Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe on the table is a Dunhill Group 4 Shell Briar Saddle Stem Billiard that is proportionally well done. It has a three digit the shape number that I will define below. Jeff and I purchased a group of pipes on 04/26/2022 from a woman who contacted us from Cleveland, Ohio, USA. They had belonged to her husband’s father. We spent time chatting with her and arrived at a price and she sent the pipes to Jeff. It included 28+ pipes including this one.
This Dunhill Billiard is stamped on the underside and reads 659F/T followed by Dunhill over Shell Briar followed by Made in England7 (two lines). A circle 4 followed by S is stamped on the flat underside of the saddle stem. The numbers and stamping tell me that the pipe is a Shell Briar and the size is a Group 4. The F/T refers to the Fish Tail style stem. The finish was very dirty with spots of grime and debris stuck on it. The bowl had a thick cake in the bowl and heavy lava overflowing onto the rim top. The rim top and inner edge appeared to have some damage. The stem had calcification, oxidation and tooth marks and chatter on both sides ahead of the button. The button itself appeared to be in good condition. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his clean up work on it.He took photos of the bowl and rim top to show the condition. You can see the thick cake in the bowl and rim top and edges. The lava is so thick that is hard to know what the edges and top look like underneath. The sandblast on the rim top is also completely filled in with tar and lava. The stem was heavily oxidized, calcified and has tooth marks and chatter on both sides ahead of the button. Overall the pipe is a real mess. Jeff took photos of the sandblast finish around the bowl sides and heel. It was nice looking if you can see through the grime ground into the rugged, deep blast. He took photos of the stamping on the underside of the bowl, shank and stem. The stamping is readable but filthy. It reads as noted above.Now it was time to begin to work on the stamping on the pipe. Pipedia had some great information on the Shell Briar finish and dates and how the finish was made (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill#Bruyere). The first quote below give the short version of the finish. I quote from both below.
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.
- See more examples here: Dunhill Shell
- See more about this incredible pipe here: The History of Dunhill’s Shell
- See more about the patents applied here: Shellbriar & Tanshell, Patents 1917-1954
With that information clear for me I wanted to identify the shape number and try to pin that down (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill_Shape_Chart). I turned to the section on the older 3 digit Shape Numbers and read it. I quote it below.
3-digit system – A 3-digit system (“Interim”) was developed that showed a logical approach to identify pipes in terms of size, mouthpiece, and shape, with the 1st digit being the size, the 2nd digit the mouthpiece, and the 3rd digit the shape, i.e. the old “85” became a “321” which was a group 3 Apple with taper mouthpiece. This was soon to be replaced by a more detailed, formal 4- and 5-digit system around 1978.
This interim numbering system is a bit confusing as the next paragraph and picture will illustrate. It says that the first digit is the size which in this case should have been a 6 but the pipe is stamped with a size 4 number. The second digit is supposed to point to the mouthpiece which is not clear to me. The third digit refers to the shape but again that is not clear. The paragraph below states that the shape number 577 has no special meaning accept for it being the model for that particular pipe.
The first image on the right, (with the shape number 577) falls into this system, so 577 has no special meaning apart from describing/ being the model for that particular pipe shape (in this case a specific group 2 Billiard with saddle mouthpiece). Around 1973, with the introduction of computers, new categories were introduced that indicated size, mouthpiece, and shape. As for the “T”, in 1952 a full-size “T” was added after the circled group size stamp to further describe the Tanshell finish (in 1953 the “T” was reduced to about half the size). So this pipe dates from 1952.
With the information on the 3 digit stamp not making clear enough the meaning of the number I turned to another link on Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dunhill_Shapes_List) to a shape list that Eric Boehm put together for Dunhills. It is amazing to see the sheer number of variations on the Billiard shape. I copied the three of the three digit numbers in the list as it includes the shape 659 Billiard.
659 Billiard, saddle bit 4 5½” 1950, 1969 3
660 Billiard, saddle bit 4 5½” 1950, 1969 3
710 Billiard, tapered bit 4 5½” 1950, 1969 3
659F/T Billiard with a saddle bit. (This is the pipe I am working on. It is a tapered bit Billiard with an F/T or Fish Tail bit.)
I turned next to dating the pipe. There is a 7 following the D in ENGLAND on the right side of the shank. I turned to the dating chart on Pipephil to pin down the date on this twin (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/dunhill/cledat-en1a.html). I did a screen capture of Part 2 of the Dunhill Dating Key and included it below. I drew a red box around the section dating this pipe. It is clear that the pipe was made after 1954 so that is why I went to Part 2. Once again, because the year suffix is a 7 that is the same size and on line with D in England that tells me that the pipe was made in 1960+7 for a date of 1967.Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe itself. Before he sent it to me, Jeff had done an amazing job cleaning the pipe. It almost looked like a different pipe after his work. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer and removed the rest of it with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a tooth brush. He rinsed it under running warm water to remove the soap and grime. He cleaned out the inside of the shank and the airway in the stem with isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He soaked the stem in Briarville’s Pipe Stem Deoxidizer and then rinsed it off with warm water. He scrubbed the stem with Soft Scrub and a tooth brush and rinsed it off with warm water. It looked amazing when I took it out of the package of pipes he shipped me. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the restoration work. The rim top was cleaner and the inner edge of the bowl looked rough. There was burn damage all the way around but heavier on the front and the back of the bowl on the top and inner edge. The bowl was slightly out of round. The stem surface looked good with the oxidation gone and light but visible tooth chatter on either side of the stem. I took a photo of the stamping on the underside of the shank and the saddle portion of the stem. It is clear and readable as noted above.I took the stem off the shank and took a photo of the parts of the pipe. The overall look of the pipe is quite nice.I started my portion of the work on this pipe by addressing the damage to the inner edge of the bowl. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the edge and give it a slight bevel to deal with the chipping and cutting on the inner edge. It cleaned up remarkably well. With polishing and buffing it would look even better.I used an Walnut Stain Pen to restain the rim top and the inner bevel of the rim edge. Once it dried I buffed it with a cotton cloth and the match was very good. It looked much better with the work on the rim edge.The bowl looked very good at this point so I rubbed it down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl and shank with my fingertips and a horse hair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 10-15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the surface of the vulcanite stem with the flame of the lighter. I was able to lift almost all of the tooth marks and chatter except one on the top side that I needed to fill in with drop of clear CA glue. I sanded the repair and the remaining tooth chatter with 220 grit sandpaper. I started polishing the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to start the polishing.I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 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 and gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil to finish it. This Deeply Sandblasted Dunhill Shell Briar 659F/T Saddle Stem 4S is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The rich Shell Briar sandblast finish that highlights the grain and works well with the polished vulcanite stem. 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 and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Dunhill Shell Briar Saddle Stem Billiard is a Group 4 size pipe that will be a great smoker. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 34 grams/1.20 ounces. I will be adding the pipe to the British Pipemakers Section of the rebornpipes store shortly. If you are interested in adding it to your collection be sure to let me know. I take a moment to remind myself and each of us that we are trustees of pipes that will outlive us and the lives of many other pipe men and women who carry on the trust of their care and use. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.