Thursday, 26 July 2007

Pipe Dreams

With the wave of public opinion breaking ever closer to these shores – Ireland recently became the first country in the world to have a complete ban on smoking in the workplace – the days are numbered for the drunk who stood in the corridor of my train home the other evening having a crafty drag.

So, it’s an equally crafty collector – and auctioneer – who turns his attention to the accoutrements of smoking as the next Big Thing.

The list of objects on which to blew some cash that won’t go up in smoke is long: there's match holders and match boxes; ashtrays; tobacco jars and boxes; lighters; cigarette and cigar holders and so on.

Canny Christie’s, the top people’s auctioneer, was quick to respond with a recent sale which offered the private collection of Alfred Dunhill (1872-1959), founder and former chairman of Alfred Dunhill Ltd., a name synonymous with smoking since he opened his first tobacconist’s shop in 1907.

The son of Henry Dunhill, Alfred was apprenticed to his father’s harness-making business in London at the age of 15 and subsequently opened Dunhill’s Motorities,(correct) a shop which specialised in accessories and clothing for motorists.

Perhaps the young entrepreneur saw the writing in the smoke rings. In addition to branching out into accessories for smokers, he began building his own private collection of smoking paraphernalia, which he displayed in a glass-fronted cabinet in the shop.

However, it was pipes that most stoked his interest and in 1924, he published the definitive volume, The Pipe Book, which lists the wealth and scope of pipes from every corner of the world and is still an invaluable reference tool for tobacco historians.

Clay pipes, briars, porcelain pipes, novelty pipes and foreign affairs such as the calabash made popular by Sherlock Holmes remain highly affordable, the cheapest being 19th century clay pipes which it’s still possible to dig up in the garden - and they don't come cheaper than that!

They range from the long and elegant churchwarden types, to those of particular historical interest decorated with likenesses of the famous. Disraeli, Gladstone and Queen Victoria - specially amusing since she banned smoking within the precincts of Windsor Castle - all have all been immortalised in this way.

At the other extreme in terms of cost are meerschaum pipes, some of the best of which may well break the bank. They are well worth the investment. There is nothing to compare with a well carved and richly stained meerschaum and Mr Dunhill agreed. The pick of his collection were the examples illustrated here.

Meerschaum is a German word which means literally foam of the sea, although in fact, it is a particular type of stone which is creamy white in colour and very soft. For the technical, it's hydrous silicate of magnesium and is found in bands of strata much like the clay in your garden.

Unlike the clay pipes, though, you won't find any should you start digging. The main source of the mineral is Turkey.

Key to its success is the ease with which the mineral can be shaped and carved. Note the present tense, the industry still exists in Turkey and new meerschaum pipes can still be purchased in tobacconists’ shops.

However, don't be afraid of being duped out of your cash by a modern reproduction. Pipes produced between 1820-1900, the period which will most interest collectors, feature carving of the highest quality that will probably never be repeated.

Quick to capitalise on its good fortune, Turkey began exporting the mineral to centres such as Austria, Hungary and in particular Vienna where craftsmen carved a reputation for their skill.

The stone was first cut with hand saws and then shaped and fashioned in the most intricate and delicate and often ribald subjects imaginable. Favourites included ladies of voluptuous Gainsborough proportions, mermaids, actresses, birds and animals, macabre skull and crossbones and skeletons.

Once carved, the pipe was polished with sandpaper, pumice and french chalk, the final shine being made possible following immersion in hot wax.

The usual mouthpiece for a meerschaum was carved from amber, a fossil resin found notably on the Baltic coast of Prussia used mainly to make jewellery.

Like cheap and cheerful clay pipes, however, a drawback of the meerschaum pipe was their extreme fragility. Generally they were fitted in plush lined leather cases to help protect them and this added to their luxury appeal in fashionable Victorian smoking circles.

Connoisseur collectors of today demand total absence of damage and perfect colouring that, like patination on old oak furniture, comes with age.

A meerschaum pipe is creamy white coloured when it leaves its maker. However, chemicals in the stone combine with the wax polish when it is smoked to turn it a rich orange brown colour. The more rich and even the colouring, the more expensive the price.

Picture shows: A fine meerschaum pipe dating from 1880 and modelled with Cupid seducing a female nude. It’s worth £500-800. CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD.2004

Ignite a passion for lighters

Dunhill lighterSmoking may be a dying habit, but collectors still crave the associated collectables, notably those made by Dunhill, a name synonymous with cigarettes.

Among the most desirable are Dunhill lighters, some of the rarest of which are the "Aquarium" lighters (pictures), so called because the case represents a fish tank with fish apparently swimming amongst aquatic foliage. This one sold for £1,600

London tobacconist Alfred Dunhill is a darling of the smoking collectors’ circuit for another reason: his company made some of the most desirable cigarette lighters that money can buy.

Dunhill started making lighters just before the First World War, in competition, among others, with Colibri, founded by Julius Lowenthal and American Louis V Aronson's Ronson Company.

By the 1930s, Dunhill’s of St James’s were supplying some of the most luxurious to a distinguished and sophisticated clientele.

During the Depression, cigarettes, like alcohol and cigar and pipe tobacco, came to be regarded as luxury items affordable only to the well-heeled.

Cigarette lighters mirrored this and became ever more the fashion accessory of the rich.

Increasingly, they became larger and more showy, often being retailed as one component in a luxury smoker's set.

Designs became individual and flashy and the company’s plush catalogues listed expensive pocket and table lighters that were a must-have.

Among the most stylish were grand table lighters in 9 carat gold or silver including one shaped like a small ball and another that included a wristwatch-sized clock with eight-day movement.

In an amusing play on designs, Dunhill also manufactured a silver plate table lighter called the Giant Unique which was identical in shape to a pocket lighter – but about 10 times bigger.

The Second World War had a huge impact on lighter production. Shortage of metals because of the war effort cause lighter production to slump, just at a time when smoking was at an all time high

Utility lighters (stamped "UL"), containing not more than three-quarters of an ounce of brass, retailed at not more than five shillings

As a result, many homemade lighters began to appear in homes, including examples allegedly made in the trenches from scrap bullets, helmet badges, coins and buttons

In fact, it is probably a romantic myth that such "trench" lighters were made by soldiers at the Front.

More likely is that they were made by civilians living near to the war zone, or perhaps an army barracks, who collected the scrap metal and made it into lighters and other memorabilia and then traded them with soldiers in return for rations. Picture shows a trio of stylish vintage Dunhill lighters to grace any collection.



Anonymous Kandice Schwartzbach said...

Nice post as always. Thanks

7 December 2010 at 23:21  
Anonymous Leena Samms said...

kick ass

8 December 2010 at 02:06  
Anonymous Kenny Wilde said...

Searching for an original vintage John Pollock claw and egg clay pipe. Any suggestions?

2 January 2011 at 16:12  

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