Nicholas Wells Antiques ‘spellbound’ by Dunhill Aquarium Lighters


In a recent article covered by the Financial Times Nicholas Wells, a prominent antique dealer in London, describes how he is ‘spellbound’ by the fascinating and truly unique vintage Dunhill Aquarium Lighters.

What makes these pieces so intrinsically mesmerising? We find out more about these vintage lighters and their heritage.

Historically, we would never have put aquarium and lighters in the same sentence – water and fire? Fish and lighters? The mere thought would appear to be absurd – alas Vintage Dunhill Aquarium lighters infuses both aspects and the finishing product is truly spectacular.

Due to the rarity of these lighters, combined with the quirkiness and functional luxury this has fuelled a collector frenzy trying to source these marvellous items and there has recently been coverage in mainstream media of their ever-increasing value.

The mind-fuel behind these extraordinary pieces was Ben Shillingford who worked for Dunhill after the war from 1949 and perfected the art of painting and carving lucite panels to resemble aquariums. Over the years of perfecting his trade, his designs became more ambitious with varying complexities and depth.

Ben Shillingford didn’t only specialise in aquariums though, but also sporting, racing cars, cruise ships, birds and outdoor hunting scenes.

The Dunhill Lighter Make-up

The lucite panels were firstly engraved by Ben Shillingford and then painted and applied to the Dulhill half giant lighter bodies which are broken down into four sections. The bodies of the lighters themselves were available as gold, silver or chrome plated – the choice would be down to particular tastes and of course budgets.

Each of the lighters has a curved lift arm stamped ‘Dunhill’ alongside a satisfying sprung catch and a registration mark on the back to ensure authenticity.

Winston Churchill himself was a huge fan of the lighters

Amidst the clientele of Ben Shillingfords wonderful designs were none other that Mr Winston Churchill himself – a very well-known cigar smoker who had a passion for collecting Dunhill aquarium lighters and even gifted these lighters to many people including Liaquat Ali Khan – the first Prime Minister of Pakistan.

What is Lucite?

When talking about these vintage lighters I was inclined to ask Nicholas Wells of Nicholas Wells Antiques London about Lucite which was used to create these lighters – what was it and why was it used? Nicholas went on “Lucite was developed in World War II and used by the American and Royal Air Force as an alternative to glass. Lucite would not shatter when under fire so there was a high demand for it for airplane windshields, bomber noses and submarine periscopes.”

It’s because of this versatility and ability to come up with a superbly polished finish that it was the choice for Dunhill vintage lighters.

Final Thought

Looking at recent reports, the antiques business in the UK is booming with a plethora of individuals seeking out sought-after items to add to their collections. If you’re a keen collector – and if recent media coverage is anything to go by – Dunhill Vintage Lighters could be an extremely good investment.

Happy Antique Hunting!