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DUNHILL AQUARIUM TABLE LIGHTERS
Possibly the greatest lighters ever made:
Dunhill’s Mid Century Aquarium range are among the most sought and coveted across the globe. The staggering ingeniousness and complexity of composition of each Dunhill Aquarium lighter is a unique story. No two aquariums are the same.
One of Dunhill’s most prestigious clients was Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. A number of photographs document Churchill at his desk with Dunhill half giant aquarium table lighters. In this picture he sits with a rye smile, looking over the flame of a lit Dunhill aquarium lighter. The lighter itself is out of focus but its form is unmistakable.
It is my absolute pleasure to present my current collection of these outstanding lighters. I have also shared a few of the lighters I have handled over the years. These I call ‘Old Friends’.
It is always exciting to add a Dunhill aquarium lighter to the collection, being unique every piece has its own story and presence. I have never once regretted the purchase, but sometimes I do regret the sales. These are great objects full of character and ‘good times’. Few objects have such power.
Spellbound By Vintage Dunhill Aquarium Lighters
[caption id="attachment_13829" align="aligncenter" width="564"] Dunhill Aquarium Aquatic Fish Lighters[/caption]
Many years ago my great friend and colleague at Mallett, Piers Woodnutt, introduced me to a field of collecting that I knew very little about. Since seeing and handling the first Dunhill Aquarium lighters, I have been spellbound by them ever since.
They cross the divide of a functional luxury object combined with a quirkiness and uniqueness that makes every one of them special. They all have their merits and distinctive features, and they are all unique. Combine this with a limited supply and voila you have a strong collecting field that is fuelled by enthusiastic collectors and dealers aspiring to have the best collections![caption id="attachment_14477" align="aligncenter" width="700"] A Rare Dunhill Ship Aquarium ‘The Royal William’ and Two Classic Freshwater Dunhill Aquarium Lighters[/caption]
The mastermind behind these extraordinary lighters was Ben Shillingford. He worked for Dunhill after the war from 1949 and perfected the art of carving and painting lucite panels to resemble miniature aquariums. The panels were hand carved with reverse intaglios using dental tools and drills. The scenes were populated with ever more ambitious designs of varying depth and complexity.[caption id="attachment_14478" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Fantail Goldfish Dunhill Aquarium Lighter – sold to a client in the USA[/caption]
The themes not only included the fish aquariums but also, sporting, historic ships, cruise liners, birds, racing cars, and outdoor pursuit hunting scenes.[caption id="attachment_14428" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] RMS Caronia – Green Goddess Cunard Line Ship Aquarium Lighter by Dunhill[/caption]
The lucite panels were engraved then painted and applied to the Dunhill half giant lighter bodies in four sections. The bodies themselves were available plated in gold, silver, and chrome. Each with a curved lift arm stamped ‘Dunhill’ with a satisfying sprung catch and a registration mark on the back. The flint locates in front of a sprung screw that runs parallel to the lift arm, ready to spark across a petrol-fuelled wick primed to ignite. The flame safely despatched by the sprung arm that provides a satisfying clunk on closing.[caption id="attachment_14403" align="aligncenter" width="2000"] Dunhill Aquarium Table Lighters[/caption]
Dunhill half giant Aquarium Lighters are big, heavy and fabulous! So big, (at 450 grams – without fuel) they were designed to live on a tabletop and were the perfect accouterment to the rocking 50’s. The Giant Size (which is twice as large) was available but very rarely with lucite panels. One Giant lighter was sold at Bonhams.[caption id="attachment_14479" align="aligncenter" width="627"] Fox Hunting Dunhill Aquarium Lighter – Acquired in Bermuda – Sold to Japan[/caption]
Among Dunhill’s great clients was Sir Winston Churchill. He was a great cigar smoker and enthusiast for Dunhill aquarium lighters.[caption id="attachment_13831" align="aligncenter" width="2430"] Sir Winston Churchill – Seated cigar in hand with a Half-Giant Dunhill Aquarium Table Lighter at his Desk in Chartwell[/caption]
Chartwell is home to Churchill’s rare large Dunhill aquarium box with intaglio panels painted in vibrant colours NT1101753. By repute, he even gave aquarium lighters as gifts including to Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan. Although this is not recorded in the National archives as an official gift, it was a personal one.[caption id="attachment_13836" align="aligncenter" width="2100"] The Ali Khan Dunhill Half Giant Table Lighter gifted by Sir Winston Churchill.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14462" align="aligncenter" width="1500"] Shaking hands, closing the deal on the Ali Khan Dunhill Half Giant Lighter. Kamal Liaquat Ali Khan and Nicholas Wells at Doyle Clayton Solicitors , Berkeley Square, W1. In the presence of Sukhpal Matharoo. March 2019[/caption]
Lucite was developed in World War II and used by the American and Royal airforce as an alternative to glass. Lucite would not shatter when under fire and was thus in high demand for airplane windshields, bomber noses, and submarine periscopes among other uses. Following the war, the lucite stock that remained found its way into artists studios, designers workshops and Jewellery makers.
Its versatility was that it could be carved, painted and polished resulting in highly decorative sparkling objet d’art.
Together with Margaret and Allan Bennett, Ben Shillingford was able to produce some of the most sought after and desirable collectible petrol lighters of the 20th century. Nicholas Wells Antiques is proud to have handled some of the greatest of them, a few of them, past and present shared with you in this article.[caption id="attachment_12310" align="aligncenter" width="1250"] Boxed Gold Dunhill Aquarium Lighters Available at Nicholas Wells Antiques Here and Here[/caption]