Alfred Dunhill Aquarium table lighter

Alfred Dunhill Aquarium table lighter with a fox hunting scene, £13,500 at Chiswick Auctions. 

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The highlight of the Design and Modern Contemporary auction on April 9 was a rare 4in (10cm) lighter decorated with a fox hunting scene that hammered at £13,500 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).

In December 2022 the west London auction house had sold a similar ‘Aviary’ series lighter depicting a pair of wading birds to one side and an egret to the other. It had raced away from its estimate to bring £13,000.

It’s not difficult to see how Dunhill ‘fish tank’ lighters got their name. Not only do these chunky 1950s and 60s Lucite and electroplated brass lighters resemble miniature aquariums, but most were decorated with either fresh or saltwater fish.

Factory artist

Each was designed and made by Dunhill factory artist Ben Shillingford or by Margaret and Allan Bennett, the husband-and-wife team who worked from a workshop in their south coast home. The panels were hand carved with reverse intaglios using dentist tools and drills.

All of these Dunhill lighters are collectable, but it is the so-called ‘non-aquatic aquariums’ depicting subjects other than fish that bring the highest prices. The Bennetts often made these working from reference books, drawing up designs of birds, horses and shipping liners in pencil and watercolour before approval by Dunhill.

The seller consigned the rare fox hunting lighter after seeing the strong results Chiswick had achieved in the past for Dunhill lighters. The successful bidder was a London-based private collector.