There is a famous story that in 1921, the Prince of Wales was out hunting and had lost some of his pipes. His search for the pipes made it to the newspapers in London and did not specify the brand of pipe, but had a description of them. It turns out that a manufacturer’s name was not needed, since his pipes had been the popular choice at the time. This search nevertheless gave that manufacturer, Dunhill, a brand new endorsement from the highest of names at the time.
A History of Quality
When looking into the history of Dunhill, and how they became one of the most popular and well known pipemakers of the 1900’s, we need to start at 1893 when, at the age of 21, Alfred Dunhill inherited a harness business. Once that happened, Alfred looked towards the future and converted the factory from manufacturing accessories for horse-drawn carriages to accessories for motor vehicles. This birthed “Dunhill Motorities” and Alfred was doing what he could to make his mark, inventing whatever accessories he thought of.
Alfred was also an avid tobacco enthusiast, and by 1904 he noticed a growing problem with the high speed travel of turn of the century automobiles (Alfred himself was one of the earliest motorists to face charges of “driving furiously” at the extreme speed of 25 mph, more than double the 12 mph speed limit). The pipes of the time would have difficulty dealing with the wind resistance caused by those speeds and so he invented the “windshield pipe” which would aid smokers on the move. This “windshield pipe” had an elevated front of the bowl, very much akin to a car’s windshield, which helped block out some of the wind that would either make the pipe go out or worse, blow the burning tobacco out of the bowl and into the smoker’s face.
Alfred opened up his first tobacco and pipes shop in London in 1906, and a small factory specifically for pipes in 1910. He had two main principles dictating the direction of Dunhill Pipes, they would be made of only the highest quality briar by expert craftsmen and they would be priced as such. His higher priced pipes ran opposite to the trend of the time that called for making quick, cheap, poorly made pipes that needed to be replaced frequently. This allowed users of Dunhill Pipes to have a consistent experience that exuded the high-end status and character Dunhill wanted.
The only thing Alfred needed to do was help his customers maintain the pipes, which he did by starting the process of inner tubes, originally made from aluminum. These tubes kept the innards of the pipes clean and were easily replaceable so the customers only needed to get the tubes and not a whole new pipe. This would be the practice for pipe smokers until the 1930s, which was when pipe cleaners were introduced to the public.
By 1915, the Dunhill pipes had earned a reputation for its high quality, which led to an issue with their straight pipes. It was at this point that Alfred needed to add the now iconic white spot onto the end of the stems of their straight pipes in order to identify which way was “up” and allow for an easier use by the smoker. That white spot, a design of necessity and simplicity, became the symbol for Dunhill pipes and a mark that people quickly recognized and respected.
Once mail ordering became more popular, Alfred took to writing an encyclopedia that helped serve as an introduction to his pipes, as well as a way to educate his customers about the products available to them. This innovation has been duplicated by other companies, and remains a practice by some to this day.
One of Dunhill’s most impressive innovations came a few years later, when Alfred developed the Shell pipe in 1917. This new pipe was developed by a revolutionary practice that some say was discovered by accident.
The popular story states that Alfred was in his basement during the winter. He was making some pipes and at the end of the day had forgotten a half finished pipe by the heating boiler. The next summer, he found the pipe, discovering that some of the grain appeared to have shrunk, which left a relief pattern that was similar to a seashell. This could be the truth, or just a popular myth, as entrepreneurs from Alfred Dunhill’s time tended to veer towards fantastical, overexaggerated stories that caught people’s attention. Myth or truth, this discovery added a new and exciting pipe to the Dunhill brand which was looking forward to a huge boom very soon.
In 1914, World War I erupted throughout Europe. While supplying a British officer with a pipe that had been ordered, Alfred also sent additional pipes to other soldiers that were fighting alongside the British, including the French, Belgians, Canadians, and Americans. The awareness raised from this allowed Dunhill to open up their first stores outside of the UK, in New York City in 1921, and Paris soon thereafter. Dunhill was quickly becoming a globally known entity.
The business took off from there, earning its reputation as one of the world’s premier pipe manufacturers due to supplying tobacco and other products to King George VI through the 1930’s, and Winston Churchill with cigars during WWII.
During WWII their shop was destroyed in the Blitz and their supplies were harder to come by. This was the beginning of a struggle throughout Europe that lasted for a few years after the war ended. Dunhill was able to adapt and adjust to have their business in the US grow and expanded American tastes which became a major influence on the style of pipes Dunhill produced.
To this day the Alfred Dunhill name continues to be a name all around the world, from the pipes sold, to even the European golf tour, with an annual championship in South Africa.
Dunhill Tobacco, where it was and where it is now
Dunhill was not just a pipe manufacturer at first. In their store that opened in 1906, customers were able to come in and craft their own tobacco recipe, one that would be specific to their desires and allowed them to experience a unique blend that Dunhill could later market should the blend become a popular choice. Alfred was known to be a gifted blender, and his expertise and advice was an invaluable tool to both his company as well as his customers. Going to Alfred Dunhill to get suggestions for a preferred tobacco mixture soon became a must for serious tobacco enthusiasts.
At one point, the customer blends came to count almost 37,000 different variations, each of them marked down in Dunhill’s “My Mixture” book, and each of them carefully crafted with attention to detail.
Alfred’s expertise in the field led to him earning a Royal Warrant, marking him as a favorite of the British royals, specifically Edward, Prince of Wales. This Royal Warrant was a highly valuable marketing tool, being able to mark that the royals used your products was one of the most influential advertising pieces to show the public.
In addition, Dunhill received a “War Time Packing M4A” imprint and was able to ship their pipes and tobacco to the front of both World Wars. This allowed them to gain the attention of foreign markets, specifically the United States, where their popularity exploded after the second World War.
Their blends continued to modern day, with “My Mixture 965” being a hugely popular blend. Its combination of Latakia, Macedonian Orientals, and Brown Cavendish was said to create a rich, sweet, and smooth experience.
Another Popular blend was known as Nightcap, a mixture of Orientals, Virginias, and Perique. This was designed with its title in mind, as it was made to be enjoyed in the late hours of the night.
Unfortunately, Dunhill ceased their tobacco production in 2017, which then was dormant for two years until the Scandinavian Tobacco Group A/S acquired the rights to certain trademarks and designs of Dunhill tobacco in 2019 and resumed production of them under the Peterson tobacco name.
One good continuation has been the Peterson Early Morning Blend, which has been noted to be a smooth, even blend that makes for a comfortable smoke with a sweet and tangy flavor for your enjoyment.
Pipes, Pipes, Pipes
Dunhill prided himself on making pipes of long-lasting and high quality. Originally unsatisfied with the process of the bowls he acquired, he developed a new procedure that was patented in 1913 to ensure the very best pipes were made by his company.
There was the concept of oil curing, which treated the wood with oil to strengthen it and eliminate impurities. Alfred Dunhill found that sandblasting the wood after this process helped the grain of the wood stand out, and made for a more intricate and fashionable design. By using Algerian briar, a wood they discovered was well suited for this type of treatment, they were able to have a high quality pipe made. It was a long process to prepare the wood for manufacture, involving multiple weeks where it is steeped in the oil, which was usually olive oil. Then came the heat, where the wood was subjected to high temperatures for a few days while the workers periodically wiped off excess oil that came to the surface. Finally came the sand blast which cleared off the excess hardened oil and cut away the softer wood leaving the harder, sturdier wood to be shaped into the bowl. This process, they claimed, leads to a solid pipe that lasts and is much better than other pipes that had been on the market at the time.
The pipes were coded with various stamps that held specific meanings to them. One such marking is “D.R.” which stood for “Dead Root” which are models that are from founding until 1930. These models are highly valued by collectors, noted as being flawless, straight grain models. They are amongst the rarest of Dunhill pipes and tend to carry a very high price should one of these pipes come up for sale at an auction.
The finish on the pipes underwent a series of changes following Alfred’s retirement in 1928 which led to some collectors denoting pre- and post-Alfred models, though it is agreed that the quality of the pipes stayed at a high level at all times. A popular finish is the Bruyere, one of the original three finishes for their pipes. Another popular finish is their Amber Root, one of their newer designs.
For over 100 years, the Dunhill brand has stood as one of the top pipe brands available.
The current pipes have 10 variations:
Amber Root was introduced in 1995. You can see a smooth finish on the pipe, reddish-orange similar to amber, hence its name. Its swirling finish almost looks like wisps of dark clouds passing under an evening sky.
The original finish for Dunhill pipes, it is a darker finish than the Amber Root. The Bruyere retains its classic look while still looking in style today. This standard bearer will still be fashionable long into the future.
Brought to market in 1979, the Cumberland is a shell-style pipe. This means it is sandblasted to add texture to the finish. Its brown stain accentuates the wood features, which helps keep the Cumberland’s old-school, rustic look. Fun fact, its name is an homage to the old warehouse Dunhill had in London, on Cumberland Road.
Introduced in 1983, the Chestnut is a smooth finished beauty. It retains the same features as the Cumberland, Brown-ish red in color but the Chestnut keeps it smooth, polished to a nice finish that is not the sandblasted shell-style of the Cumberland.
The County was first made in 1986, and was sandblasted with a rich brown finish. Its brindled stem highlights the straight grain of the wood, and many Dunhill enthusiasts find this pipe has an excellent finish. The County was originally discontinued after 1988, but came back in 2006 in a limited release. The production of this pipe then resumed, likely due to popular demand.
Originally named Black Briar, this pipe was introduced in 1973 and later renamed to Dress in 1979. Polished with a black finish, the Dress is an elegant pipe for social situations. Its design was specifically made to emulate the look of formal wear such as tuxedos. With a ring of sterling silver, you will stand out with this pipe’s subtle brilliance.
The light tan polished finish of the Root Briar bowl really accentuates the grain of the pipe’s namesake. This pipe is great for that at-home feeling, something you would be comfortable using wherever to keep the feeling of enjoying a night out on the deck.
If you want to stand out, the Ruby Bark is the pipe for you. With a sandblasted bowl, the deep red color gives the Ruby Bark its name. This pipe will definitely get attention, from its deep, rich, red colored bowl, to the sterling silver ring and the smooth black stem that makes a Ruby Bark a pipe to have.
Alfred Dunhill’s signature innovation, the 1917 design for this bowl has an almost black finish that underwent Dunhill’s unique treatment process which highlights the hard grain on the pipe. This gave the bowl the similar look as a seashell, which is how the pipe got its name. If you want a pipe with an historic design and feel, the Shell Briar is the pipe for you.
The Tanshell is the tan variant of the Shell Briar. Originally distributed in 1952, this was Dunhill’s fourth ever finish design, and the first one to come after WWII. Undergoing the same signature treatment, you can clearly see the grain of the root used in making this pipe. The rustic look of this classic design makes this pipe something you can display or use, or both.
Special Edition Pipes
With a company that has been around for so long, special events will mark history with you. To note these historic events, Dunhill has put out some limited edition pipes to mark those times. Some of these specials will be marking the year itself, such as their Chinese Zodiac special releases. The Chinese zodiac marks 2020 as the Year of the Rat, for example, and their special edition Year of the Rat pipe features a rat engraved onto their sterling silver ring with a sandblasted, dark amber finish on its bowl. The dark amber continues on the stem, where it takes on a rich, reddish color, highlighted against a polished black.
The Year of the Rat pipe comes with a certificate of authenticity, denoting its number in creation and a special, light brown pouch to store the pipe in when not using it.
There have been many editions of the zodiac years, with at least one for each of the twelve so far. Each Chinese New Year pipe has a numbered certificate of authenticity, while excluding the 4’s in the numbers as the number four in Chinese culture is considered unlucky, as the pronunciation for the word four in Chinese is almost identical to the pronunciation of the Chinese word for death.
Other special edition Dunhill pipes have been the Christmas edition pipes that have been released since 2011. This special edition comes with small figurines from the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” which was the inspiration behind the famous Nutcracker ballet. These specialty pipes were set to run for twelve years, and will finish up in 2022.
Before the Nutcracker pipes, Dunhill also did versions for “A Christmas Carol” that ran from 2006-2010. This series has been highly valued by collectors, with individual pipes priced over $2,000 and the entire collection valued by retailers at slightly more than $12,000 together.
Care for your Pipes with Pipe tools and Reamer sets
A big thing to remember with pipes is the tools used in enjoying them. Having a pipe tool can go a long way in making sure your pipe experience is both pleasant and enjoyable. While knowing how to use your tool is important, you should always make sure you don’t skimp out on getting a high quality product with your pipe. Another thing to make sure you get is the right Dunhill reamer, so you can make sure you don’t allow your pipe to get a buildup of excess carbon that can ruin your experience. Of course some carbon as a protective layer is good, but after enjoying your pipe, you should take the time to clean and maintain it so you will be able to have that same high quality experience you will become accustomed to with a Dunhill pipe. The last thing you need is to have a burnout that ruins a pipe designed to last.
Dunhill Cases, Pouches, and Holsters
Of course, good tobacco and good pipes deserve good storage as well. Solid cases will protect your pipe from damage when it’s not in use, and sturdy pouches will keep your tobacco fresh and ready for use whenever you want it.
Vulcanite stems can fade under direct sunlight, fluorescent or strong incandescent light, which can alter your smoking experience, so it’s very important to have those cases to ensure both proper care for your pipe, as well as a smooth and consistent quality that Dunhill pipes provide.
Remember to practice the proper cleaning procedures for your pipe after use. Moisture can cause oxidation as well. Use a dry cloth to remove any saliva from your stem and, while stored in the case, keep your pipes in a room with less humidity. A damp basement is not a good place to keep your pipes.
It’s always best to have high quality products that last, and Dunhill has been a proven commodity for over 100 years.