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Side of 'Fernleaf' butter box, c1940s

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Copyright Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Creator Unidentified
Identifiers Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa number GH010066 TLF resource R4234
Source Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

This is the side of a wooden butter box made of kahikatea ('Dacrycarpus dacrydioides'). It has been stamped with a simple black label that has two concentric rings and reads (from top to bottom) 'MASSEY, NEW ZEALAND PRODUCE, Reg. No.16, NEW ZEALAND, 56 LBS NET, PURE CREAMERY BUTTER'. The centre word, 'NEW ZEALAND', is reversed in white out of a black fern. The stamp measures 27 cm x 25.5 cm.

Educational value:
  • This asset is an example of packaging made from natural materials (timber) used to contain a food item before packaging made from artificial materials (plastic, aluminium, etc) was introduced in the 1950s.It is an example of one of the primary uses of kahikatea timber following the development of international trade from New Zealand - kahikatea is the tallest coniferous tree endemic to New Zealand and can grow up to 60 m in height.
  • It indicates one of the unique qualities of the kahikatea - its wood is odourless and was in great demand for commercial use in making butter boxes, cheese crates and tallow casks; as a result, there was a considerable export trade in kahikatea timber to Australia and Europe.
  • It depicts a silver fern leaf as a branding device - from the 19th century, European craftspeople such as cabinetmakers, silversmiths and jewellers tried to give their work a distinctive 'New Zealand' character by using images such as the silver fern ('Cyathea dealbata'), or ponga, and other indigenous plants and fauna, and elements of Māori culture.
  • It depicts a national symbol - the use of the silver fern as an artistic and commercial device became so popular that it is now a national symbol, and is still widely used today in the marketing of New Zealand products, such as Fernleaf butter and the Silver Fern national netball team.

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