The advertising cover is printed ‘Invoice Only from J.C, Koster Premier Pottery, North Norwood, Manufacturer of all kinds of Potteryware and to order. Tel. Norwood 1394′. There is a depiction of two gold medals, but only the left hand one is legible ‘SOUTH AUSTRALIAN EXHIBITION 1910, J.C. Koster Pottery’. The 1d green KGV head stamp is postmarked with a roller cancel ADELAIDE/ 8 DEC 24 3 PM/ SOUTH AUSTRALIA. The cover is addressed to Botanic Garden, North Terrace, Adelaide, and the reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
There was a South Australian Exhibition held in Adelaide in 1910 which ran from 22-25 March, and concurrently there was a Manufacturers’ Exhibition on 24 March 1910, and presumably this was the occasion when one of the medals was bestowed.
In about 1880, Johann Carl Koster (1855-1912), known as John Charles Koster, son of Georg Philipp Koster of Hessen, Germany, started a brickworks business on a patch of suitable clay in North Norwood (now Trinity Gardens). Johann was initially trained as a brickmaker at Cox Brothers of Norwood, but his bent was otherwise, and his kilns issued a range of Bristol ware, brown and yellow jugs, teapots and dishes. A writer in the Descriptive Australian Guide of 1890 thought his product compared well in quality with the imported article, but in price it was higher because of the labour costs of eight to nine shillings a day. Koster started his own business in partnership with Emanuel Reedy in 1880, and the firm was described as the “first to attempt the manufacture of brownware pottery in South Australia”.
By 1904 Koster’s Premier Pottery of North Norwood was advertising a variety of jars, spirit bottles, jugs, bowls, brewing barrels, water filters and pitchers, bread pans, milk scalders, jam jars and flower pots. After Johann’s death in 1912, the business was carried on by his four sons: Kelly attended to administration, Gordon to marketing, Norman and Fred (born 1900 and christened Federal Century!) specialised in glazing. At first the clay came from the locality but in time an excellent supply was found at Woolcalla, a railway siding north of Port Augusta. Local railway workers were happy to do the digging, bagging and loading for the extra pay.
Glazes also improved as the company experimented with other South Australian materials. Electric power allowed diversification into a range of new industrial and household goods such as insulators, elements and electric jugs. Manufacturing processes were changed to cut costs, so that women working on pressers and moulders supplanted the age-old hand-throwing which had been done largely by men.
Other technical changes included oil-firing instead of wood and coal; then in 1969 a gas-fired tunnel kiln with automatic controls largely replaced human judgement about temperature and timing. This innovation proved to be the last, for none of the third generation of Kosters took over the family business. Moreover, the firm suffered a great blow with the loss of almost $30,000 by the defalcations of their trusted and well-liked accountant.
When in 1977 the firm failed to sell the pottery as a going concern, the land and buildings were acquired by the Payneham Council to develop as a public reserve. Thus an attractive and historically interesting bottle kiln has been preserved in the reserve between Avonmore and Ashbrook Avenues in Trinity Gardens.
Although the majority of Australian-made garden-edging tiles were salt-glazed, some were made from terracotta in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brickworks and potteries. An example made by Koster’s Premier Pottery between 1889 and 1910 is shown in Figure 2.
An 1895 Adelaide Post Office Directory showed that the company also produced flooring tiles, air bricks, chimney pots, surface drains, stove bricks, flower pots and stands, as well as garden vases. By the time that a second kiln was installed in 1901, the firm employed about 20 workers. By the late 1930s production focused on industrial products such as electrical jug bodies and electrical insulators. The pottery eventually closed down in 1980. Some of the better pottery, a tall baluster shaped tobacco jar and a pear shaped plate inscribed “Give us this Day our Daily Bread” are seen in Figures 3 & 4.
Addendum (January 2009): Prue McDonald, State Library of South Australia) has found that Koster’s Premier Pottery is featured in Noris Ioannou’s book Ceramics in South Australia, 1836-1986: folk to studio,Wakefield Press, 1986, Adelaide pp. 147-152. Prue McDonald has confirmed the following facts: The annual report of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures shows that Koster’s Premier Pottery was awarded a gold medal in the 1910 exhibition (24 March-7 May), a gold in the 1925 exhibition (27 March – 23 May) as well as a silver medal and a second prize in the ‘most complete working exhibit showing a trade process in operation’ and in the 1930 exhibition (21 March – 17 May); and, a third in the ‘most complete working exhibition…’, as well as a gold and a silver medal.
Addendum (February 2009): The above-mentioned book gives a brief summary as follows: Johann Koster was born in Adelaide in 1855, attended a public school until 15, and then entered the brick making trade. The introduction of the tariff on imported earthenwares and stonewares encouraged Koster to diversify into that branch of ceramics. In less than a decade the Premier Pottery became the largest and most successful firm producing domestic wares in Adelaide. The Premier Pottery was to develop and prosper for at least 90 years and the pottery’s output was to evolve from earthenwares to stonewares, both domestic and industrial and finally, to porcellaneous electrical ceramics. Koster retired in 1909 on account of ill health and died in November 1912. He had been an energetic and successful businessman and took a kean interest in his district. A motion to rename the district ‘Kosterville’ was prevented by Koster’s modesty. On his death the pottery was left in the name of his wife Alice Jan Koster, but their 4 sons were to carry on the business with varying degrees of involvement. A picture of Koster is seen in Figure 5.