The Poor Man's Dunhill Mini-Magnum -- The 1976 Jumbo
THE POOR MAN’S DUNHILL MINI-MAGNUM – THE 1976 JUMBO 612/622, By John Loring with Richard Esserman (*) (12/01)
Contributed by Jean-Christophe Bienfait
Dunhill has always prided itself on its consistency, classic English pipe shapes year after year of the finest quality. Still some years are distinctive. For instance, for obvious reasons not many pipes were made at all in 1940, yet in my experience the strong odds are that if you find a 1940 Dunhill it will be a LB Shell.
1976 is another of those special years, for in that year Dunhill made a remarkable number of bent shapes, including a handful of pipes that may well be the largest pipes ever stamped with a standard Dunhill shape number. (Yes, larger pipes were made, the awesome magnums of the 1920’s and 1930’s and perhaps some later extra large Collectors, but none of these pipes bore standard shape numbers). I came upon my first of these 1976 jumbos in the late 1980s when Iwan Ries, the Chicago pipe shop, began to liquidated the personal collection of a retiring Dunhill salesman on the same day that fortuitously I was perusing the shop. It was a 1976 saddle bit ¾ bent Shell, shape number 622 with a 2 5/8” tall bowl. In virtually all respects save the saddle bit, the twin of a jumbo LC from the late 1920’s when that shape was made a ¼” taller then ever before or ever since. Money never left my hands so fast.
A decade later however, it now is the ‘baby’ of my collection for in the past year I have been able to acquire two more of these remarkable 1976 jumbo ¾ bents. One is the tapered bit mate to my earlier acquisition, a 612 (the “1” rather then a “2” indicating the tapered bit) with the considerable added pluses of being not only a Root finish but an eighth of an inch taller as well. An extra eighth that makes it to the best of my information the largest LC shape ever produced. The other is an equally remarkable 2 7/8” tall Shell 612 with an appreciably wider, fuller bodied bowl. A classic 151 shape but twice as large, making my two other jumbo 612/622 acquisitions puny in the comparison.
While only a handful of these jumbo 1976 ¾ 612/622 bents were made (and not to be confused with the many large but standard group 6 sized 612 and 622 bents made in 1976) after gazing at them in awe, the intriguing question that comes to mind is why in 1976 and only in 1976.
The answer I think is a bit of British ‘Spring Cleaning’ occasioned by the change over from the traditional individual shape numbering system to the modern day shape category system, the acquisition of Lane Limited (Charatan brand pipes), a US marketing initiative and an MBA realization that unfinished briar is wasted money.
Based upon reasoned speculation and discussion with certain Dunhill management, over the years since World War Two, or perhaps even before, Dunhill had set aside the occasional large briar pieces for future use. That is until it had a custom order or alternatively a sufficient accumulation to make a run of rare extra large shapes such as the LC. The shift in 1975 however, to the modern day shape category system meant that a number of distinctly different shapes could be inventoried and distributed under the same shape number, as the 612s and 622s pictured here demonstrate. At the same time the acquisition of Lane Limited forced a review of the two company’s pipe making facilities and most likely brought to the attention of the MBA types that a significant amount of valuable briar was accumulating dust. I suspect this prompted a command from on high to turn the wood into sterling, leading in turn to the concentrated carving in 1976 of previously set aside briar suitable for large bent shapes, including a few particularly large briars from which my three pipes came.
But if this large and jumbo bent production was unique to 1976, the impetus behind that production was, I think, not and indeed represents the initial, glorious peak of what can only be termed a five year roller coaster ride. For instance in 1978, and unique to 1978 we see a number of ODA 845 Canadian variants with distinctly wide oval shanks of various lengths. Unfortunately, there were no pipes to my information in the Canadian shape akin to the few jumbo 612/622s of two years pervious, but still they were wide oval shank pieces so distinct that at a glance across a room you recognize the year that they were carved.
But Dunhill’s stockpile of accumulated briar was far too substantial to be seriously dented by an extra generous production of bent shapes in 1976 and Canadian shapes in 1978 and there were other considerations as well. First, the 1975 announced end of ODA production had not been well received in America. So given both American market and MBA/corporate demands a 1978 reintroduction of the entire large classic shape “Giant”/”ODA” line was a natural. (Of course consistent with the end of its individual pipe shape numbering system, these ODAs were initially reintroduced without the traditional “800” pipe shape number stampings.)
Second, Dunhill was hardly oblivious to the favorable impression Danish freehand pipes had made in America during the 1960s. Indeed in the early 1970’s it had experimented at its Harcourt factory with plateau topped freehand bowls using preturned but hand finished stems. (These were marketed as Dunhills with an “S/G” stamp.) Nor of course was it unfamiliar with the popularity of its newly acquired Charatanline of Danish influenced English style free hands, i.e. the Distinction, Executive, Selected and Supreme. So again in retrospect it was almost natural for Dunhill to begin Dunhill factory production in 1978 of the Collector line of free hand style pipes.
Unfortunately, MBAs seem always to be young and impatient, the cigarette smoking type with little patience for either a pipe or unused inventory. And beginning late in 1978 I suspect that was the genesis to the most embarrassing disaster in a century of Dunhill pipe making. I refer of course to the circled group size 6 (and rare circled group size 5) Bruyeres primarily associated with 1979 but found on occasion with 1978 and 1980 date stamps.
Not all large briars are either well grained enough to be destined to be a Collector line pipe, or otherwise of a shape easily carved into a well balanced premium grade pipe and as Dunhill attacked its accumulated stockpile of briar, a second stockpile of these ‘less then satisfactory’ but not imperfect briars must of begun to grow. Corporate folks however, hunched over spread sheets, with a cigarette smoldering near by tend to see only unused inventory, and beginning in late 1978 and continuing into early 1980 one sees a series of abortions usually with a circled group size 6, never with a shape number, and invariably in the Bruyere finish, with clumsy bowl shapes and normally coupled with poorly fitted bits (if not poorly fitted it is probably a replacement). If one did not know for a fact that in 1978 Dunhill distributed these pipes at a radically reduced $50 ‘sale’ price (some, but not most, ‘sale’ pipes had XX’s stamped on the shank), one would not hesitate to label them ‘counterfeits’ on the quality, or rather lack of quality, of manufacture alone. Or to put it very kindly a hastily made group of pipes.
In life however, we are ultimately measured not so much by the mistakes we make but how we react to them and if I may complete my speculation, it seems to me that early 1980s Dunhill production indicates that indeed Dunhill recognized and reacted to its 1979 circled group 6 Bruyere disaster. For in the early 1980s together with continued production of the Collector and reintroduced ODA lines we see a number of unusual Dunhill pipes replicating some of its most unusual older limited production shapes, suggesting to me a continuation of turning an accumulated inventory of briar into sterling but unlike, 1979, and consistent with 1976 and 1978 doing so within a tradition of classic English style shapes of the finest quality.
All and all then for an old fashion, stogy English company, the second half of the 1970s is a remarkable period with an incredible low, peaks of considerable interest and for me, the incredible high point of Dunhill’s 1976 production of a handful of 612 and 622 ¾ bent shapes with bowl heights exceeding 2 ½” up to 3”, the largest standard shape numbered pipes Dunhill has ever produced.
(*)(This paper could not have been written save for Richard Esserman. While most of us began as ‘smokers’ and slowly developed into collectors, Richard merged the two interests almost immediately and coupled them with a phenomenal memory and a discerning eye. He is in all a remarkable and generous resource.)
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