Tom Clark (right), Crown Lynn managing director, at the helm of his famed racing yacht Buccaneer. Photo / File
It's fitting that the "auld mug" of Sir Tom Clark is immortalised in a Toby character jug made by Crown Lynn.
The unglazed, white clay cup bearing his jovial face - on display in the Auckland Museum - was made for Sir Tom when he retired as managing director of Crown Lynn in 1984. It celebrated more than half a century of commitment to a company he transformed from making sewer pipes to setting iconic dinner plates on most New Zealand tables.
The sailor's cap he is wearing on the cup is also fitting - an ardent sailor, Clark was a mentor to Sir Peter Blake and a loyal supporter of New Zealand round-the-world and America's Cup campaigns.
Clark's tale as one of Auckland's great entrepreneurs began in 1931 when he was pulled out of school aged 14, to dig in the clay pits of his father's Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company (Ambrico) in West Auckland, also learning the ropes of business.
After struggling through the Depression, he encouraged the company to diversify - first into floor tiles and electrical insulators, then crockery.
During World War II, the country began running out of tableware, traditionally imported from England. Ambrico started making sturdy bowls and mugs for the US Army and cups and saucers for NZ Railways. Although he'd never made a cup before, Clark researched, designed and built his own tunnel kiln.
"This was the first time it had been done in New Zealand. I thought then it was marvellous but actually it was terrible stuff," Clark said years later. At first, the cup handles kept falling off, but Clark loved a challenge.
By 1948, Clark had built the largest pottery in the Southern Hemisphere. He changed its name to Crown Lynn - from crown, synonymous with English quality, and the pottery's home in New Lynn. Crown Lynn became a Kiwi icon as the ceramics became more decorated, innovative and in demand.
At its peak in the early 1970s, Crown Lynn made 15 million pieces a year. But two decades later, the factory closed, unable to compete with cheap imported ceramics. Clark, knighted in 1986, had again diversified - this time into different industry sectors, including transport, engineering and even lingerie - and renamed the company Ceramco. He died in 2005, aged 88.
Last week, a new museum - Te Toi Uku, The Art of Clay - opened in New Lynn to preserve thousands of pieces of Crown Lynn's heritage.