Incredible as it sounds today, smoking was until relatively recently seen as a fashionable and even hugely healthy activity. Although smoking has fallen out of favor, related paraphernalia has continued to grow in popularity. Since the 16th century, many intriguing and attractive accessories, from engraved tobacco tins to pottery pipes, have been produced. By the 1920s, the luxury end of the smoking market was dominated by Alfred Dunhill Ltd. Items by this firm, particularly lighters, continue to attract some of the highest prices today.
Portable lighters made their debut in the early 20th century. In 1923, Dunhill first issued its “Unique” lighter, which could be lit with one hand through the use of a wheel. The design was invented by Wise and Greenwood and the prototype was made from a mustard tin! The “Unique” petrol lighter developed in a number of directions and is still made today. In 1956 the popular gas-filled “Rollagas” range was introduced, however 1920s to 1940s “Unique” examples remain more desirable and can be worth around £100-1,000 or more depending on type, age and condition. Decorative lacquer can increase value by up to several hundred pounds, as can fine materials and unusual functions, such as watches or powder compacts. A Dunhill “Unique” Sports manual petrol pocket-watch lighter, in solid silver and dating from 1927, could be worth £2,000-3,000. Original boxes are rare and could increase the value by 100 per cent.
In recent years, Dunhill “Aquarium” and “Aviary” lighters have soared in both popularity and value. Introduced c1949, the body of each lighter was cased in panels of Lucite which had been reverse-carved and painted with scenes of fish, birds, flowers and other motifs. The wide ‘Half Giant’ and compact ‘Miniature’ sizes are slightly easier to find than the taller ‘Standard’ size. Many examples are valued at £1,000-2,000, although prices can be reduced by flaking to paint or foil as well as by surface scratches. Complex and striking designs in good condition can be worth as much as £2,000-3,000 or more.