THE DUNHILL WHITE SPOT GUARANTEE
a new perspective
© 2002 John C Loring
During the first quarter of the 20th century the ‘soggy pipe’, a poor smoking pipe that quickly soured, was a common affliction. In its initial years Dunhill addressed the problem on almost every front. It developed its oil/heat briar treatment, the inner tube for the finished pipe and produced its smooth finished pipes from hard Calabrian briar rather then the more commonly used soft French briar. (In the past I had assumed that Dunhill changed from French to Calabrian briar for its standard line pipes in 1920 when it shifted production of its rough cut bowls from France to London but having had an opportunity to review Dunhill’s 1917 About Smoke Catalog, it now appears that use of Calabrian briar for all smooth finished pipes began during, if not before, World War One, at the same time as Dunhill was actively developing its oil/heat treatment process and the inner tube.).
Dunhill also sought to assure its customers with the famed “White Spot Guarantee”:
"The 'White Spot' Guarantee: - A new pipe given if any fault develops within Twelve Months. A Pipe so given cannot be again exchanged."
commonly said to have been introduced in 1921 together with the 1922 introduction of date code stamping and the special “EX” stamp to identify ‘exchanged pipes’.
The story however, is a bit more complicated, apparently reflecting the growth of Dunhill from a small 1907 London shop to the leading world wide smoking accessories exporter of the 1920s.
As a new London tobacco shop, Dunhill in fact fully guaranteed its pipes even as it first began manufacturing them in 1910:
"Guarantee - complete satisfaction is guaranteed; in fact, a new pipe will be given instantly if any fault is found" 1910 Dunhill About Smoke Catalog (the first issued).
And that unlimited guarantee was continued until at least 1917:
"WARRANTY: A new pipe given instantly if any fault is found" circa 1917 Dunhill About Smoke Catalog.
In those years however, Dunhill grew from a small London retail shop to one serving all of Great Britain and the world through mail order:
“ON APPROVAL Alfred Dunhill is always pleased to send an assortment including, when desired, the expensive Straight Grains. These are packed in a box that is ready for returning those not required. All Pipes listed are consigned postage free anywhere.” circa 1917 Dunhill About Smoke Catalog,
through independent distributors and with a consequent loss of personal, over the store counter, customer relations and counseling.
In that context, together with the expanded world-wide commerce that came at the end of the Great War, an unlimited pipe guarantee must have proved problematic as more then one pipe came back through the mail for warranty return long after purchase, evidencing nothing more then repeated, long term careless smoker abuse.
In March 1919 we find what may be the first formal reference to what was to become the “White Spot Guarantee” in a one page catalog pricing revision catalog insert:
“All DUNHILL PIPES … bear the ‘WHITE SPOT’ Guarantee”
but that reference does not provide the terms of the Guarantee.
In a circa 1920 catalog however, the terms are laid out and what it shows is the introduction of a limitation on its prior open-ended guarantee i.e., a one year return period:
“The ‘White Spot’ Guarantee:-A new pipe given instantly if any fault develops within twelve months.” circa 1920 Dunhill About Smoke Catalog.
and the next year, a second limitation, an end to repeated exchanges:
“Covered by ‘The White Spot’ Guarantee – A New Pipe given if any fault develops within Twelve Months. A Pipe so given cannot be again exchanged.” 1921 Dunhill About Smoke Catalog.
Changing guarantee language however, is not automatically self enforcing, especially when store clerks are no longer longstanding employees of a London shop on Duke Street but rather are found across the world, speaking hundreds of languages. Thus it was that in 1922 Dunhill began stamping its pipes with date codes to indicate when the pipe was put into retail distribution and further stamped pipes given in warranty exchange with an EX, all to the end of giving Dunhill the ability to enforce its new White Spot Guarantee limitations.
Apparently however, even a guarantee with enforceable limitations was insufficient to resolve warranty return problems, for a few years later, in 1923, a third limitation was introduced:
“The ‘White Spot’ Guarantee ‘A New Pipe given free of charge if the bowl should crack or burn out within one year’ A moderate charge will be made for repairs necessitated by any other cause. A Pipe given free of charge cannot be again exchanged.” 1923 Dunhill About Smoke Catalog.
And recently, I have found some mid 1920s Dunhill American advertising copy that further limited the return period to but three months:
“The ‘White Spot Guarantee. If the bowl of this pipe should crack or burn-out within ninety (90) days from the date of purchase a new pipe will be given in exchange. The pipe should be sent with particulars as to date and place of purchase … A pipe so given cannot be again exchanged.”
There comes a point however, when guarantee or warranty limitations begin to make the product itself sound less then satisfactory and I suspect that Dunhill came to recognize that in the wording of its third and fourth limitations it had reached that point. Thus by 1928 this third and fourth limitations were dropped or as phrased in its French catalog of that year:
The White Spot La Garantie La Pipe Dunhill est rempacée gratuitement si, dans un délai d’un an, elle révèle un défaut de fabrication. Cet échange ne peut se faire qu’une fois. 1928 Dunhill Le Fin Fumeur.
The Dunhill ‘White Spot Guarantee’ introduced in 1921 and refined in that decade then was not a new guarantee but rather a limitation on an old full warranty necessary for a rapidly evolving company attempting to grow and meet new marketing conditions. By 1928 the limited White Spot Guarantee was stabilized and with the related pipe stampings has since continued unchanged into the twenty first century.
ADDENDUM TO WHITE SPOT GUARANEE PAPER
A great deal of Dunhill documentation was destroyed in the World War II bombing of London. But among the remnants saved was a small dog eared card that briefly explained early changes in Dunhill pipe stampings. Obviously meant for the Duke Street store sales staff, it is this surviving card that has allowed us to date Dunhill pipes carved before the implementation of the 1922 numeric date code system:
(i) “A DUNHILL
DUKE ST S.W. “ without a round ‘stop’(i.e. a ‘o’) after the “A” indicating 1910 – May, 1918;
(ii) with an added stop after the A (i.e. “Ao”) indicating June, 1918 – October, 1918;
(iii) “ DUNHILL
LONDON “ (both words of equal length) indicating November and December 1918;
(iv) an arched “DUNHILL” indicating 1919 (with LONDON within the arch indicating the first half of that year and even with the arch ends indicating the second half);
LONDON “ (LONDON being shorter the DUNHILL) indicating 1920; and
(vi) the “D” of DUNHILL having tails (the arch of the “D” extending past the vertical stroke) indicating 1921 (and with a “2” numeric date code, 1922).
I recall when I first saw this surviving remnant briefly wondering why the card existed at all given that at the time I accepted the general understanding that Dunhill’s White Spot Guarantee was implemented in 1921. Then too as I tracked the Dunhill pipe stamping changes in the 1918 – 1921 period, I recall wondering why there were so many innocuous changes, especially given that from 1910 through 1917 the pipe stamping had been consistently stable. Assuming a 1921 White Spot Guarantee implementation I concluded that the stampings changes were simply random indications of an unpredictable post war period, later recollected when the White Spot Guarantee was implemented.
Of course now understanding that the development of the White Spot Guarantee began in 1919 (and I assume contemplated in 1918) it is evident from the foregoing that the date coding of Dunhill pipes truly began in 1918 (not 1922), that initially there may have been some thought of a guarantee time period shorter then one year, and that no doubt the increasingly complex and confusing dating code begun in 1918 led in short order to the simplified numeric code implemented in 1922 .