A Demuth—Dunhill Connection?
By Ben Rapaport, July 2023
Exclusive to pipedia.org
New York’s William Demuth started collecting antique pipes in the last quarter of the 19th century. I was also aware that Alfred Dunhill had begun collecting antique pipes in the early 20th Century. Neither collection has had much visibility in the Press or been the subject of historical studies—other than Alfred Dunhill’s The Pipe Book (1924)—because both were private, not public collections, and there is no record that the two men corresponded as fellow collectors.
Demuth collected all sorts of pipes, later donating much of his collection to the American Museum of Natural History. In the American Museum of Natural History’s Annual Report of the President for 1903 appeared a note regarding his donation to the Department of Ethnology: “Mr. William Demuth, New York City, Collections of pipes and smoking utensils.” Two years later, The American Museum Journal, Volume V (1905) reported: “The Demuth collection of pipes and smoking utensils has been considerably extended in the past few months by the addition of a large series of specimens of ceremonial and other pipes from various tribes of North American Indians, and from the Ashanti, the Kaffir, the Makalolo, the Bali and other tribes of central and southern Africa. A series of Filipino pipes and cigars is an important further addition to this collection.” The American Museum of Natural History. Its Origin, Its History, The Growth of Its Departments to December 31, 1909 (1911) was also complimentary: “One of the special collections in the Department of Anthropology is the Demuth Collection of pipes and smoking materials, brought together through the generous support of Mr. William Demuth, to show the various kinds of pipes and smoking materials used throughout the world. …The William Demuth Collection of pipes shows the manner of use of smoking-tobacco in many parts of the world.”
I had no visual information about them until July 2023 when I came across, quite unexpectedly, “Pipes in Demuth Collection New York Museum of Natural History,” an article in Tobacco, July 26, 1923. The article describes the pipes in detail in sequential paragraphs: The Initial Collections, Presented With Narghile or Hubble-Bubble, the Eskimo Collection, American Indian Pipes, Interesting Indian Devices, Pipes of Various Primitive People, Tomahawk and Other Indian Pipes, Double and Triple Bowl Pipes, The Asiatic Collection, Water Pipes Treasures, and The Chinese Water Pipe Differs from Others. Included in this article are illustrations of some of these pipes.
Alfred began collecting antique pipes, tobacco jars and books in the early 1920s, building an impressive collection. “He was a real entrepreneur,” said Peter Tilley, curator of the company’s museum and archive. “He started the pipe collection as a way of supporting his nascent business. But I think that they were very much his personal purchases.” The late Richard Dunhill, Alfred’s grandson, added to the collection as and when a fine antique pipe was at auction. (Black and white photos of much of the collection are in A Complete Guide to Collecting Antique Pipes.)
From early reading, I had also suspected a subtle rivalry between the Demuth Company and a newcomer to New York City, some 60 years later, the Alfred Dunhill Company. It was only a gossamer-thin theory, but to validate, document and intermingle both topics in a feature article, I needed evidence to connect the ••••••. This story is founded on industry research, fact-finding, and analysis. You’ll read about their apparent competition in business and the similar disposition of their pipe collections. Some of what follows requires a leap of faith.
German immigrant William (Wilhelm C.) Demuth began manufacturing pipes in 1862 along with smoker’s requisites, cigar-store figures, canes, and zinc sculptures. Established in New York City as William Demuth & Company, he was a pipe importer for many years before he became a pipe manufacturer. The factory was in Queens, and the retail business was at 507 and 508 Broadway in the City. The company trademark was an inverted triangle within which were the letters WDC on its popular Wellington and Milano briars. In time, several trade journals called the company “the largest tobacco pipe manufacturers in the world,” and Demuth was identified as “the richest pipe merchant on the East Coast.” (Read about the Company’s early struggles in an interview with Leopold Demuth, “Trying to Get Pipes Off Novelty Basis,” Printers’ Ink, December 31, 1914). In 1926, Demuth acquired the right to manufacture England’s “BBB Own Make” pipes with this ad, “A Famous Old Pipe Introduced Under New Auspices” (“How a Modern American Pipe Factory Popularizes Its Products,” Tobacco, August 18, 1927).
The company went through a period of changeovers. David A. Schulte (Schulte Cigar Stores) purchased the company in 1927. As of 1929, Demuth and S.M. [Samuel Morris] Frank were two of the five companies that controlled the domestic briar pipe industry. In 1937, Frank became Demuth’s president by purchasing the factory in Queens—to combine Frank (Kaywoodie pipes) and Demuth pipe production—and Demuth became a subsidiary company. The Company officially disappeared in 1972, but Frank continued to produce Wellington pipes from the Demuth factory until 1976; in the 1980s, the Wellington was revived for a brief time.
New York City’s Fifth Avenue was literally Pipe and Tobacco Row. The Demuth showroom was at 230 Fifth Avenue. Alfred Orlik was at 86 Fifth Avenue. F. W. Kaldenberg and Sons had its retail store at 95 Fifth Avenue. A. Oppenheimer & Co., sole American distributors of GBD pipes and Gallaher’s tobaccos, was situated at 104 Fifth Avenue. The Manhattan Briar Pipe Company’s initial address was 111 Fifth Avenue. KB&B/Kaywoodie was at 120 Fifth Avenue. (In 1926, KB&B was joined by the staff of Reiss-Premier Pipe Company, the staff of Civic Premier Pipe Company (the American affiliate of London’s Civic Company), and La Bruyère of St. Claude. Now, under single management, these three associate companies represented “the largest factor in the pipe industry of the United States.”) Frankau & Co., 129 Fifth Avenue. The headquarters of S. M. Frank & Co. was at 133 Fifth Avenue. The House of Comoy was not far away at 342 Madison Avenue. Philip Morris & Co, Ltd. was at 72 Fifth Avenue. The George W. Helme Company, distributors of Lorillard, Railroad and Gail & Ax snuff, had offices at 111 Fifth Avenue, as did The British American Tobacco Company and the American Tobacco Company. Liggett & Myers was at 212, Carreras, Ltd. at 220, and Benson & Hedges at 435. I won’t burden you with all the Fifth-Avenue addresses of tobacco leaf importers and cigar merchants.
For years, M.M. Importing Company, 6 East 45th Street, was the sole agent for Dunhill pipes in the United States. Then Dunhill opened its first U.S. retail store, Alfred Dunhill Ltd., at 514 Fifth sometime in 1921; other public announcements listed 295 Fifth Avenue. (The Schulte Retail Stores Corporation owned a controlling interest of this Dunhill store.) Soon thereafter Dunhill became the talk of the town, and here’s evidence from a few trade publications. “The Dunhill offices have been handsomely fitted up, and they have on display a large and ample stock of pipes and other Dunhill products. …The Dunhill pipe, with the white spot, is recognized in this country as a high quality proposition, and the franchise to handle this line has come to be regarded as a very valuable asset” (“Dunhill Offices in New York City Carry Full Line,” United States Tobacco Journal, September 24, 1921). “Alfred Dunhill of London, Inc., will open shortly and prior to May 16th, 1922, a cigar store at No. 514 Fifth avenue, corner of 43rd street, for the sale of its own products. The store will be unique in the annals of American smoke shops and will probably be the finest example of its kind and on a scale never before attempted by anyone” (“That Dunhill Store,” The Retail Tobacconist, April 20, 1922). “Dunhill’s has also been aided remarkably by the retail store recently opened at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street, a store so situated that it advertises the pipe not only to all New York but also to that large part of the money-spending population of America which gets to New York at least once a year” (James Henle, “Making Pipe Smoking Respectable,” Printers’ Ink Monthly, October 1922).
Now to what I believe was competition for public recognition—something like Stephen Potter’s one-upmanship—between the two companies. First, it occurred when Alfred Dunhill gave President Warren G. Harding a set of four briar pipes—two straight-grained and two shell bowls—in a leather case gold-stamped “To Warren G. Harding, President of the United States, From Alfred Dunhill of London, 1921.” Demuth responded in the same year by sending a specially-made set of briars to Marshal Foch, the Supreme Commander of the World War I armies. Two years later, the Potentate of New York’s Mecca Temple [The Shriners] presented Harding a set of seven assorted WDC Milano briars in a red, plush-lined, leather case whose gold plate was inscribed: “Presented to Noble Warren G. Harding, President of the United States by Mecca Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S. June 1923.” (Harding had publicly expressed his preference for Milano briars, and Demuth advertised the Milano as “Fifth Avenue’s Favorite Pipe,” well aware that the Dunhill store was on Fifth Avenue.)
Of course, there was the occasional photo op … and an attempt at public comity. “We depict herewith two famous Thespians mounted on a trunk—the smaller star of the comedy world, on the reader’s right, is Ernest Truex and he is puffing contentedly on one of those W.D.C. pipes which have made the manufacturing house of William Demuth & Co. renowned throughout the nation. The other devotee of Thespis, and of a briar de luxe, is Clinton Meek and he is annexed to one of those superb imported pipe creations of Alfred Dunhill, of London, and now of New York” (“Two Pipe Devotees In Six Cylinder Love,” The Retail Tobacconist, January 12, 1922).
William and his brother Leopold had become fully integrated in this country and believed in its democratic principles. Leopold followed William as President in 1911, and he established an internal organization modeled on the U.S. Constitution that he called industrial democracy, an internal government plan: justice, cooperation, economy, energy, and service for employer and employee, “a means for settling disputes before they arise…and effective goodwill to cooperate.” He was a Progressive who had taken an interest in promoting democratic principles in the factory. During the Democratic National Convention in New York in 1924, held at Madison Square Garden, Leopold invited delegates, spectators, and members of the trade to visit the factory at Richmond Hill or to visit its Fifth Avenue offices to see the “Presidential Group,” a special series that consisted of a meerschaum bust of George Washington and a set of meerschaum pipes, the heads of President Adams to President Coolidge (“Demuth To Exhibit ‘Presidential Group’ of Pipes During Democratic Convention,” United States Tobacco Journal, June 21, 1924) while Dunhill showcased a special exhibit of its cigarettes in the window of the United Cigar Store closest to Madison Square Garden (United States Tobacco Journal, June 28, 1924).
In testimony to the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee of the Committee on Finance about the Tariff Act of 1929 on June 13-14, 1929, the Brief of Alfred Dunhill condescendingly stated:
The most popular American pipes are, of course, retailed at 25 cents to $1.50; a comparatively small number of better grade pipes range from $1.50 to $5.00. We understand there is one $6.00 pipe manufactured by Kaufman Bros. & Bondy. …William Demuth & Co., the largest American manufacturers, within the last four years made and widely advertised a pipe known as the ‘Aristocrat’ that retailed at $7.50 each. This pipe is no longer on the market because there was no sale in this country for a domestic pipe at this price.” …Our imported pipes are known as the Dunhill pipe, and these pipes do not enter into competition with any pipes manufactured in the United States. .…The Dunhill pipes are made from the very best quality of carefully selected brier and are of the highest type of workmanship and finish. …These pipes retail for $10 each in the United States.
Leopold was a competitive businessman who probably believed that presidential-motif pipes would sell, so the company produced a series of presidential-campaign briar pipes. This pair exhibits the incised profiles of Democrat Governor Al Smith of New York and Republican Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover made for the 1928 Presidential election. The pair was sold in July 2019 at Hake’s Auction, York, Pennsylvania. I do not know how many others the company may have made.
I return to the pipe collections. When Demuth was sold to Frank, his collection remained with Schulte. The American Tobacco Company purchased it in 1940, named it the “Half and Half Collection” after its best-selling pipe tobacco, and displayed it at its plant in Richmond, Virginia. In 1957, the plant closed, and American Tobacco donated the collection to the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia. For a brief interlude in the 1960s, a few outstanding pieces were on public display at the Valentine, but most remained in storage. The collection was sold to the Austrian Tobacco Museum in 1991 and, in 2002, the museum closed. In that year, most all the Demuth pipes were sold by Wiener Kunst Auktionen, Vienna, and the balance of this vast tobacciana collection moved to the Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna for its care and feeding. Since 2007, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has owned Austria Tabak, and has demonstrated no interest in exhibiting the collection, so it was moved from Schönbrunn to a JTI storage facility. The only exception was on November 3, 2009, when the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Vienna’s Art History Museum) marked the occasion of two anniversaries, 10 years of JTI and 225 years of the Austria Tabak Company. The gala affair included the “Nicotiana Exhibition Vienna: The Cultural History of Tobacco,” in which the Demuth-commissioned meerschaum pipe “Columbus Landing in America,” one of the pipes in the “Half and Half” Collection was on display.
In 2000, Richard Dunhill told me that Compagnie Financière Richemont S.A. (having purchased Dunhill from Rothmans in the 1960s) would eventually sell his grandfather’s library of tobacco books and the pipe collection which had remained in the family and on display at corporate headquarters. This announcement was a slight to him because he had a personal—and a family—stake in the care and feeding of both collections, to be saved, not salvaged. Nonetheless, in May 2004, Christie’s, London, conducted the sale of “The Private Collection of Pipes, Tobacco Jars and Books of Mr. Alfred Dunhill.” Two years later, in May 2006, Christie’s conducted a second auction in which some of Alfred’s rarer pipes were on the auction block.
Everything has a beginning and an end, nothing lasts forever, change is the only constant. The William Demuth Company is no more. Richemont owns Dunhill and British American Tobacco owned Dunhill’s tobacco products. According to Dunhill’s website, Dunhill brand pipes are now known as Alfred Dunhill’s The White Spot pipes. In 2017, halfwheel.com posted: “Dunhill Plans Exit From Cigar & Pipe Business. …British American Tobacco (BAT) has informed us of their intention to exit the handmade cigar and pipe tobacco business for the Dunhill brands, said Régis Broersma, president of General Cigar Co., which makes Dunhill cigars and distributes them in the U. S.” The BAT website has no mention of Dunhill pipe tobaccos, because its tobaccos are now Peterson pipe tobaccos. Today, Dunhill stores are at Woodbury Common, Central Valley, New York, and at Hudson Yards in the City, both selling luxury items: custom and bespoke menswear, leather goods, and accessories.
To recap, I’ve characterized the informal association of Demuth and Dunhill and the occasional—perhaps coincidental, perhaps intentional—promotional events of both companies in the first quarter of the 20th century. And I have tracked the sequence of ownership, custody, storage, and deaccession of both pipe collections through time. Some of the Demuth collection remains in the American Museum of Natural History; others were sold in the Vienna auction in 2002. The Dunhill collection was auctioned in 2004 and 2006. All these auctioned pipes are now scattered around the world in private collections.
This is now a matter of record on pipedia.