Restoring a Tired and Cobbled Dunhill Shell Patent Era Bulldog

Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us from one of Jeff’s hunts. It is a Bent Bulldog with a copper/brown variegated acrylic stem and a rugged sandblast around the bowl. It has an oxblood/brown/black finish that highlights the grain in the sandblast. When I first took the pipe out of the box to work on it this morning I thought that the blast reminded me of early Dunhill pipes but the band and the acrylic stem made me not connect it to Dunhill. Later when I turned the pipe over to try to decipher the stamping with a light and lens I was surprised that it was indeed a Dunhill. It is stamped on the flat underside of the shank and reads P12 followed by Dunhill Shell [over] Pat. No. with the numbers and the rest of the stamping blurred out with what looks like the previous owner’s initials DAV or DAN carved by hand.  So it is a Patent Shell with no way of dating it and having an aftermarket band and acrylic stem. The acrylic stem and silver band were well fitted to the shank and matched the angles. From my experience it is unusual to see this kind of workmanship in an aftermarket stem and band. It is always a shame to me when a very old and well-made pipe is changed this much! Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup.He took photos of the rim top to show the thick cake and the heavy lava overflow on the top. It is an incredibly dirty pipe. He also captured the tooth marks on the top and underside of the stem near the button.    He took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the deep blast around the bowl and the amount of grime ground into the surface of the briar. He took photos of the stamping on the underside of the shank and the carved initials near the stem/shank junction. He also took a photo of the stamping on the silver band on the shank. I turned Pipephil’s helpful Dunhill section to see if I could at least establish parameters for the age of the pipe (

From there I knew that the Dunhill Shell was introduced in 1917 and the Patent stamped lasted from 1920 until 1954.

From the shape lettering chart I learned that the P stamp was correct for a ½ Bent Bulldog (

I turned to Pipedia and looked up the specifics of the Shell line. (

Shell – 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 knew that the Dunhill Shell pipe I was working was made between 1920-1954. I probably would not get much closer than that for a date on the pipe. I also knew that the previous owner had not only personalized the pipe with his initials but had also added a Sterling Silver band for decoration (no cracks or damage to the shank visible) and a variegated acrylic stem that looked very 1970s. Now it was time to work on the pipe.

Jeff had done his usual thorough cleanup on the pipe. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the rim and the grime on the finish of the bowl. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. He cleaned the internals and externals of the stem with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. I took a photo of the rim top and stem to show the condition. They cleaned up really well and the burn damage on the top of the rim at the front and left side are visible. The rest of the rim top is worn with the sandblast smoothed out. The inner edge of the bowl had some low spots and damage that would need to be addressed. The acrylic replacement stem was well crafted and fit very well with the shank and angles of the shank. The stem surface looked very good with light tooth chatter and marks on both sides ahead of the button.  I took a photo of the stamping on the left and underside of the shank. It read as noted above.  You can see the wear on the stamping and the DAV initials just ahead of the tarnish silver band.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. It is a well shaped bent Bulldog shape that looks craggy and inviting.Now it was time to do my work on the pipe. I cleaned up the inner edge of the bowl and gave it a slight bevel to minimize the damage. It also brought the bowl back into round.   Since it was clean and looked good I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the sandblast bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. It helped to give depth to the stain around the bowl.  The final buffing would bring the pipe alive. I polished the Sterling Silver band with a jeweler’s cloth to remove the remaining oxidation that was on the silver.  I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I used 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the tooth chatter and marks and blend them into the stem surface. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.   I polished the acrylic stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. This beautifully sandblasted Dunhill Shell Bent Bulldog with a variegated copper and brown acrylic replacement saddle stem is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. I was able to minimize damages on the edge of the bowl and rim. I gave a bevel to the inside edge of the bowl to remove the burn damage and out of round bowl. The rich Shell coloured finish came alive with the polishing and waxing. The dimensions of the sandblast really popped. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Dunhill Shell Bulldog is a beauty and fits nicely in the hand and looks very good. Even though the stem and band are aftermarket it still looks good. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.