Sunday, February 26, 2017
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In Praise of Modern Dunhills

Category: Pipe Rack

Alfred Dunhill's The White SpotModern Dunhills take a bad rap. Here are what I see as quantifiable negatives:
1. Price. Hard to justify the price of these for what they are. 
2. Occasionally you find a draught hole that was not finished as smoothly as you'd like on the button end. This is not a consistent issue, but it is noticeable on some pipes.
3. You also have to watch modern Dunhills to see that the dot was centered correctly on the stem. I have a panel billiard where the dot is slightly askew, and I didn't notice it until the pipe was well broken in. Now my eye is drawn to that like a boil.
4. The blast on modern Dunhills is very shallow, which may suit some smokers' preference but I'd prefer a deeper, more craggy blast. That aside, Dunhill blasts are still the gold standard.
5. The modern shape catalog doesn't match the shape catalog of 50 years ago. I understand that they had to streamline in an era of decreased consumption, but it separates the brand into two distinct eras that are so irreconcilable as to practically be different brands.

Here are what I see as the positives:

1. Price. No other maker on the planet today offers pipes with as strong a spiritual and historic connection to the English pipes that comprise an entire school of pipe design and collecting. I can somewhat forgive the high prices for this alone.

2. Occasional quirk aside, the stem on a modern Dunhill is preferable to the stem on a classic Dunhill. The buttons are huge, where they're almost not there at all on the classics. For all that, the modern Dunhill stem is extremely comfortable and distinct. Orlik and Comoy's both had unique, consistent and excellent stems. Loewe was kind of all over the place, but usually as good or better than the rest. Classic Dunhills, well, they're just not my favorite. Very sleek and elegant transition from stem to button, but better on the eye than between the teeth. The modern stems are consistent in design across shapes, comfortable and familiar in the mouth as the stems Comoy's and Orlik used to produce. 
3. While the shape catalog is not the equal of the catalog of 50 years ago, they did manage to cover all the bases.
These are nicely finished pipes. I would put the finish of the Shell and Cumberland series against any English pipe ever made. Their smooth finishes don't excite me as much, although my one Amber Root is very nice indeed. The Bruyere and Chestnut finishes are too dark if you ask me. There is just a look and feel of quality to the finish of one of these, and as nice as an Ashton Pebble Grain is at half the price, if they were unstamped I would pick out the Dunhill 10 times out of 10.
The shapes may be modern but on some of them the feel is classic English. The group 3 army mount billiard stands out as particularly excellent and correct in proportion. I am also a huge fan of the group 4 billiard and Liverpool. Differences in proportion aside, this is practically the same pipe. The 4103 and 4110 are Virginia smoking machines. Weight, feel, smoking qualities, capacity, all feel right on the money to me.
Put aside the price, the perceived cachet of the white dot, the name. As pipes, admired for their finish and build, used for their intended purpose, these are commendable pipes. They are the sole remaining link to an era of English pipe making that spanned over a century. There was some kind of magic that resulted from the production of pipes during the last decades of the British Empire. A magic strengthened by these pipes acting as windows to moments in our lives lost to time. An unsmoked Loewe I buy today could have been purchased new by my father at a tobacconist in England while he was stationed for training prior to going to Normandy. It could have been hanging on the wall of a tobacconist I visited with my father when I was a child, and I got my first whiff of the magic smells of a tobacco shop. 
Of the Barlings, the Charatans, the Loewes, the Sasienis, the Comoy's and all the other makes that occupied this specific and magical slice in time and geography, only Dunhill remains. Even the new Dunhills, with their altered, politically correct nomenclature, still have a legitimate claim to this legacy. When they are gone, it's over.
So for myself, there will be no shunning of Dunhill for not being the real thing. They absolutely are the real thing, no matter the nomenclature. Not for pride, not for status, but for history and quality. These are damn good pipes, deserving of the name and the mindspace. Price is relative. You can afford one or you can't. They may or may not be a good value. Owning one doesn't make you anything but the owner of a good pipe. Why buy a Dunhill when you can get an excellent artisan pipe for the same or less money? Well on that point I've faced that decision and choose the Dunhill, on more than one occasion. The whole conversation misses the point. 
Modern Dunhill pipes are every bit as deserving of our consideration and admiration as any of the old, absent names that haunt us. The difference is that they're still here and to ignore them is to miss out on something great from that past that we pine for, because it never went away. Not completely. Not so long as Dunhill is still producing these excellent briars.


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