The 1980s Fake Dunhill
© John C Loring
Change and a bit of turmoil enveloped staid Dunhill beginning in the mid 1970s. Lane Limited, including the Charatan pipe line, was purchased in 1976 and in the early 1980s the Dunhill pipe factories were consolidated with a number of pipe carvers laid off and much disgruntlement amongst those that remained. But with that consolidation not only a few pipe makers disappeared, so too pipe tools, stamping tools, raw briar, and from the company’s inventory boxes of abandoned work, some unfinished bowls as well. And at work’s-end employed and unemployed still met at the pub to dwell on the injustice of it all.
During the same period on the other side of the Atlantic a strange new hobby was developing, ‘used briar pipe collecting’, with Dunhill pipes the crown jewels of those pioneer American collections. Soon there were pipe shows, mail order lists, evenings on the telephone in ‘hot pursuit’ and even excursions to England to salvage previously smoked pipes from the dustbins. Hundreds, even thousands of dollars were paid for used, quickly renamed “Estate” Dunhills with premium prices being paid for the largest and oldest.
So there it was, in our own small way our own ‘perfect storm’: in England disgruntled Dunhill and Charatan carvers with the means at hand and in America hungry collectors with the money in hand. Needless to say somehow a connection would be made.
Amongst the first tell tail signs in 1983 may have been a quite real Dunhill LC from the early 1920s with a worn blast, a damaged shank and barely readable nomenclature. A quarter inch snip of the shank, a rebuilt mortise and matching extended replacement bit, restained and restamped with a ‘borrowed’ stamping tool from World War II that no one would miss, and for the ‘money touch’, restamped with the very rare shape letters “LLC”. An extra “L” that would blind most any collector to the restained worn blast and chopped shank.
But why beat the bushes in a time consuming hunt for injured rare pipes to rebuild and alter when you can make new instead. Especially when the knowledge base of this new area of collecting was still limited and mixed with myth. Other then the common ODA shapes there was a paucity of actual examples of oversized pipes. Magnums were viewed as ‘one of a kind’ rarities that could be counted on one hand, maybe two at best. The “A”, “B” and “C” of ODA, ODB and ODC were thought to stand respectively for “America”, “Bermuda” and “Canada”. Dating patent number Dunhills took on the aura of divination. Early Dunhill catalogs were largely unavailable and certainly unstudied as a whole. And most importantly up to that time no one had produced a pipe that ‘looked and smelled’ like a Dunhill, other than of course Dunhill itself.
And so in 1984 after a successful private showing it was indeed a grand debut by one of the leading collectors of the day at the premier show of the year. Thirty pipes in all including: four near magnum sized Shells bearing extremely rare or previously unknown shape numbers; three smooth finished “LC” shapes , two Roots and a Bruyere, one bearing a previously unknown shape number; three extremely rare usmoked ODAs , a Bruyere and a Shell 844 and an 824 Shell; a number of sought after ODA shapes in a variety of finishes, many unsmoked; and two awesome supposedly pre WWII Canandians both upwards of 9 inches long with 5 ¾ inch shanks, a Bruyere with a small, 1 ¾ inch tall, bowl and a Shell with a magnum sized, 2 ¾ inch tall bowl. Nothing like it had ever been seen, indeed even imagined before. It need hardly be said that the display won an award and the Shell Canadian was named ‘Best of Show’.
Most all including the awesome canadians were fakes.
Thousands upon thousands of dollars in cash and pipes traded hands as the award winning display broken up. And remarkably over the coming months equally rare and unusual Dunhills and then, Charatans, were forthcoming.
But there were those, from the inception, who were suspicious and while the details remain murky in time the fraud was outed. The collector of “note” disappeared from the scene, his name becoming unmentionable in civilized conversations, while the innocent defrauded collectors retired to lick their not inconsiderable wounds. A few were so bold as to destroy their dearly bought fakes. Most others put them away. And for some so bitter was the experience, they quit pipe collecting altogether.
Across the Atlantic knowledge of the fraud, limited as it was to those quirky American collectors, was largely unknown. A few pipes still unshipped were quietly put away and the whole sorry episode forgotten amidst the excitement on both sides of the Atlantic of two new top quality English pipe concerns, Ashton and Upshall.
All told perhaps fifty or maybe even seventy five odd fake ‘Dunhills’ were involved. In terms of numbers hardly significant. But, given the quality of the fakery and the purported rarity they are of no small import. For many years, with then collectors well aware of the debacle, and with the offending pipes destroyed or put away it was enough for all to quietly recover. But as time passes, people age, and collective memories fail, innocently or not so innocently these pipes have begun to come out of the closet. Back in the late ‘90s a dealer on an English buying trip flushed out two that had never made it to America. He recognized them for what they were and when he returned to America had the integrity to sell them for what they were. As aging collectors liquidate their collections other fakes have come out of the closet to likewise be sold for what they are. But more troubling in more recent years on eBay one sees one or so offered every year or two – as real. And even more alarming, by word of mouth several from one ‘collection’ have been unsuccessfully, at least as of this writing, offered both in America and overseas, again as real and at important prices. It is important then for someone to try to provide some guidance, and having had the opportunity to study ‘in – hand’ upwards of two dozen of these pipes, I will attempt to do so.
Initially, it should be understood that we are speaking in almost all cases of top quality pipes that knowingly traded as fakes easily and consistently value in the hundreds of dollars. Indeed in one instance I have offered a thousand dollars and there is another ‘fake’ that I know of that, all and all, I would value at twice that amount. In most cases these pipes were made from Dunhill briar by Dunhill or past Dunhill carvers and in many cases are ‘fakes’ only in the sense that they bear false stampings that would date them earlier then the ‘80s and often misidentify them as rare shapes. Or put another way for most of these pipes it would not be incorrect to view them simply as early ‘80s Dunhills or perhaps better put, akin to top quality 1980’s English Dunhill alternatives such as Ashton or Upshall.
The second point that should be understood is that we are not speaking of common place Dunhills. At the very least these pipes purported to be rare ODA shapes, LCs, or unusually large pipes that if they were real would be worth not less then in the high hundreds and often in the many thousands. In other words if you happen to see, as I did the other day, an unsmoked group 4 ‘Dunhill’ that just doesn’t look or feel right, with unevenly stamped nomenclature, missing a date code, and purchased from an Irish antique shop for 20 Euro, you are almost certainly looking at a fake, but hardly one in the same league as the 1980s fakes.
That said, when handed a supposed two thousand dollar Dunhill rarity, give the nomenclature a glance to get your bearings as to date and shape but first concentrate on the pipe itself as you begin a process of authentication that likely as not will turn on accumulating small bits of supporting data that will build and ultimately lead you to a comfortable conclusion.
First and foremost ask yourself, given its date, does it look right. A 2 ¼ inch tall, 7 inch long small magnum, semi straight grain Root ‘LB’style shape fits in well as a 1980’s ‘Collector’ but hardly as a 1936 Dunhill Root. Similarly a supposed 1937 7” long, tall chimney bowl bruyere finish Canadian “OD” with an overall 1980’s look, feels decidedly out of place when viewed as a supposed 1930’s piece.
A number of the 1980 fakes purport to date to World War II a time of limited production capacity, limited briar, limited ability to export pipes, and a domestic, i.e. English, customer base that preferred smaller pipes. After the Blitz largely destroyed the London Duke Street shop for much of the remaining war years customers lined up outside in hopes of acquiring any pipe at all. Against that backdrop the overly large 1980 fakes purporting to date to that war period, carved from briar that could have produced two or more smaller pipes, stand out like a collection of sore thumbs.
The Dunhill Shell blast characteristics have changed over the years and those changes can be quite telling given the shallow, refined blasting style of the 1980s. Thus it is difficult at best to pass a 1980s blast off as one from the 1920s or the first half of the 1950s where craggy deep sandblasts predominate. And while the comparisons become less clear cut when contrasted with blasts from the 1930s and post mid ‘50s, differences still at least allow for suspicions to raised. (It is important to note that unlike smaller pipes the blasts on magnum sized pipes dating to the 1930s continue to exhibit a 1920’s cragginess.)
A particular stylistic aspect of a number of the 1980s fake Shells, thick bowl walls at the top of the bowl, also offers a useful distinguishing point as overly thick bowl walls are uncommon in earlier Dunhill Shells. This is true even of patent number magnums, as well other larger then average pipes such as LCs, where the walls of the large bowls tend to thin towards the top.
In short then while one must always remember that everything is possible, when the pipe seemingly doesn’t fit the period of its supposed carving warning lights should start to flash.
And when warning lights start flashing the cardinal rule is to look up from the pipe and quietly ask the seller if he can tell you a bit about the pipe’s provenance. Thousand dollar plus pipes are hardly common place and at the very least you can expect a seller asking that sort of price to remember how he got the pipe and perhaps be able to go back a good ways further. A perverse example is a 1980’s fake 844 Shell that can be traced from the original, fraudulent, seller through its seven subsequent owners. Essentially, what you are looking for is a comfortable backward journey that either takes you back to at least the 1970’s or that leads you away from collecting circles to an ordinary pipe smoker that by happenstance acquired an extraordinary pipe. Absent that the flashing warning lights should intensify.
Next consider the shape of the pipe against the purported shape stamped on the pipe. The most egregious 1980s fake example that I know of in this regard is a near magnum sized flat bottomed Om Paul with a 2 ¾ inch bowl stamped as a very rarely seen “LY”. In fact the true “LY” is a rather large group 4 (or alternatively, a rather small group 5) three quarter bent pipe with a curved bottom. Similarly one finds a series of very large to near magnum fakes stamped with shape letters beginning with an “H”, for instance: “HLP”, “HB”, “HP” all shape letters unknown other then as fakes. In short if on the way to writing a two thousand dollar check you find that the shape stamped on the pipe you are fondling doesn’t comport to catalog examples or is otherwise unknown, stay your pen for further examination. Some Dunhill shapes have changed somewhat over time and not all Dunhill shapes, especially letter shapes, have been shown in catalogs but extraordinary shape variances or catalog absence can only be grounds for caution. (It should be noted that in the early 1980s Dunhill did release a few larger, generally unusual, pipes, with shape letters beginning with “H”, for instance an “HNL” full bent churchwarden with a bowl bottom that screwed off. However, those pipes may be readily distinguished as they always bear post mid 1970s date codes while the 1980s fakes always purport to date to the 1960s or earlier. In my view a good rule of thumb is that any large pipe bearing a shape letter beginning with “H” and purporting to date to the 1960s or earlier should raise the suspicion of fakery.)
The next level of examination is for defects. That fake ODA 844 Shell I wrote of earlier is an exceptional pipe with a remarkable ring grain (I parted with several hundred dollars for it), but it also has a deep, mostly hidden ‘sand pocket’ that likely would have led to its being ‘graded out’ and left unfinished by Dunhill after sandblasting. Another fake 844, a Bruyere with a questionable beveled bottom, shows upon close examination serious briar flaws only partially carved away by the bevel, there is no way that Dunhill would have knowingly allowed that pipe to be finished in the factory much less sold under its name. A defect of a different sort is found in a fake 847 Bruyere that in comparison with the authentic evidences an eighth of an inch ‘topping’ of the bowl, undoubtedly to eliminate a flaw. I strongly suspect that each of these fake ODAs came from unfinished bowls ‘graded out’ by Dunhill during the course of production in the ‘50s and ‘60s and pilfered from the factory’s ‘unfinished bowls’ storage boxes and finished up in the early ‘80s.
Another aspect of your ‘defects’ examination for smooth pipes should be the finish, as I have found two Bruyere 1980s fakes with a Bruyere finish that is ‘not quite right’. The color and the depth of color is off, much like a good ‘body shop’ paint job as compared to the original factory paint job on a car. And as you continue to examine the pipe for flaws, its appropriate again to lift your head and ask the would be seller if he is aware of any flaws – not all pipe sellers will volunteer that sort of information unasked but few will withhold what they know when asked, especially when you are in the course of inspecting the pipe. Then again remember that not all sellers have carefully examined the pipe they are selling. Still it can never hurt to ask.
While others, who admittedly have a better eye, would differ I am generally hesitant to draw conclusions from apparent Dunhill bits as Dunhill was always happy to make custom variations for customers and in any event wear itself can alter. But I do find that the dot can be revealing. While I have seen the wrong size dot on one fake, more importantly I have found several fakes where magnification shows that while the dot is correctly sized it is slightly ‘out of round’. I have never known ‘out of round’ dots on factory bits, no doubt because the factory has always had appropriate tooling. On the other hand I have learned from personal experience that hand sanding to achieve a correctly sized, ‘in the round’, dot (actually a cylinder) is a considerable task, which I have never quite achieved. Of course an ‘out of round’ dot points only to a non factory bit, not necessarily a fake pipe. But it can be an important piece of evidence, most especially when the pipe otherwise appears to be in lightly smoked pristine condition.
Before turning to nomenclature, the overall condition of the pipe should also be addressed. Almost all of the 1980s fakes came to America as pristine unsmoked pipes. But not all and in any event by now most all have been at least lightly smoked. So a smoked pipe, even a well smoked pipe, showing wear is no guarantee of authenticity. Further, a number of the fakes I have seen were not strongly stamped and thus the nomenclature on those pipes tend to look more worn then is actually the case. On the other hand if wear is no guarantee, the lack of wear is grounds for suspicion. The 1980s fakes uniformly purport to date to before the beginnings of briar pipe collecting. That is to an age when pipes were bought to be smoked all day, buffed weekly at the pipe shop and all too often banged about in-between. While most certainly not all pipe smokers of those earlier days were quite so barbaric but none the less unusual pristine pipes purporting to be from that age may reasonably give rise to suspicion.
Generally Dunhill nomenclature was (and is) stamped by ‘block’ stamping tools rather then by individual words or letters. For example for smooth finished pipes from the first half of the 20th century, one tool stamped in a single strike the MADE IN ENGLAND, patent nomenclature and date code. This tool would be changed out each year to provide for the new date code. Similarly for Shells for the most part a single strike of a tool would stamp DUNHILL SHELL, MADE IN ENGLAND, the patent nomenclature and the date code. This tool likewise being changed out each year to accommodate the new date code.
There were of course special circumstances, and the necessary tools, such as when there was only limited stamping space on the pipe. Likewise during World War II when annual replacement tools were difficult to obtain, for at least a few war years many pipes were stamped with a stamp lacking a date code. But the use of these types of stamps on pipes equivalent in size to group 6 or larger should always raise a suspicion because pipes of such size have ample room for stamping and as discussed earlier pipes of that size are questionable in the context of World War II.
From the 1980s fakes that I have examined it appears that the carvers had only limited access to Dunhill stamping tools and had to do their stamping by hand without any special vices. This leads to a number of stampings that should automatically raise suspicion.
The small magnum Root ‘LB’ and the 7” long tall Chimney bruyere ‘OD’ I wrote of earlier both appear to have been stamped by the same person. Specifically both are stamped “MADE IN ENGLAND” [above] “PATENT No 417574” with the lower line extending beyond the upper line and followed by an underlined dated code of the same font size, in one case 16 and the other case 17. This stamp is bogus on at least (I could go on) four counts. First, in the 1930s the date code was a smaller font then the preceeding letters or numbers; Second, date code always followed the shortest line (which in this case would have been the top line rather then the lower line) so as to even out the two lines; Third, on both pipes the date code is obviously hand stamped and not part of a single stamping tool; and Fourth, in 1936 and 1937 PATENT was abbreviated to PAT. in conjunction with 417574 so that, the lower line of the stamps using the 417574 patent were always shorter then the top line. Given that I have seen this bogus stamping on two pipes one may anticipate that there may be others.
Two other supposed pre-1952 smooth finished pipes I have seen, one purportedly a Root “LC” and the other purportedly a Bruyere “LP” (sic, whatever that may be – the pipe looks like an LC) are distinguishable by what is not there, namely the complete MADE IN ENGLAND, patent number, date code block is missing. It is incredible that Dunhill would release pipes like that without that stamping block. The absence of expected stampings is always grounds for suspicion, especially when as with these two pipes, there is ample stamping room.
A common stamping found on 1980s fake Shells (other then ODAs) is the World War II stamping discussed earlier that lacks a date code: DUNHILL SHELL MADE IN ENGLAND [over] PATENT No 1341418/20 . In and of itself by all appearances this is a correct Dunhill stamp for the war time period and since it was no longer in use in the early 1980s it was probably easily ‘lifted’ from the factory. However, uniformly to one degree or another, on all the fakes I have seen with this stamp it was not stamped on a horizontal level as would be the case if it was stamped in the Dunhill factory, but rather at an angle, sometimes slight, sometimes more pronounced, with the D of DUNHILL at the high point.
The fake Shell ODAs that I have seen appear by enlarge to be correctly stamped. There are some with tell-tale warning signs. Most obviously ODA [over] 834 in one font overstamping an ODA [over] 824 in a different font. Note also two fake 844 Shells with the lower portion of the D in ENGLAND clipped off at an angle. But I suspect that of all the 1980s fakes there will be some fake post-patent number ODAs in shapes considered rarer in the 1980s then now that will never be caught simply because they were made from correct, unflawed bowls with proper stampings. Yet in a very real sense this is of no great concern, as made from correct, unflawed bowls with proper stampings, of all the 1980s fakes these are fakes only in the sense that they were never part of the official Dunhill retail stream. Value wise because the shapes are no longer considered particularly rare and because the 1980s fakes carry a collectible value as such, there is probably little if any value difference which ever way they are viewed.
Lastly in terms of nomenclature, although I have not seen the following stamp used on any 1980s fakes thus far, there appears be a Dunhill stamping tool dating to 1937 that reads: DUNHILL SHELL MADE IN ENGLAND [over] PAT. No 41757417 in the hands of some illiterate who has used it to stamp at least 3 different ‘group 4sh’ fake smooth finished pipes. These three fakes belong in the same uninteresting category as the Irish antique shop 20 Euro fake I wrote about above, however, the possibility exists that this stamp was initially stolen from the Dunhill factory in the early 1980’s and perhaps used on some of the 1980s fakes.
Returning to our two thousand dollar Dunhill rarity, having now carefully reviewed the pipe, its nomenclature and along the way asked seller for its provenance and any known flaws, its time to step back and weigh the accumulated data and ask yourself again the question you began with: all things considered does this pipe feel right? More often then not you will answer yourself in the affirmative, for as I wrote initially there just weren’t that many 1980s fakes.
But what if the answer is that it is a fake. And what if, after explaining your conclusions to the seller he agrees and offers the pipe to you as a 1980s fake at a reasonable price. And what if you make the trade and now have the fake in your hands. What do you do with it? And here I come to a parting of the ways with some good friends and respected collectors. For I believe that with the pipe in hand, your first obligation to your fellow collectors is to put an “X” across the D in DUNHILL (heating a screwdriver blade with a lighter for two angled strikes across the D will do the trick). Thus for all time putting collectors on notice that the pipe is not a correct Dunhill.
Traditionally, this has not been the choice of most who rather have preferred to smoke and enjoy the fake unblemished and if they tire of it, trade it way to another trusted collector with full disclosure. The problem as I see it, is that sometimes trusted collectors are not so trustworthy; that sometimes when times get hard and our families are at stake, neither you nor I are so trustworthy; and sometimes when we unexpectedly depart this world our families have no idea that one of our favorite pipes is a fake. And so with all the good intentions in the world we look back (down or up) to discover that we have perpetuated the quarter of a century old fraud. Thus I respectfully submit that just as we owe it to our neighbors not to house a tiger that could get loose despite our best efforts, so too we owe it to our fellow collectors to brand the remaining 1980s fakes, least they get ‘loose’, while we enjoy them for the fine pipes that they are and the interesting history they represent.