Visiting The White Spot
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.
Tagged in: Behind-The-Scenes Dunhill Pipe Makers Pipe Making Travel
Having smoked pipes for 53 years I can , in my opinion, say that the Dunhill pipes that I have sampled were exceptionally well made in all regards but not a great smoke. There are exceptions of course
Thank you for this clear report covering Dunhill pipe production.
First time report on this subject.
Have a few Dunhill pipes being part of my pipe collection, and some of them were bought back in 1974.
In the past five years, since the transition from Dunhill to The White Spot, there has been speculation that these pipes aren't actually made in England. Great article and pictures, but it's not stated as to the location. I assume England from the references, can you confirm this?
Dunhill classic shapes, especially billiards, are usually absolute perfection, and I know my eye can easily pick them out of a mixed array of similar billiards of different marques. The stems are great and the pipes usually smoke great. But what "White Spot" pipes are, I have no idea. Thought they quit making Dunhills in 1967, and I will proceed with my purchases accordingly. (A soupçon of sarcasm there, gents.)
Honor to Dunhill to create and to canonized the shapes, but.... Charatan and the old Comoy's forever!!!
Great article! But no mention of the oil curing.
I know they keep it secret but were you able to understand if they are still doing it??
I have one Dunhill and I will say this....it never requires relighting and the pipe holds an adequate share of tobacco. I like going to it at least once per week.
I've owned three Dunhills over the past thirty years and was sadly disappointed with each one. Two straights and a zulu that couldn't pass a pipe cleaner. GBD is the only way to go for me.
Al Jones, Richard Burley: According to an extensive, up-to-date history in Pipedia, Dunhill pipes are made in Walthamstow UK and ‘White Spot’ simply and addition to the Dunhill brand name. However, Dunhill tobacco is no longer made by the Dunhill Company.
I will never forget the day I found a 1956 Dunhill, my birth year and made the decision to add it to the collection. It gets smoked every birthday.
I can never understand why Dunhill pipes are SO expensive? They look SO ordinary and I find none of their pipes appealing to me. They look rather boring.
I no longer try to convince sceptics at just how special Dunhill pipes are. I was a long-time sceptic myself until I finally saw one that struck my fancy, purchased it, and grew to be enchanted by its timeless quality and superb smoking characteristics.
Now I own four. And despite my extreme reticence to part with a dime, I do not for a moment regret having purchased a single one. The visual enjoyment (and sweet, dry smoke) they give are unique, with the caveat that I also enjoy those very same qualities in other makes as well (such as Savinelli, old Stanwells, Astley, etc).
Was there any mention about their oil-curing process? Perhaps it has been discontinued. It was never necessary to break-in a Dunhill pipe: the oil curing leached out all bitter saps and resins from the briar and gave a sweet, nut-like smoke from the very beginning.
@Al Jones Yes, the workshop is located in London at Walthamstow, which is about 8 miles north east of Charring Cross.
My absolute favorite brand by far, for shaping, finish, and history. Thank you for this awesome write-up and for the pictures. I’ve owned and smoked over 100 Dunhills, from all decades of their existence. I’ve never been let down, except I do think the 1970s were a wonky rough patch for them. Always neat to read more about them. Great article!
A great brand. A tremendous history. One of my favorites. I a, very fortunate to have a few. Just holding them in your hand is special. You can just feel the quality.
Your visit to Dunhill reminds me of when I met Julius Vesz at his store in Toronto, and he invited me to breakfast the following day. He gave me a tour of his workshop / carving area. He showed me Barling’s his grandfather had collected in the 1930’s and he showed me a glimpse of his work, his world, and passion for what he does. He told me how he learned pipe-making from his grandfather and how he only uses dead root briar.
I will also treasure my visit, and the special pipe I took home.
This morning I was coincidentally smoking an exquisite 1963 group 4 billiard Shell with some HH Burley Flake and noticed your homage to the great White Spot. I own 5 and cherish the singular greatness of each. Any collection without the White Spot is naked. Your article inspires another acquisition.....in search of a Bulldog! Well done, lad.
Early on as a pipe smoker(starting in 1960), I avoided Dunhill pipes like the plague. I Thought the British always took the best, most skilled craftsmen, the finest material and made the most ordinary looking product ever. Now, I own 11and will not part with one of them.
Thank you for this wonderful article. I've had secret passion for The white spot since i was a child. Watching my uncle Smoke from his small collection day after day. Riding with him to the shop to pick up his favorite blend. I dreamed of owning one all of my adult life. My dream finally came true when a young lad in my employ left for bigger and better pastures. On his last day he approached me and handed me a Small burgundy pipe pouch, inside was a beautiful, Rusricated pot. When i turned it over to examine it closer, there was the white spot. I have yet to smoke it, because i want to have time and not be disturbed, also there is only one blend i want to fill it with, the first time out. A true tin of Dunhill BB 1938. In remembrance of my Uncle, who made this art such a Wonderful part of my youth and life.
As an avid reader I can't but congratulate SPipes Team and Shane in particular for the history insight and the personal experience of visiting such a brand. Personally, I always thought Dunhill's pipes overvalued. On an esthetic angle only, because I never owned (or smoked) one. I always feel myself inclined to think the italian school interpretation of the classic shapes more interesting and complex. So they have a special place in my heart.
I would like to understand if Dunhill still oil cures their pipes. All the best to the SPipes team and to the pipe community. LV
Old world craftsmanship, pride and dedication show why Dunhill Pipes have always been considered the "Cadillac of pipes."
A very interesting article, Shane. I have been smoking pipes for about 55 years. For a long time I shied away from Dunhill pipes. I thought they were over priced and did not look that good. Well, I found an estate Dunhill Group 5 that really appealed to me and took the plunge and paid the money. What a wonderful pipe it proved to be! The shape was beautiful and it smoked better than anything I ever smoked. I started looking closer at Dunhills and realized details that were done better on these pipes than any other. I now have more than 12 Dunhills and all are great smoking pipes. For those that have had disappointment with Dunhills, remember that John C. Loring, who wrote "The Dunhill Pipe," said that there had been certain decades when Dunhill pipes were counterfeited by some unknown makers and there is a high probability that you had one of these counterfeits. I have never had a Dunhill disappoint me, whether it was smoking qualities, the issue of a cleaner passing straight through (even on a "saxephone" shape) or its withstanding the rigors of time. I do not have a single Dunhill I would sell!
SORRY, MY MISTAKE! In my earlier post I did not get the title correct for the John C. Loring book. It's title is "THE DUNHILL BRIAR PIPE."
I bought my first pipe in 1955 in Jacksonville Florida from "The Pipe Shop" which was owned by an aunt. She showed me a variety of pipes and it narrowed down to a Castello Sea Rock 30L for $18.75 and a Dunhill billiard for $25.00. The Castello was purchased for asthetic reasons and because as I was making $1.00/hour I thought the Dunhill too expensive. I smoke the Castello to this day and just love holding and looking at it.
Thanks for this. I appreciate these types of articles and wish they would go on and on! I never thought I would own a Dunhill but I sent you some pipes and had enough in my house account to get a Dunhill estate pipe. The only reason I got it was, well, it was a Dunhill! I told a friend that if I didn't like it, I could have used that house account for another Peterson or Savinelli. And he said, "But what if it becomes your *favorite* pipe?" So I pulled the trigger. And, gosh, am I glad I did! While it's not my favorite pipe, I find myself reaching for it a lot more than I do the others in my rotations. Thanks again!
Thank you for your great article. I am retired military (USAF) and belong to a club in London where I stay when I visit that city. My next visit I will endeavor to visit the White Spot Factory. My first visit to Dunhill's store was in 1995, which I will never forget. I have a dozen Dunhill pipes in my collection of 100 pipes that I began smoking and collecting in 1968. I worked in two different pipe shops in the 70s collecting many brands, including my first 4 Dunhills. In 2011 I purchased my last, a Squat Bulldog Cumberland #5117, at Iwan Ries in Chicago. All my Dunhills smoke well (some dating to the 60s), but that 5117 is one if the sweetest smoking pipes in my entire collection and has become a favorite pipe. My next favorite is a full bent tanshell - a Parker, a Dunhill second. I have other, what I call "magic pipes", for their beautiful smoking qualities among my Charatans, Barlings, GBDs, Comoys, Astley's, Danish, Italian and Benchmade pipes. Bottom line: Quality makes a difference, and you pay good money for it. It may even give you a magic pipe.
A friend told me that all DUNHILL pipes have "DUNHILL" stamped into the wood. I have a Dunhill shell with no stamp at all on the brier. Can it still be a Dunhill or are they knock-offs out there?
I am blessed to own several Dunhill pipes, the first of which is a Red Briar from 1974, which is my birth year; which was unsmoked from an estate. I've gotten a few newer Dunhill pipes and enjoy each and every one as an event. I'm going to be purchasing a 1920s patent as soon as I find a worthy model.
As a salesman I had the honour of visiting the Walthamstow site and seeing the processes on a number f occasions. Using the bliar root poses many issues as only after turning do holes appear which if minor have to be filled, only a small proportion of turned bowls are filler free and these are given the white dot status, hence their high price. In the year 2000 my grandfather reached the dizzy heights of 100 and as a pipe smoker since his early years ( St Bruno ready rub!) he had always dreamed of owning a ‘Winston Churchill white spot’ As a family we decided to club together to realise his dream. We will always be especially grateful to Dunhill who gifted the pipe to him free of charge with the additional of an inscribed silver band on the stem - Truly awesome and his look of pleasure could not have had a price! Thank you Dunhill
Back in the mid 70's my great,great,great Grandpa smoke pipes. I can remember a setting in the porch swing watching him light his pipe with a book of matches.Perry Oliver lived to be 102 smoking pipes as long as I can remember.Him and I sitting in that swing on his front porch drinking Coca-Cola that didn't cost but $0.25 watching him lightest pipe puff on it a couple times look down at me smile and then we both take a swallow of our Coca-Cola. But sadly to say Perry Oliver passed away but he had this pipe collection that for years it's set up and my mom's cedar chest or hope chest or whatever you call it nowadays but after so many years I've ended up with the collection but I come across a dunhill pipe one that he would smoke on alot, but Perry Oliver had eight other pipes that he would smoke on occasions I guess they had certain pipes for different occasions I don't know didn't care about then just sitting there watching my grandpa purple pipe knowing I was fixing to get a Coca-Cola and if any of y'all remember to Coca-Cola's back in the 70s I kind of think they're better than anywhere today they were a lot cheaper. But I'm sitting here reminiscing about them days holding this downhill pipe you know mid-70s has been a long time a lot of things has happened in my life since my grandpa passed on, but I know somewhere he's sitting in a porch swing with his book of matches and his old stained button up white shirt and his hat I remember a hat the Derby style hat. But the carry on about the pipe it was one that was made early I would say it's been used which all nine of his pipes has been used pretty much they're stained with the nicotine, but looking at this pipe gun Hill carved on one side or should I say engraved and I can't pronounce that other word cuz I really can't see it but you know it's actually one of the earlier made donehill pipes couldn't tell you what year it was made to me that wasn't important what was important is knowing where it come from but now no one what it is and knowing that I'm holding to me a national treasure in my hand so done here y'all made some pretty decent pipes back way way back when so y'all are part of the memories. Until next time guys y'all keep puffing on them great pipes keep the memory alive. It's been an honor RLee3
I own an Amber Root 5102. I bought it about 17 years ago, along with quite a few others. My first collection. 😊I have to say that while there is nothing at all wrong with it and it is very pretty, it is no better made than my three Comoy freehand star briars which cost the same at the time. For the same price, you can find many legitimate alternatives. In my view, one good reason to buy a Dunhill is "consistency". Their shapes are quite literally textbook and if you like the English aesthetic, you cannot do better at the moment. But I do not believe that they deserve such a gushing article. They are no better made than other pipes from many makers, particularly at the same price.
Please forgive my much repeated comment.I was told many times that my word test was wrong and kept at it for ages!Apologies. Please delete the repeats. :-)