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Ben Shillingford

Ben Shillingford’s contribution to the world of luxury collectibles through his work on the Dunhill Aquarium Table Lighters is both fascinating and unparalleled. After World War II, Shillingford, a master engraver, joined Dunhill, bringing with him an extraordinary skill set that would forever change the design and appeal of the humble table lighter. From 1949, he began carving and painting lucite panels, transforming them into miniature, mesmerizing aquatic scenes. These panels, carved with reverse intaglios using dental tools and drills, were then meticulously painted and attached to the lighter bodies in four distinct sections, creating a unique and highly collectible item.

The Dunhill Aquarium Lighters, produced between 1949 and 1959, became renowned not only for their functional luxury but also for their quirkiness and distinctiveness. Each lighter, entirely unique, became a coveted item among collectors. Shillingford’s work, alongside that of Margaret and Allan Bennett, who later joined the effort, was instrumental in crafting these intricate pieces. Their lighters, fueled with petrol, came in various sizes and metal finishes, and featured scenes populated with tropical fish, sporting events, historic ships, and more, showcasing an impressive array of artistic designs and themes.

Lucite, the material from which these panels were made, was a product of WWII innovation, prized for its durability and resistance to yellowing. This material, initially used in military applications, provided a perfect canvas for Shillingford’s artistry. His meticulous attention to detail and the vibrant, lifelike quality of his work pushed the boundaries of what was possible in the medium of lighters. It’s worth noting that Shillingford’s pieces are identifiable by their less vibrant and more simplistic designs compared to those of the Bennetts, yet his legacy is defined by the unparalleled craftsmanship and creativity he brought to each piece.

The significance of these lighters extends beyond their aesthetic appeal; they are symbolic of a time when luxury items were cherished not just for their utility but for their ability to captivate and tell a story. Shillingford’s retirement marked the end of an era for the Dunhill Aquarium Lighters, as his unique skills were irreplaceable, leading to the cessation of their production. Today, these lighters are highly sought after by collectors, not only for their beauty and craftsmanship but also for their rich history and the stories they embody.

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