Breathing Life into a 1971 Dunhill Shell 53 F/T Group 3 Bent Billiard
Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe on the table came to us from an estate that Jeff and I purchased from an old pipeman in the St. Louis, Missouri in the US. It is a Dunhill Shell Bent Billiard that is in decent condition. It still has the tag in the bowl from the time the older gentleman purchased it. It is stamped on a smooth panel on the underside of the shank. On the heel of the bowl it is stamped with the shape number 53F/T followed by Dunhill Shell [over] Made in England11. That is followed by 3 in a circle followed by S for shell. Interpreting that stamp it is as follows: The 53 is the shape for a bent billiard and the F/T is the stem shape – a Fish Tail stem. The Dunhill Shell is the finish which is corroborated the S at the end of the stamping. The 11 following the D of England gives the date the pipe was made and identifies it as 1971. The stamping is clear and readable. The pipe has a mix of brown stains on a sandblast finish and some amazing grain that the shape follows well. The finish was dirty with dust around the nooks and crannies of the sandblast. The bowl had been reamed and cleaned before the older gentleman purchased it. The stem was lightly oxidized but there were no tooth marks or chatter. The stem has the Dunhill White Spot logo on the top of the taper stem. I took photos of the pipe to show what it looked like before I started working on it. I took photos of the bowl and rim top to show how clean they were and of the stem to show the light oxidation and lack of damages to the surface of the stem on either side.The stamping on the underside of the shank is shown in the photo below. It looks very good and readable. It reads as noted and explained above.I took a photo of the pipe as a whole including the label that was in the bowl when we received it. It is fascinating to see that when he purchased the pipe he paid $300USD for it. He had said he picked it used in the 1970s. The shape number on the tag is incorrect and should read 53 instead of 63. I turned to Pipedia’s section on Dunhill Root Briar to get a bit of background on the Duhill finishes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill#Root_Briar). I quote:
A deep craggy sandblast with a black stain finish (usually made using Algerian briar) – the color of the stain used has varied over the years. Although there is some doubt as to them being the first to sandblast pipes, Dunhill’s Shell pipes, and the sandblasting techniques developed to create them are considered one of Dunhill’s greatest and most lasting contributions to the art of pipe making.
The documented history of Dunhill’s inception of the Shell is largely limited to patent applications — there are no catalog pages or advertisements promoting blasted pipes at the time. The preliminary work on the English patent (No. 1484/17) was submitted on October 13, 1917. The patent submission was completed half a year later, on April 12, 1918, followed by the granting of the English patent on October 14, 1918. This was less than a month before the end of The Great War on November 11th.
In 1986 Dunhill released a line of premium Shell finish pipes – “RING GRAIN”. These are high-quality straight grain pipes which are sandblasted. Initially only Ring Grain, but now in two different finishes. In 1995 the “Shilling” was introduced with Cumberland finish – it is an extremely rare series. These pipes exhibit a deeper blast characteristic of that of the 1930’s – mid-1960’s (and the limited ‘deep blast’ pipes of the early 1980s) and show a fine graining pattern. These are considered the best new Dunhills by many enthusiasts today and are very rare. The finish is sometimes described as tasting like vanilla at first, with the taste becoming more normal or good as the pipe breaks in.
I have also included a chart from the site from Dunhill spelling out the Standard Pipe Finishes and giving short information and a timeline.I turned to work on the pipe itself. It was very clean with just some dust on the finish. The stem was going to take a bit of work but the bowl was quite simple. The bowl had been reamed and cleaned and the shank was spotless. If the pipe had been smoked at all it was lightly smoked and did not even smell of tobacco. So I rubbed the briar down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the briar with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to work it into the nooks and crannies of the sandblast finish. The product works to clean, enliven and preserve the briar. I let it sit for 10 minutes while I worked on the stem. After the time passed I buffed it with a cotton cloth to deepen the shine. The briar really comes alive with the balm. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. Because it was in such good condition I polished the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. This Dunhill Shell 53F/T Bent Billiard is a beautiful sandblast with the unique Dunhill Sandblast finish made in 1971. It is a great looking pipe that is in almost new condition. The dark finish that is identified as a black stain highlights some great grain around the bowl sides and the heel. It has some great rugged sandblast that Dunhill specialized in making. The finish on the pipe is in excellent condition and the stain works well to highlight the grain. The polished black vulcanite taper stem adds to the mix. With the dust gone from the finish and the bowl it was a beauty and is eye-catching. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel being careful to not buff the stamping. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing it with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished 53 F/T Bent Billiard is quite nice and feels great in the hand. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. I can only tell you that like the other pipes I am working that it is much prettier in person than the photos capture. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/8 inches, Chamber diameter: 5/8 of an inch. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another beautiful pipe. This pipe will be added to the British Pipe Makers section of the rebornpipes store soon. If you want to add it to your collection send me an email or a message! Thanks for your time.