Who was Eric?

Eric Craig business stamp
– Eric Craig's business stamp –
(click on image to enlarge)


Princes St, Auckland New Zealand (circa 1866)
– Princes St, Auckland in the 1870's –
(click on image to enlarge)


Eric Craig (1829-1923)
– Eric Craig taken in 1910 –
(image courtesy of J. Dooling)
(click on image to enlarge)


Craig's fern & curiosity shop
– Craig's fern & curiosity shop –
(image courtesy of J. Dooling)
(click on image to enlarge)


Old newspaper adverts of Eric Craig's business
– Old newspaper adverts of Eric's business –
(image courtesy of J. Dooling)
(click on image to enlarge)


Printed on the very first page of the New Zealand fern book is the business stamp of its creator - Mr Eric Craig of Princes St, Auckland. Eric Craig (1829-1923) was a collector, publisher and dealer of natural history and ethnography, who ran a curio business called “The fern and curiosity dealer” near to the old Auckland museum.

The fashion to collect, cultivate and display ferns (known at the time as the 'fern craze' or Pteridomania) had spread to New Zealand from Victorian England. From his shop Craig sold (amongst other things) books of pressed ferns, specimens of which he had sourced from a string of suppliers he had in various parts of the country.

In 1888 Craig borrowed a mounting technique first pioneered by Mr H B Dobbie, called the cyanotype process – an early form of photography – to produce illustrations where ferns are presented as white silhouettes on a blue background. These came to be known as the “Blue books” and are now extremely rare. Of 14 copies known to have survived, eleven are in New Zealand libraries, one is in an overseas library and two are in private hands. Some examples of Eric Craig’s work exist in both the New Zealand National library and the Auckland memorial museum.

I am still trying to piece together what became of Eric Craig in his later life, although it would appear he became a well known commercial dealer in Maori artefacts, involved in trade with museums and foreign collectors. According to obituary columns of the time he died 11th April 1923.

Eric Craig's Great Granddaughter has kindly provided the following information which adds more interesting detail to Eric's life story...

Eric (or John Eric which was his proper name) was my Great Grandfather. He was born in Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire on October the 27th, 1829. His parents moved to Tewkesbury in England where he was educated. In 1850 he followed many men like him to the goldfields of Bendigo in Australia trying to find his fortune. He was there for quite some time and then heard about the gold finds at Thames in New Zealand so crossed the Tasman. To cut a long story short he paid a visit to the widow of a friend from the Bendigo goldfields and three years later married her.

He was a very well known businessman in Auckland (he had a window and sash company amongst other things) and was always an avid collector of Maori artifacts, shells, kauri gum Greenstone and botanical samples. He became known as "the fern man" because of his extensive knowledge of New Zealand’s ferns. He would often travel for days (and he had others doing the same) looking for new samples to mount for his own collection but also to sell from his Craig's Curiosity Shop, which was on Princes Street in Auckland.

Victorian England had a voracious appetite for these ferns and I know that he had quite a keen business in sending them to customers over here who would write to him giving him a list of the ferns they were looking for and telling him how much they would pay for "the latest examples". He also produced books such as yours, which were greatly valued.

Auckland Museum has a huge collection of his and there are many collections around the world. They often pop up for sale in some form or other.

Judi Dooling, July 2009