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Peanut Dispenser

Ashleigh McLarin, Exhibitions Curator


Salty peanuts are a classic snack; however, where and how we purchase them has changed. Here we have a peanut dispenser with a metal base and lid and a glass hopper. There is a coin slot on the left with a lever to open the shoot, providing a handful of crunchy nuts. We can tell that the nuts were salted as the sodium residue has corroded the metal springs inside the hopper. Although not in perfect condition, this object recounts the milk bar era.

This peanut dispenser (2004/17/1) was donated to the museum by Mr D. J. Harnson and it spent its working life in a milk bar on Cameron St. This peanut dispenser may have come from Ansell’s Milk Bar, or it may have come from The French Maid Milk Bar, which was also located on Cameron St.


There were many milk bars in the Whangārei district. The first milk bar in Whangārei was Ansell’s Milk Bar. It opened in 1936. It had a pea-green and orange bar, where this peanut dispenser may have sat. Ansell’s Milk Bar was situated on Cameron St, next to J. R. McKenzie store. Other milk bars included Tip Top Milk Bar on Bank Street, later becoming Lesley’s Milk Bar in 1949. There was the Star Milk Bar at 179 Bank Street, which is now the car park for New World Regent; there was the Plaza Milk Bar, the Regent Milk Bar, Kendell Bros, and Skinner’s Milk Bar and Greengrocer at 54 Water St, where Beaurepairs now resides. There were also milk bars in Kamo, Onerahi and Ngunguru.


By 1949, milk bars were well established and in Whangārei a significant meeting was held. It was at this gathering, with 30 attendees, that the Northland Milk Bar and Restaurant Proprietor Association was founded. It was hoped that this association would help solve shared concerns, like discouraging the milk bar cowboys, groups of leather-clad motorcyclists, who gathered outside milk bars. These groups were heavily criticised and feared by older generations.


Milk bars were a product of American influence. Although the milk bars appeared in New Zealand before WWII, they had their heyday in the 1940s when the American troops arrived in New Zealand for training during WWII (You can find out more about this on the Fortress Northland interactive table, newly installed in the Main Gallery). 


Milk bars played an important part in the social life of young New Zealanders in the 1940s-60s. It was a public space where friends could meet up. Milk bars were open morning till night – they were a common destination after the pictures. Milk bars replaced tea rooms and were the forerunners of coffee houses and the modern café. We are now in the café era.