The Dunhill Aquarium Lighters are miniature works of art that first appeared in 1949 and were made until 1959. They were a luxury functional object aimed at the wealthy and notable owners and collectors of Dunhill Aquarium Lighters were Sir Winston Churchill and the IT couple of post-war Britain Norah Docker and husband Sir Bernard.
The lighters were made from lucite, a synthetic acrylic resin that was developed in the 1930s, as an alternative to glass. It is characterized by its transparency, durability, and resistance to yellowing. It was particularly useful in the creation of jewellery. The panels that formed the lighters were hand carved with reverse intaglios using tools and drills. The panels were then painted and applied to the lighters’ bodies in four distinct sections. All the lighters were hand carved and painted so everyone is unique. The main artist on many of the lighters was Ben Shillingford and later on husband and wife team of Margaret and Allan Bennett.
Many of the initial designs and motifs on the lighters, as the name Aquarium might suggest, featured all manner of fish. The fish on panels would be painted among rocks and weeds with some of the detail masking for outstanding pieces. On researching collections and Dunhill Aquarium Lighters sold at auction other motifs and designs include birds, ships, butterflies, and even examples created for the Festival of Britain and featuring Donald Campbell’s Bluebird. As the range grew, scenes became populated with ever more features, varying depth and complexity.
They came in four different sizes: standard, giant, service and half-giant and in were made with three metal finishes: gold-plate, silver-plate and chromium-plate gold. The giant size versions allow the some of the greatest details but all are very collectable.
Dunhill Aquarium Lighters price guide – we include some prices realised at auction but most that in very good condition run into thousands of dollars / pounds. Sometimes the paint can flake or bubble which can affect the price. The highest prices seen are for those non-aquatic scenes. On ebay in 2017 a Dunhill Aquarium Lighter featuring the RMS Queen Elizabeth sold for a massive $17,500.