Alfred Dunhill Aquarium lighter sparks record bid

An Alfred Dunhill Aquarium table lighter has achieved a new world record hammer price in a recent sale at a London auction house.

An Alfred Dunhill aquarium lighter

Chiswick Auctions has improved its own world record in its recent Design and Modern Contemporary sale when a rare 4in (10cm) lighter decorated with a fox hunting scene hammered at £13,500.  

Dunhill ‘fish tank’ lighters from the 1950s and 1960s are made from Lucite and electroplated brass, which  resemble miniature aquariums, with most decorated with either fresh or saltwater fish. 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. 

In December 2022 the auction house sold another super-rare ‘Aviary’ series lighter depicting a pair of wading birds to one side and an egret to the other. The light flew above its estimate to bring a hammer of £13,000.