Sure to Rise: The Edmonds Story tells of the famous baking powder, patents, trademarks, the hugely popular cookbook, renowned factory and gardens, the family behind the brand, and the landmarks founder Thomas Edmonds gifted to Ōtautahi Christchurch.
Authored by Peter Alsop, Kate Parsonson and Richard Wolfe, the book uses more than 500 images to help document the Edmonds family story alongside the evolution of one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most distinctive brands and its domestic trademark – the Edmonds Sure to Rise logo.
About 36 years ago co-author historian Richard Wolfe first wrote about the Edmonds label, which was reproduced in his 1987 book Well Made New Zealand: A Century of Trademarks.
"The rising sun trademark is so positive, such a glorious image. While there were plenty of 19th century products with similar motifs, the Edmonds label was one of the more attractive," he says, “and has proved the most durable.”
The slogan – Sure to Rise – was also an important contributor to the product's success.
"Around the late 1800s home bakers were suffering failures because there were so many unreliable baking powders on the market – it seems most towns had their own versions. The story goes that a doubting customer asked founder Thomas Edmonds if his baking powder would be any better, and was told 'Madam, it is sure to rise'. Edmonds quickly recognised the line would play an important role in promotion of the product, and eventually his product overtook all others.”
Over about four years of research, co-author Kate Parsonson, great-great-granddaughter of the Edmonds’ founders, met many third and fourth cousins for the first time, gathering Edmonds’ stories and photographs, noting memories and memorabilia that had been passed down through generations.
“The story starts with the young newlyweds Thomas and Jane Edmonds arriving in Christchurch in 1879. They went on to have four sons who all worked in the factory and four daughters. There are so many descendants, I grew up knowing only that our branch descended from the eldest son William who was born in 1880,” Kate says.
“Family tradition suggests that as he stepped off the Waitangi at Lyttelton in 1879, Thomas found a coin in his pocket, tossed it overboard and firmly stated that he would ‘arrive with no money and start from scratch with everything now coming from my own hands’. In 1880 he bought a modest grocery store in Woolston, Christchurch on what ultimately became Edmonds Street.
“Thomas went around with a little cart that sold shop wares. Housewives complained about not having effective baking powder because it came out on the ship from England, and after three months in a crate at sea, it would arrive spoiled from the damp.”
Along the way Kate also heard tales from other Edmonds enthusiasts.
“Somewhere on a boardroom shelf of the Edmonds building in Woolston, sat the ‘Tickler’ – a file box which housed the Edmonds baking powder recipe. When the factory was being bowled in 1990, quick-thinking neighbours retrieved the box from the wreckage skip. Unfortunately, the recipe was gone, but they managed to save a portrait of founder Thomas Edmonds, and a scale model of the famous factory, along with other bits and pieces.” Those neighbours subsequently became the ‘Friends of the Edmonds Gardens’.
Interested in history, and culture around cooking, Kate trialled the odd recipe from the 1908 first edition of the famous Edmonds Sure to Rise Cookery Book. “The Yorkshire scones looked and tasted more like a flat, bland savoury biscuit,” she says. “It’s been fascinating to document the evolution of a cookbook that has become a cherished and essential part of this country’s culinary history – the ‘Edmonds’ has a place in many people’s hearts as well as their kitchens, often handed down from generation to generation.”
Co-author Peter Alsop particularly enjoyed the combination of family, company, social and advertising histories – a fusion he suggests offers readers much intrigue, insight and inspiration.
“More than 140 years since Thomas and Jane arrived in New Zealand, the full story of an entrepreneurial family and their diverse legacy is now told. Being involved in this team achievement has been a great opportunity.”
Peter also co-designed Sure to Rise with The Gas Project’s Gary Stewart. “Designing a book on one of New Zealand’s best-known and longest-running brands was both a responsibility and privilege – with hope that the result honours Edmonds’ own impressive design legacy,” Peter says.
“For those like me who love vintage commercial art, the book offers a treasure trove of advertising, along with important history on innovative marketing techniques. The Edmonds Cookery Book – given away free from 1908 with beautiful early covers – is surely one of the most potent marketing initiatives in New Zealand’s history.
“The famous Edmonds ‘E’ – a famous logo itself and part of Kiwiana – has also become much better understood; it is almost certainly a composite arrangement of T-J-E, the initials of Thomas John Edmonds, and therefore a wonderful enduring tribute to the company’s founder.”
Sure to Rise: The Edmonds Story by Peter Alsop, Kate Parsonson and Richard Wolfe, published by Canterbury University Press, RRP $59.99, Casebound, 250 x 210mm, full colour, 304pp + gatefolds (total 310pp), ISBN: 978-1-98-850331-8, available in bookstores and from Canterbury University Press
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About the Authors
Peter Alsop is a keen collector of New Zealand art and design, including vintage ephemera and hand-coloured photography. His 10 previous books include Selling the Dream, Mauri Ora – Wisdom from the Māori World and Hand-Coloured New Zealand.
Kate Parsonson is a great-great-granddaughter of Thomas and Jane Edmonds who began researching for this book in 2018, curious to discover more about her family history, and the iconic Edmonds Cookery Book. This is her first book.
Richard Wolfe is an art, design and cultural historian whose 41 previous books include most recently Footprints on the Land: How Humans Changed New Zealand. He has also written a large number of articles, covering diverse aspects of New Zealand art, history and popular culture.