Last month, Sykes and I visited Alfred Dunhill's workshop in North East London at Walthamstow, not far north of Charring Cross. While I've visited numerous workshops across the world to purchase pipes over the past four years, from small, artisan setups to large-scale factories, this was my first opportunity to actually see the esteemed English marque making pipes in person. As one can guess, the visit was, in a word, awesome — and I don't mean "awesome" in the colloquial, "Man, this pizza is awesome" sense, but in the deepest meaning: "This is awe-inspiring, truly and genuinely awesome."
Like many pipesmokers and collectors, I've idolized Dunhill, and the brand has played a pivotal role in my pipesmoking journey over the past 12 years. Dunhill's classic shape chart, traditional style, and rich history appeal to collectors and lovers of English pipes, making many view the acquisition of a White Spot pipe as a pipesmoking rite of passage. A White Spot pipe holds a special place within a collection — a centerpiece in regards to its aesthetic and smoking qualities, in addition to the esteem attributed the revered English brand.
My first White Spot was a turning point for me as a pipesmoker. I had been smoking a pipe for several years already, but when I finally saved enough to purchase a White Spot, it not only represented the pinnacle of my collection at the time but also proved to myself that I was fully invested in the hobby. This was no insignificant purchase, but an intentional decision to dive headfirst and completely immerse myself into pipes and pipesmoking culture.
I bought my first White Spot pipe in 2010, a County 3104 Bulldog estate, made in 1987, a year before I was born. I had always wanted a Dunhill, and this purchase made me feel as though I had "arrived" as a collector, having idolized the brand for years. It instilled in me a sense of pride as a pipesmoker, defining my commitment to the hobby and inciting me to collect several more Dunhills throughout the next year. The innovative history and superb shaping of the English firm now rested on my pipe rack (and still does). I was finally able to experience their tradition of consistent quality for myself.
Visiting the White Spot workshop nine years later was, in essence, a sequel to buying my first Dunhill pipe. While I've had the pleasure of enjoying Dunhill's smoking instruments, the cycle and appreciation came full circle as I was able to see where these pipes are made and meet the talented team that crafts them.
My first White Spot was a turning point for me as a pipesmoker... This was no insignificant purchase, but an intentional decision to dive headfirst and completely immerse myself into pipes and pipesmoking culture.
As a brand, The White Spot treats their own pipes with similar esteem and care shared by those who smoke them. Marked by steadfast excellence, innovative history, and vast influence, White Spot pipes are fashioned with intense care — from sandblasting stummels one at a time to allow for optimal finishing control and quality, to turning HT pieces with hand tools on a lathe, to hand-finishing each pipe, to cutting stems and inlaying the White Spot logo, each process is performed by hand. The mouthpieces especially bespeak a high level of care: A hand-cut stem is one of the defining aspects of a premium pipe, requiring incredible skill and improving the overall smoking experience. A smoker connects with the pipe via the mouthpiece, meaning that minuscule variances in the shaping and size of the button make a world of difference.
Dunhill has maintained this quality over the decades, changing their stem style slightly at times but never sacrificing craftsmanship. Seeing the carvers fashion mouthpieces in the Dunhill workshop only reinforced the respect Sykes and I have held for White Spot pipes. The company's pipemaking process is intimate and meticulously intentional, focusing on each pipe individually.
When you purchase a White Spot pipe, you're assured of its value, from the shaping and finishing of the stummel to the comfort of the stem. This tenet of consistent quality has been maintained through tradition, the English marque having set the standards for classic shaping, contributing to their collectibility and influencing the industry as a whole.
Some of the most respected carvers, like Per and Ulf of S. Bang, and Jess Chonowitsch, have looked to White Spot pipes for shaping standards, classic proportions and dimensions.
Obviously, collectors and pipesmokers, like myself, have been inspired and influenced by Dunhill, but so have artisan pipemakers. Some of the most respected carvers, like Per and Ulf of S. Bang, and Jess Chonowitsch, have looked to White Spot pipes for shaping standards, classic proportions and dimensions. Todd Johnson and the late Bruce Weaver even devoted personal collections to White Spot pieces.
Dunhill's consistent craftsmanship and classicism are balanced by a history of innovation. For example, Dunhill is widely recognized for introducing the sandblast finish, which combined the grain definition of smooth finishes with the rugged texture offered by rustications. They're esteemed for their signature inlaid stem logo and Bruyere finish and have held numerous patents. Certain White Spot designs, such as the Windshield, hold a special place in pipemaking history, as do the English marque's limited specialty series. The ability to perfectly hold tradition and innovation in tension has enabled Dunhill to please lovers of classic shapes and unique designs alike, cementing their influence and appeal to collectors.
In the workshop itself, Sykes and I were welcomed into a space that seemed paused in time. Like a time capsule or an eons-old mosquito preserved in amber, Dunhill's workshop hearkened to a past era, the modest room filled with old, traditional machines. I observed one artisan shaping a stummel on the lathe with a chisel, utilizing a vintage flat bar and carriage arrangement as a level for his hand tools while carving.
From sandblasting stummels one at a time to allow for optimal finishing control and quality, to turning HT pieces with hand tools on a lathe, to hand-finishing each pipe, to cutting stems and inlaying the White Spot logo, each process is performed by hand.
Apart from the modern attire worn by us and the craftsman, I would have otherwise thought we'd been transported back to the 1930s, the handmade approach having changed little over the decades. From start to finish, every White Spot pipe is hand-guided; the shaping, stem work, finishing, staining, setting, polishing, and silver work are all done by hand. The workers themselves maintain this tradition and care in their attitude and motivation. They're all deeply invested in The White Spot brand, committed to its reputation, and they consider themselves not only stewards of The White Spot name but of classic English pipemaking as a whole.
Perhaps my favorite part of the visit was when Kalmon Hener, Product Line Director for The White Spot, ushered us into a room at the back of the workshop: the Archives. Like a private museum, the Archives room personifies Dunhill's history. Everything that Kalmon pulled from boxes or off the wall held a significant place in company's story — from pipes, to leather accessories, to lighters. Vintage pipe catalogs made my eyes gleam, only to have them widen further at the sight of a Prince from the '20s with a silver army mount. Like a five course meal that outdoes itself after every dish, the Archives' collection impressed beyond what I thought possible. How could it get any better than seeing the very tuxedo Dunhill made custom for Truman Capote? As if reading my thoughts, Kalmon smirked and handed me a vintage Tallboy lighter, owned by Pablo Picasso, who had gifted it to his girlfriend Dora Maar after etching her portrait onto the lid. As I said before: awesome.
I had never questioned The White Spot's devotion to tradition and the curation of the English pipemaking tradition — their pipe chart testifies to that in and of itself — but seeing the workshop in action, witnessing the care taken by the artisans, and drooling over the vintage collection in the Archives left no doubt in my mind. I thought I was impressed with Dunhill to the highest degree before, but this experience elevated that reverence even further.
The workers themselves maintain this tradition and care in their attitude and motivation. They're all deeply invested in The White Spot brand, committed to its reputation, and they consider themselves not only stewards of The White Spot name but of classic English pipemaking as a whole.
Throughout the visit I kept pinching myself, trying to mitigate my excitement. "You've seen all these processes before, Shane," I told myself. "You've seen a pipe turned on a lathe, you've seen a stain applied. You need to contain yourself." But such restraint was short-lived because, well, "This was Dunhill." I'd regarded this brand to the utmost for over a decade, and now I was experiencing it in person. The "child in a candy story" cliché is just that, cliché, but sometimes such an expression is the only way to put words to such a joy-filled experience. I was a child. The Dunhill workshop was a candy store. I was drooling. It was awesome.
Capping off the visit, Sykes and I handpicked White Spot pipes for Smokingpipes.com and Smokingpipes Europe. It's the best selection of White Spot pipes we've ever received, marked by rare shape, size, and finish combinations, unique Quaints, never-before-seen pieces, and superlative renditions of the marque's standard fare.
While perusing the display and choosing our selection, Sykes and I couldn't help but think of customers and how you'll share in our excitement as these pipes hit the website. Picking up one piece, Sykes would said, "Goodness, so-and-so has been looking for this exact shape and finish for years." I'd notice another one. "So-and-so is going to absolutely love this."
For me, this opportunity was simultaneously nostalgic and inspiring. It was a pipesmoking pilgrimage, a spiritual experience within the context of pipesmoking and collecting. We're incredibly grateful to Kalmon for welcoming us and organizing our time. Thank you to the craftsmen who fellowshipped with us and allowed us to witness their work, and, of course, thank you to The White Spot as a brand — the pipesmoking and carving community wouldn't be what it is today without the English marque's influence.