Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyJuly 7, 2022

Finding Johnny Green’s missing egg cup

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

A nationwide hunt has uncovered not one but three egg cups matching the description of the cherished heirloom stolen from an Auckland collector more than 20 years ago. We took them to him to find out which, if any, was The One.

Last month we published the story of Johnny Green’s missing egg cup, and the team of five million quickly got to work. Community pages were set alight with comments and tags, op shops were trawled and cupboards were cleared, all in the hopes of uniting one 92-year-old man with his beloved egg cup. Thanks to this nationwide Easter egg-cup-hunt, we unearthed not one, not two, but three possible matches. 

Johnny Green’s long lost Easter-themed egg cup was given to him by his mother in 1939, and became his most cherished possession ever since her death in 1941. The cup stayed with him through every chapter of his incredible life, including his early years in an orphanage, his time working as a cook for the British Army across Asia and a six-week voyage by boat to Aotearoa.

From this solitary egg cup a collection of thousands grew, which Green eventually started displaying to the public. But in 2000, at the Thames Shopping Centre, tragedy struck: his mother’s egg cup was stolen from a plinth in the middle of his display. “The emotions kicked in straight away and I just started crying and crying and crying,” he recalled. “That was the only thing I had left of my mother.” He’s been on the hunt for it ever since. 

Shortly after The Spinoff published the story of Green’s missing egg cup, a thrilling email arrived. The subject line? “Egg cup”. The email? “Hi I have an egg cup like the one that you did the article on… I’ll send you a picture.” 

The next email had no subject line at all, just the following attached images: 

It was a promising lead. What were the odds of an egg cup exactly the same as the missing one surfacing in the exact same region where it was stolen? The egg cup custodian, who wanted only to be known as “local person”, divulged more over the phone: “My dad lived in Thames for quite a few years and every time I would go to visit him, he would have a few ornaments and things that he had picked up from the markets or the secondhand shops.” The egg cup was one of those gifts, which the local person estimates they received some time in the early 2010s. 

“Somebody shared the article on the local grapevine page and when I saw that it had gone missing in Thames I thought ‘well, it must be the same one, surely’,” the local person laughed. “It’s just been sitting in my crystal cabinet with old plates and other special stuff – I might have used it once for my kids years ago, but it has just sat there ever since.” Then, the best news of all: they said they were willing to part with the cup and reunite Johnny Green with his most beloved possession. “Oh definitely! It will just be really neat if we can get it back to him.” 

The local person’s only request was that they were not identified in the reporting of the egg cup exchange. “No photographs, no names, no nothing,” the local person laughed. “I’m at the stage in my life where I just can’t be bothered dealing with people’s bullshit.” 

Soon enough, I was Thames-bound to procure the coveted egg cup from the local person. It was a grey and drizzly day, and I was running late after trying to get my aura read at a shop called The Crystal Ball (turns out there are no aura readings at alert level orange). Thankfully, the local person had arrived outside Goldfield’s Shopping Centre – the scene of the crime in 2000 – right on time. The egg cup was there too, swathed in bubble wrap and nestled in a purple box. “I’m just pleased the puzzle is solved,” the local person beamed as they handed it over. 

Later that night, I inspected the egg cup closely for clues under a lamp in my lounge. It had a hairline crack and some discolouration on the wings, the exact kind of cosmetic damage that an 80-year-old egg cup that had travelled to three different continents over decades might sustain. There were no clear initials on the base but, after closer inspection, I began to see a resplendent J inked onto the underside of the cup. Could it be?

While what seemed likely to be the missing egg cup was safely contained in a high-security box in The Spinoff office, emails began to arrive over the coming days that changed my aura from “chuffed” to “perplexed”. “Replica (??) at Takapuna Hospice Shop” the subject line of the first one read. It seemed I may have counted my egg cups before they had hatched. 

“We saw the egg cup at Takapuna Hospice Shop earlier this week,” wrote Rachel, an eagle-eyed Aucklander who described herself as being “in the egg cup market”. On a recent trip to a local op shop, her husband picked up the cup and showed it to her as a potential option. “We both agreed it was quite ugly, and then left the shop.”

A week later, Rachel saw the article about the missing egg cup on The Spinoff and recognised it immediately. “I literally asked my husband to pull over the car and look at the picture and he agreed it was the same one [in appearance],” she explained. I rang the Takapuna Hospice shop and asked if there was still an Easter-themed egg cup for sale, but it had been sold. “If it was here at all, it ain’t here anymore,” the person on the end of the phone mused. 

The next email to arrive – subject: “Egg Cup” – was slightly more promising. “I think I have a very similar egg cup,” Sian from West Auckland wrote. “Photo attached.” 

Over the phone, Sian revealed more about the egg cup’s provenance. Nearly a decade ago she was opening a cafe in Henderson, and was trawling Trade Me and op shops for vintage crockery. One of the menu items they were toying with was hard-boiled egg in vintage egg cups, so when a bulk lot of Crown Lynn and other “random” egg cups came up for sale, Sian got bidding. She doesn’t remember who she bought the bulk lot from, all she remembers is unearthing the “quirky and funny” Easter-themed egg cup among the others in the box. 

“Funnily enough we didn’t end up using the egg cups in the cafe, so we’ve still got so many just sitting in our kitchen pantry,” she laughed. Despite having used the cup a few times, and admitting that “it looks great with a little egg in it,” Sian was more than happy to donate her cup to Johnny Green. “Oh, of course, how could you not for a story like that?” she said. “He probably needs it more than us, I just hope he finds what he is looking for.” 

I was now in possession of two Easter egg cups that matched Johnny Green’s description. Then the next email arrived. “I think I just sold Johnny Green’s egg cup on my Etsy store,” Auckland-based Amy wrote. “I sold it on Monday and sent it by post to the buyer yesterday. And only now read your article!”

The egg cup plot continued to thicken, and I was quickly back on the blower.

Amy told me she encountered her egg cup at an op shop in Waiuku at the start of the year. “I was on the lookout for little knick-knacks because I had just started an Etsy store selling little kitsch and retro items,” she explained. The Waiuku op shop was having a half price sale, and the stars aligned as she laid eyes on what describes as the “perfectly cute and vintage” egg cup. She listed it on her Etsy store as ‘Cute Vintage Lustreware Egg Cup with Three Chicks’. 

Roughly six weeks later, the Cute Vintage Lustreware Egg Cup with Three Chicks sold to an anonymous local buyer. Amy sent the egg cup to them as soon as they had paid, and the very next day her friend sent her a link to The Spinoff article. “At first I thought she was playing some sort of elaborate joke, I just couldn’t understand,” Amy laughed. “It took me about five minutes to process and then I went back to my friend and said ‘I just sold this cup’.” 

And as for the buyer of the Cute Vintage Lustreware Egg Cup with Three Chicks? “They are aware of the article,” Amy said, careful to protect their identity. “But if it turned out to be Johnny’s egg cup they said they would be happy to reunite them.” 

If you’ve lost count at home, that’s three possible egg cups that fit Johnny Green’s description – two in the flesh and photographic evidence of the other. All had slight variations on their distinguishing features, all were found in different regions, and all were in different conditions. The only person who would know for sure which one, if any, was the missing egg cup was Johnny Green himself, who I visited this week on a drizzly Auckland day. 

As is customary when visiting Johnny Green, he first had to do a show-and-tell of his latest op shop purchases. There was a large blonde ventriloquist’s puppet, a shopping bag full of egg cups he had picked up that very morning from St John’s and even a copy of Clementine Ford’s ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ perched next to his armchair. He cracked open a packet of Sultana Pasties and we got down to revealing the Easter egg cups uncovered across the motu.  

“These are just amazing,” he said, poring over the photos of the Cute Vintage Lustreware Egg Cup that recently sold on Etsy. “That’s definitely the one, but I’m not sure whether it is the one of course.” The next cup he was given for assessment came from Sian in West Auckland. Green cackled as he turned it around in his hands. “That is just amazing condition for its age, isn’t it?! Wow, that is nearly as old as me.” It could be a match, but had no initials to speak of. 

Johnny with two Easter egg cup options. (Photo: Alex Casey)

Finally, Green was handed the local person’s donation from Thames. “It’s got a good fault in it eh,” he said, pointing at the hairline crack. “That shows how old they are.” I urged him to look at the base of the cup and see what may or may not be a small ‘J’ etched into the bottom. Could he see it too? “Not really my dear, I can see a little black spot but nothing else my dear.” If he did put his initials, they would have been written in large black letters, he concluded. 

Ever the diplomat, Green wouldn’t make a ruling on which egg cup, if any, was the one. “I can’t be 100% sure,” he said. “I will probably never ever be able to find the exact one, but now I can look at this and hold it close and it reminds me of my mum anyway, which is probably about the closest I will ever get.” More powerful, he said, was the public response. “I appreciate all these people going to this effort and trying to help me find it. The public out there are just amazing.” 

Green cradled both egg cups in his hands, delighted with the new additions to his collection. “These will both be just as precious now as my actual Mum’s one, because the kindness of people just amazes me,” Green said, grinning at his new treasures. “Mum,” he whispered to himself. “It brings back Mum every time.”

Do you have any information about Johnny Green’s beloved egg cup? Get in touch:

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