Dunhill White Spot Drama

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georged

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Mar 7, 2013
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Several days ago I spoke with Rob Cooper ("Coopersark" on eBay) at some length about the importance of historical details, originality, and so forth to many pipe collectors.
In the course of that conversation Dunhill's "white spot" was mentioned as something which factored into determining authenticity in some cases, since it had varied in position, size, and material over the years. (The material being ivory for the first 40 or so years of the company's production, after which a more color-stable and less expensive plastic took its place.)
Rob mentioned in passing that he believed what everyone thought was ivory was actually celluloid, though, and always had been, because real ivory would never have been practical. It required too much labor to create thin, spaghetti-like rods from the stuff, regardless of its intrinsic expense. I responded that in the first half of the 20th century ivory was regarded as just another material, was commonly used for "tourist grade" trinkets from toothpicks to chopsticks, and could doubtless be bought cheaply in rod form from China or Japan, so Dunhill never DID shoulder the cost... the international differences in how much "a dollar was worth" (so to speak) took care of it.
Not able to settle the matter, our conversation moved to other things.
Afterward, though, because our points canceled each other out, the question started to eat at me. One of us had to be right, but how to know for sure? Dissolving an old dot and a new one with some sort of chemical, litmus-test-style, was doubtless possible, but I was no chemist... and unless the difference was dramatic and unarguable, nothing would be settled.
Grind to dust? Examine with a microscope? Because of the nature of the collecting hobby, if there was ANY element of subjectivity in interpreting the result of such a test, the question wouldn't be answered. The can would just be kicked down the road.
Then I came across an antiques site which said that real ivory doesn't burn (except at several thousand degrees, I suppose), and the tip of a sewing needle heated red-hot would leave no significant mark on it, while all known faux ivory materials would react somehow. Melt, blacken, or similar.
So, I searched through my stem discard box for an ivory-spotted Dunhill stem as a test subject. One that I wouldn't mind losing if the celluloid theory was correct.
Here is the stem. Three views to confirm authenticy --- in its entirety, the tenon, and the slot:





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Here is a close-up of the spot before cleaning it off, and after. (I didn't want a possible layer of wax, dirt, etc. to burn and confuse things):



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And this is the white spot after being touched by the red hot needle. It sunk in instantly and actually exploded in a gentle sort of way. A fizz-pop with a big puff of smoke.
It doesn't get more settled than that. 100%, proved beyond-the-slightest-shadow-of-a-doubt, those yellow/milky-looking Dunhill white dots---the early ones---are cellulose, not ivory.
Thank you Mr. Cooper. (There will doubtless many disillusioned Dunhill collectors in the world, but oh well. Facts are facts, and myths always die hard.) :lol:


 

cigrmaster

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May 26, 2012
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George, that is major league Sherlock Holmes detective work. There are going to be some seriously upset Dunhill collectors when they find out their precious little dots are not ivory.

 

hoosierpipeguy

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Jan 28, 2018
2,369
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Impressive work! You're correct, real ivory wouldn't burn like that. I have several custom pool cues with a fair amount of ivory. Very hard, somewhat brittle but won't burn.

 

luigi

Member
May 16, 2017
292
385
Nice test, sir.

In these times it's naive to believe everything what sellers say or write. It's very likely they are selling something else, usually cheaper, for the same (high) price. Even if it was some respectable name like Dunhill it wouldn't be a big surprise for 2018. :)

 

kenbarnes

Senior Member
Nov 12, 2015
363
33
Brilliant, nice one George! To me,that looks like a 1920s original Dunhill mouthpiece and I often thought how difficult it would have been to turn/produce spaghetti-type rods in genuine ivory

I thought it may have been an ivory Catalin as used on Charatan 'After Hours' Pipes, (phenol formaldehyde resin) or something similar and I am pleased you have now proved it not to be genuine Ivory. :clap:

 

pipestud

Preferred Member
Dec 6, 2012
1,743
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Robinson, TX.
I always thought those old Dunhill pipes had true ivory dots until I read Georged's post. I admit that I was guilty of spreading that untrue rumor myself many times over the years. So, thanks to Georged and Coopersark for setting me straight.

 

mikethompson

Preferred Member
Jun 26, 2016
4,371
737
Great detective work!
I was unaware of the divide in collectors opinions, but this would appear to settle the matter!

 

piffyr

Preferred Member
Apr 24, 2015
789
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Fantastic forensic work, Mr. Science! I've looked at those dots under loupes from 12x to 60x and I was utterly convinced that they were ivory. I'll be warming myself by the flames of my burning preconceived notions later this evening.
I had at first thought that Mr. Cooper was saying that cellulose was used as a transition material between the ivory era and the acrylic era. After going back and re-reading the original claim, I see that I completely misread his statement. It makes much more sense to know that it was cellulose all the while until acrylic came along. Kudos to Mr. Cooper for trusting in his own eyes and experience rather than hearsay.
Now, go find out what the white material is in the Comoy's 3-part "C" and I'll sleep soundly tonight.

 

jazz

Preferred Member
Feb 17, 2014
787
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UK
There is something satisfying about a definitive answer after some scientific legwork. I had always just taken the ivory thing as gospel so this serves as a reminder to question everything.
Good work.

 

mawnansmiff

Preferred Member
Oct 14, 2015
4,794
1
Sunny Cornwall, UK.
Excellent experiment George but is it my dodgy eyesight that sees what appears to be a minute ring of brass (?) around the white spot in the picture of the cleaned stem?
I think I can also see it in the last image showing the scorched hole.
Regards,
Jay.

 

georged

Preferred Member
Mar 7, 2013
2,612
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Jay --
That's glue. The celluloid rod is a couple thousandth's smaller in diameter than the hole.

 

brian64

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Jan 31, 2011
5,641
1,047
Very cool...thanks for the post & pics. I'm surprised the ivory myth endured this long without any verification.

 

chasingembers

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Nov 12, 2014
17,343
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Though this was from an article about discoloration of vintage celluloid pens, it sounds like oxidation of the surrounding stem on a Dunhill causes the dot to change.
Discoloration and its causes
When celluloid discolors, it generally darkens rather than fades. This discoloration is not superficial, and is irreversible.

While excessive UV exposure is not good for celluloid, discoloration is usually the result of reactive sulphur compounds released by deteriorating ink sacs.
 
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