact date – that New Zealand changed the lid size to the US measurements – and Australia did not. hence our lids do not fit Australian jars. From then on all our jars were made domestically by a manufacturer named NZ Glass in Penrose. The jars were never sold by either Perfit or Gunn Gollin, NZ Glass sold them direct to retailers themselves. We never handled them.”

Perfit Seal - Gregg's coffee jar promo box EDIT copy

This  smaller screw bands box was a tie in product with W. Gregg & Co is probably around 1967-68 as the stamped price  shows both decimal and imperial currency – indicating it was produced when the conversion was recent enough for people to still be confused.

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Perfit Seals New Zealand Weekly News  Jan 1966 - Perfit and Gregg's promotion box - prob circa 1968 as it shows price decimal and imperial

An advert of January 1966 explaining that special edition screw bands are now available to recycle 4 ounce Gregg’s instant coffee jars to use for preserves. The box indicates the Perfit preserving book is now in its fourth edition. This is the earliest reference I can find for it, though – at 25 cents.

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The Perfit brand name its self wasn’t registered until 1960 by L D Nathan & Co according to IPONZ records, and interestingly, it doesn’t seem that “Susan Baker” was ever registered.

An early box of Perfit G Dome Seals made for L D Nathan sold recently on Trade Me and showed that the instruction book price had risen to fifty cents. This indicates it was produced post 1967 decimal currency introduction, and so that information tells us it was after that time Nathan on-sold the business to Unilever. A trademark registration, with no party named, shows up for the product in 1972; this seems to match up with the year of some acquisitions and changes at L D Nathan who may have decided to divest their interest in – what they likely considered at the time – a  waning brand with limited future.

5 perfit stuff 1 EDIT copy probably late 60s-early 70s as booklet now 30 cents up from 1968

A look at the design for the metal domes – early-mid 1970s.

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It now seemingly stayed with Unilever through to 2000, although one box I have is marked “Quality Packers Ltd”  Nielsen Street, Onehunga ( a company founded in the 1930s who were well-known for their “Q-P” baking powder, and later also produced a serious Kiwi foodstuffs icon – Choysa tea, as well as Roma).Choysa (established in 1905) came from Bond & Bond, whose company became “LD Nathan Wholesale Ltd” after it was purchased by them around 1972, as Christine Cox, a former employee, remembers happening while she worked in the L D Nathan offices in Auckland central.

perfit jar holder copy edit

Box for the Perfit jar holder – it was a rubber-sheathed loop used for lifting bottles in and out of the auto preserver.

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Eventually, the Choysa brand was moved over from LD Nathan Wholesale Ltd to Quality Packers, (which Nathan had also snapped up around the same time) to handle. Clearly Perfit was eventually slotted in under the QP division in the 1970s-1980s for reasons we don’t really know. Perhaps it seemed to be in marketplace competition with another of the numerous brands Unilever owned – or perhaps QP were just better equipped in some way to handle such a product. It could have been a myriad of reasons. So that’s how Perfit ended up being “produced” by QP. Quality Packers were liquidated in 1993 and then struck off the following year (it turns out 100% of the shares were owned by Unilever at the time) and yet they decided to retain the Perfit brand for a few more years until they finally decided they’d had enough of it.

Agee Preserving Jars and pint preserving jar box perfit seal box EDIT  copy

A variety of Agee and Perfit preserving products.

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Don and Marjorie Symonds took over Agee first (Unilever had acquired it from Wiltshire NZ Ltd at some point – who had registered it around 1957), and “then Unilever…came to us and said would you like to have Perfit too? and we did. In 2003 we ceased production of Agee because it turns out there wasn’t really room for two brands in the market at that time, and Perfit was more popular”, says Marjorie. Don recallsPerfit was sold to us in 2000, as Unilever had decided to shed lines that were no longer classed as core business.”

6A 100_4079 edit  copy

An original version of the red screw bands box, probably early 1970s.

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I’ve got quite a collection of the various boxes that have been issued over the years – including one that is specifically marketed for its ability to fit on a certain size of Gregg’s coffee jar that people were taking it upon themselves to recycle and use for preserving. I’d noticed that recently a lot of the older style boxes were cropping up – but in fact seemed to be a recent product. “We’ve gone back to the two older boxes, the ones that originally came out the forties or fifties. So the ones that are on the shelves now are the original box designs they used many years ago”.

6B 100_4082 edit  copy

An original version of the red screw bands box, probably early 1970s.

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I ask if it was a deliberate decision to go back to that to give it a more traditional feel and honour that long history of preserving.“Well, yes – the product was only in plastic bags with a card label and they’re no good sitting on supermarket shelves” says Marjorie.” It doesn’t look good. So I said – let’s put them back into the original boxes. So we had them redone.” 

It’s good to see that every once in a while a company is upholding its own history and celebrating it, even if it’s in small ways.

Ellesmere Guardian Volume 66 Issue 13 20 February 1945 Page 3 Adverts column 1 FARMERS

An early mention of Perfit amongst the preserving range on offer at Farmers”. Ellesmere Guardian, February 1945.

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Addendum, early Aug 2013: I had been trying to save up some good images for years for this article, and then of course just the week after I posted this article, someone immediately came up with a couple of much better ones, including some of the Perfit auto preserver and the jar holder with a good shot of the box it came in.

Perfit Seal Jar Holder - For Bottling copy sml

I’m not sure what to make of this seal box. I’ve never seen this version before. Presumably it’s a little older than the others I’ve featured – probably early 1960s, maybe even late 1950s. But who knows for sure. Also, who knows why exactly they needed so many different boxes for what was essentially the same basic product!

older Perfit seal box front and back 200 dpi copy sml
Addendum  mid Jan 2014: A Dunedin collector and reader of this blog kindly sent these images to me as a contribution the article. These arrived some months ago and I haven’t had time for quite a while to do all the updates I need to get around to. I’d say these pages come from two different editions of the Perfit Seal Home Preserving booklet: early 1960s and another from the mid 1960s. Unfortunately all are undated so it’s pretty difficult to tell bar the use of imperial versus decimal currency, which gives a general clue. I’ve never seen either of these versions before – just what I think of as the “regular” version that I posted in the article above, which seems to crop up on a regular basis. Anyway, for the most part they are interesting pages with some colour. All following images are courtesy of Owain Morris collection.

Perfit Seal a  - Owain Morris Collection

Perfit Seal  Preserving Items  - Owain Morris Collection

Perfit Seal b  - Owain Morris Collection

Perfit Seal large booklet  - Owain Morris Collection

Perfit Seal Susan Baker - Owain Morris Collection

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

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