Two Early Dunhills
Written by John C. Loring
Contributed by Jean-Christophe Bienfait
Two small early Dunhills rest in my rack each with a white explanatory label circling the inside of the bowl, least once again I unthinkingly cull them out of my collection only to wake in the middle of the night panic stricken as I search them out and restore them to the rack. Both Bruyeres they are typical English ‘group 3ish’ small, a shape 31 (billiard) and a shape 53 (3/4 bent). They came to me through Judd Perlson, pipe dealer of note, who before eBay and marriage, would visit London a few times each year just to ease the strain on my wallet.
I was just getting into early Dunhills, learning about them and how to date them when Judd dangled these pipes before me over lunch. It was obvious from the start that the lightly smoked 1921 shape 31 billiard was an interesting pipe, even if too small for anything other then an occasional ‘test’ smoke. For with full and complete standard Dunhill stampings on either side of the shank, the pipe is further stamped on the bottom of the shank “DAMAGED [/] PRICE 3’/6’” (roughly a 75% discount to the then retail).
While there have been occasions in later years when Dunhill has stamped pipes to indicate reduced pricing, at least until the late 1970’s this was always for pipes that fully met Dunhill quality standards. So what makes this pipe unusual is that apparently it is not up to Dunhill quality standards but still intentionally bears full Dunhill nomenclature. I have never seen or heard of another but as I think about it I suspect that a fair number of pipes from 1921 with that stamping originally existed even if few have survived.
More such “DAMAGED” stamped pipes must have existed because in 1920 Dunhill began both carving and finishing all its bowls in London rather then purchasing most all already carved and graded in France and only finished in London. Carving bowls from scratch necessarily meant that Dunhill ended up a good number of usable bowls that didn’t meet Dunhill quality standards – in Dunhill terminology “fallings”. In 1922 it would form Parker to market these imperfect pipes thus preserving the “Dunhill” name, but in the interim, as attested to by my pipe, it appears that they marketed these “fallings” under the Dunhill name marked “DAMAGED”. In a very real sense then my pipe could be considered a “Parker” prototype.
Since my pipe bears an English patent, i.e. it was not for export, the DAMAGED pipe was almost certainly offered in the Duke Street shop. At 75% of the price of the other pipes in the shop, the presence of those DAMAGED stamped pipes must have raised a few customer eyebrows. This no doubt taught Dunhill lesson for following the formation of Parker a year later, it appears Dunhill never allowed Parker products to be offered in a Dunhill shop or in a retail Dunhill catalog save during World War II when lack of inventory undoubtedly forced otherwise.
(A postscript: neither my ‘damaged’ pipe nor I am advised pre WWII smooth finished Parkers evidence fills, i.e. they are first quality pipes, not ‘seconds’, “imperfect” only in the sense that they didn’t meet Dunhill standards – most often I suspect because of ‘sandspecs’).
It took me a bit longer to understand the second pipe Judd brought back for me, an unsmoked Bruyere shape 53, ¾ bent, and that in fact it may well be unique. In and of itself the pipe appears to be hardly that but on close inspection one sees that the pipes “DUNHILL / LONDON” stamp is evenly aligned rather then having a longer DUNHILL over a shorter, centered LONDON as is usually the case. I came to learn that that rare evenly aligned stamp was only used for two months, from October 20th 1918 through January 2, 1919.
It is somewhat remarkable that we know that at all for in the 1941 blitz most all of Dunhill’s early records were destroyed. But there was small card from the early 1920s used by store clerks to date Dunhill pipes of the 1910’s and it must have been salvaged from the back of a drawer in the bombed out Duke Street shop - probably at the same time that Alfred H. Dunhill was sitting at a card table outside the shop obstinately staying open for business notwithstanding the destroyed shop behind him. By then a perfectly useless card, no doubt it had been too small and inconsequential to ever bother throwing away over the past decades, and once again, thankfully, it survived.
While no doubt other pipes from the specially stamped two month production period at the end of 1918 have survived, I think it doubtful that any of those other survivors remain unsmoked. I suppose it’s the definition of what I normally abhor, “a museum piece”, not to be smoked, but since its too small for me to smoke anyway, I don’t suppose I mind, if only I can remember not to cull it out, for like the card that tells its tale, it’s a survivor.
Unfortunately, Judd is too wrapped up in eBay and matrimony these days to get himself back to London, so I suppose he will never find me my ODH and I will just have to be satisfied with two small interesting pipes.
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