It's not uncommon for shapes to fall out of production for a number of reasons. Trends in shaping change, sometimes rapidly, and some shapes just fall out of style. Others are given up due to difficulties in production. Thankfully, some see new life later on, whether as a re-release from their original maker, or reinterpreted by others. While we can't definitively point to a singular reason for its decline, you won't find Dunhill's LC on the marque's current shape chart. You will, however, find artisans and factories the world over exploring the iconic theme in their own way.
Before discussing the history of the LC, it is necessary to take a closer look at its design. Due to the sweeping, gestural nature of the shape as well as the signature, "swan neck" shank and stem arrangement, pinning down the production period of these pipes requires a keen eye, rather than relying on stamping alone.
At its core, the LC is a 3/4 bent Billiard, its bowl paired to a tight transition and slender, arcing shank. Its distinctive shank-and-stem arrangement earns it the "swan neck" moniker through a horizontal stretch-and-dip near its button, which is a particularly precise model — turning the mouthpiece down, rather than carrying its line horizontally, results in the less-elegant "goose neck."
The overall design results in an efficient, classic pipe, easy to hang from the jaw and just as comfortable in hand. The design, however, was not without its difficulties. The svelte, swinging shanks were prone to cracking, as were rims that tapered slightly to become very thin at the edges.
The LC saw production in the early part of the 20th century, with the majority coming from the '20s and '30s. Some early examples of the shape can be found in early 1920s "120"-stamped pipes, though the majority of those with the iconic swan neck style were stamped "LC," or "120LC" in some cases.
These early pipes are the most iconic, in no small part thanks to the popular media of the time. Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, for instance, smoked a 3/4 bent Billiard that is often credited as being an LC, and has made its own lasting impression over the years.
The shape saw limited production after WWII, with only a handful of examples from the 1940s and 1960s being known. In the late 1970s, some 3/4 bent Billiards were produced which are often considered LCs, though the design saw some slight modifications. These pipes were stamped with the shape numbers "612," "622," and sometimes simply "ODA" (which at the time was not a decisive indicator of size).
The 1970s seems to be the last time anything close to the LC has been produced by Dunhill, however. This leaves Dunhill collectors looking to the estate market, where the situation can be dicey. Due to age, as well as the design's aforementioned weaknesses, older LCs and similar "swan neck" designs on the estate market tend to be heavily smoked or damaged. Their rarity, however, makes them sought after items nonetheless; even an LC that's a little worse for wear would otherwise be a treasured find.
With the estate market as it is, we're lucky to have seen some modern takes on the LC's swan necked design in recent years. Independent artisans have fashioned some striking pieces, for example, with results that take the LC's archetypal shank-and-stem arrangement and adapt it into forms steeped in each maker's style.
One of the more striking we've seen recently is Scottie Piersel's bent Billiard, which takes many of the design characteristics of the LC and renders them on a much smaller scale. The result is a handy jaw-hanger that is inherently Scottie, condensing the traditionally elongated gesture in profile while still maintaining its inherent charm. Manduela Riger-Kusk also has her own unique take on the archetype, albeit one heavily steeped in smooth, Danish style and her more extroverted color palettes. A further search of our archives shows that bent Billiards aren't the limit of the "swan neck," either. We've seen examples featuring tall Stack-like bowls and more whimsical, freehand designs paired with the LC's signature stem and shank configuration.
Aside from Dunhill, other factory marques have taken on the "swan neck" as well; Peterson's "XL20" has been in production for some time, for instance. Originally produced as the "Rathbone" in their Sherlock Holmes line, it takes its cues from the pipe Basil Rathbone carried when portraying the character — a pipe often credited as being an original LC by sleuthing fans. Peterson's interpretation lends the form a bit more muscularity, both matching the marque's tubular aesthetic as well as reinforcing areas where the original design was prone to damage. It's widely available, however. A comparable LC estate could take literal decades to turn up on the market, and chances of it being unsmoked are even rarer.
So, while the LC itself remains the domain of the dedicated collector, at least for now, the good news is that, for those of us who love the sweeping form and gestural style of the LC, its influence is still alive and well in the industry. And from factory marques to private artisans, there's plenty of exciting combinations yet to be seen.
- "Le retour d'une légende" - Erwin Van Hove
- "The Atypical LC" - John C. Loring
- Dunhill Patent Tanshell "LC" - pipephil.eu
- The Dunhill LC Comparison Page - pipephil.eu
- "The Pipes Of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes: A Visual Essay, Part 1" - Mark Irwin
- "The Rathbone (XL20): Introducing the Return of Sherlock Holmes" - Mark Irwin