Kahn's Korner
(May 2008)
By Eric Kahn

How I got my first Dunhill lighter.... Part II

A couple of months ago I wrote about how I'd got my Dunhill lighter back in the fall of 1998. If you recall, it was while I was in Colorado, and bought a whole bunch of pipes discovering only later that the lighter was with them. But there is more to this story, more than I could have imagined.

When I got the lighter home I checked it out. It's a nice Roller Gas with something of a hammered nickel or stainless finish with the thumb wheel on one side of the mini monolithic shape. I rubbed it up just to get any loose dirt from it and used a cotton swab to clean the mechanism around the flint wheel and gas orifice. It looked pretty good. Now it came time to fill it and enjoy the fruits of my luck. My luck wasn't as fruitful as I'd hoped. As I flipped open the lid but just as I went to spark it, I could hear the steady hiss of the gas escaping. It wasn't an insignificant hiss, but a strong one. It told me that there was a problem. I worked the adjustment wheel trying to close the feed to the orifice. I was unsuccessful. The next day I made a call to Dunhill in New York.

The woman on the other end of the phone was very nice. She explained that as the Christmas season was fast approaching, the repair would not be back to me for some time, possibly into February. I understood, and I could live without the lighter until then. I'd lived without a Dunhill lighter until then, so a couple of months was no biggie. So, after insuring the package, I shipped it off to NY and went on my merry way.

Now most of you know I work for a company with worldwide interests in the hospital industry. At that time in my career, travel was a big part of my job. It wasn't hassle free, but the travel had its benefits. I got to see a great deal of this country and Canada, that otherwise would have been out of the question. I'd even gone to England a couple of times, once to Manchester and another time to Chester. Each time, I'd had a day to browse around London before having to catch a plane back to Boston. During those wonderful days I found Fox's, Ashton, John and Dennis Marshall (a.k.a Millville pipes), and Dunhill. I visited Dunhill each trip hoping to find the perfect pipe there to buy. While there I met a nice man browsing the pipes, his name is Malcolm, and a proper public school teacher he is. We struck up a friendship and started talking about pipes, and tobacco, as you would expect, having met upstairs at Dunhill. For those of you who were never there, Dunhill has changed drastically over the years. Mostly, it has gone from an automobile, clothing and accessory house which sold pipes and tobaccos, to a gentleman's clothing shop that also sells tobaccos and pipes. For more information on the history of Dunhill may I suggest this fine article at Smokingpipes.com: At any rate, the smoke shop is upstairs in the store. When last there, there was some talk of separating the tobacco side completely and moving the clothing to a new shop (or visa-versa).

Over the course of time, Malcolm and I became friends, and corresponded with regularity. Then came 1998, and I gave Malcolm a call to tell him I would be traveling to London in January of '99. He was very pleased, and wondered if I'd have any flexibility in my travel plans, and could I come in on a specific date? He wouldn't tell me why, but promised it would be a good reason. Well, as luck would have it, I was able to change my plans. So, I called him and confirmed. “Wonderful, and now I'll tell you why. I will procure for you a ticket to the Pipe Smoker of the Year Award, at the Savoy,” he said. “The what?” I replied? “Pipe Smoker of the Year. It's not like they give an award for who smokes the most, but rather a prominent person, who is a pipe smoker.” According to Malcolm, the British Pipe Smokers Council of London awards this annually and there are some VIPs in its history. Some of the smokers: Harold Wilson, James Galway, Jeremy Brett, J.B. Priestly and many others. If you want to see the list, checkout Wikipedia and search Pipe Smoker of the Year. Malcolm advised what time to meet him at his club and to bring at least two pipes because we were going to Dunhill's before the affair at the Savoy. Business suit was the dress of the affair.

I thought to myself, what a perfect time to bring over my Dunhill lighter. The woman had said that I'd have to wait until February, but what did I have to lose by asking. So I called.

“Hello, this is Eric Kahn, and about three weeks ago I'd sent you my Rollergas to be repaired.”

“Yes, Mr. Kahn, we have received it,” she said.

“Wonderful, but I was wondering if there was any chance I could have it sooner...,”I was cut off.

“Mr. Kahn, I told you at the time that with the Christmas season upon us, I could not possibly have it ready for you until late January or February.”

“No, I understand, it's just that I've been invited to the Pipe Smoker of the Year Awards next month, and I was hoping that....,” She cut me off again.

“Pipe Smoker of the Year Event… you were invited… may I ask by whom?”

I thought for about a millisecond about the other person I'd met my first time at Dunhill's London shop. It was the manager. “Marc Burrows, why do you ask?”

“Mr. Kahn, you lighter will be to you within the week.”

It was, by FedEx. All buffed and fixed. Amazing, the truism… 'It's not what you know, but who you know.” I had to call Malcolm and tell him the story. He laughed so hard, it cost me an extra dollar in transatlantic phone charges.

On the morning of the event, I got into Heathrow at 0600, and had plenty of time to meet my friend. So I had a shower and changed at the airport club and some breakfast. Then I was off to walk around until the appointed time. At 1030 I was at the International Club to meet Malcolm, where he'd been kind enough to order up some coffee and, for the two of us. Then it was off to Dunhill. What I didn't know, was that it was only once a year that Dunhill permits invitees to the event to come in and sample the tobaccos. You're allowed no more than two bowls of 'free' tobacco. I had brought several pipes with me, but for the event I brought two Savinelli pipes (out of the collection I got from Colorado). They were about a #4 in bowl size. I saw several men there with ODAs there filling the pipes to the max. Malcolm saw the pipes that I'd brought and looked at me.

“Can't have you insulting the host, here, take this one, as a gift,” he said, and handed me a #4 red bark Dunhill billiard. I was struck dumb. I didn't know what to say. What does one say when given a NEW Dunhill pipe, never smoked, that hadn't been made for years? If I had been of a different predilection, I might have kissed him. I just thanked him profusely and shook his hand. My first Dunhill lighter had led the way to my first Dunhill pipe. Marc Burrows then joined us, and I told him the story about the repair and the lighter. He asked to see it.

“Oh, but it has the wrong fitting for a pipe. This one is for cigs. Wait a minute.” He walked away with my lighter and then came back a few moments later. “I'm having it fitted with the right piece, so the flame comes out to the side. It will be a few minutes. In the meantime follow me.” With that, Marc took Malcolm and me down to the Dunhill Museum in the basement of the shop. I'll let you read Alfred Dunhill's, The Pipe Book, many of the plates in there are from the museum, to see some of the things I viewed. From an historical perspective, it was quite incredible.

Time moved on, and time it was to head over to the Savoy. The three of us jumped into a black cab and drove over. I insisted on picking up the cab fare. At a whopping three pounds, the tip was only 25p. I was told I'd over tipped the driver. Europeans know how to tip. They almost don't.

We were standing if front of the Savoy. If ever there was an architectural homage to the quintessential grand hotel, the Savoy of London is IT. Oriental carpets, silver and pewter fixtures, grand ceilings, huge paintings, doormen in red coats, well, you get the idea. We were shown downstairs to one of the grand dining rooms. We were hardly the first to arrive. In fact, Ron Lau, from Peretti's in Boston was there. Small world isn't it?

I was introduced to several prominent people, including the secretary of the Pipe Club of London, Peter Wiseman. I was so impressed by the meeting that, at once, I became a member of PCOL. I bought a PCOL tie and PCOL pin. Yes, I still have them. Dinner was served and then the event really got underway with a number of speakers, some bad jokes, which I never understood because it was local humor. and then the guest of honor was introduced. His name was Trevor Baylis. Not exactly a household name, but quite a man, none-the-less. Trevor was selected because of an invention. It's called the Freeplay radio. The size of it was typical of a transistor radio, but with one feature you'd not expect; it was a wind-up radio. A crank generated electrical power to run this radio. When you think of how many places there are in the world were batteries are not readily available, you realize the value of the invention. It was created to assist in the teaching of rural countries where AIDS was in crisis. If you go to the Wikipedia link for Pipe Smoker of the Year, you can click on Tevor's biography to see this man's many accomplishments. I got to meet him briefly. Among the awards he was given was a Dunhill ODA, a trophy that resembled his invention, and a year supply of his favorite tobacco, CONDOR.

Condor, for those of you who don't know it, is a very strong tobacco, and is sold all over the place in the UK. It's almost the equivalent of Prince Albert, here. Gallaher, the manufacturer stopped shipping to the US out of fear of lawsuits. Well, each table had several 25gr. Packets for sampling, but no one touched it. Like we think of 'drugstore' blends, here in the states, it wasn't good enough for them, or they didn't like the taste. It's different, I'll grant you that. But I sampled it, and loved it. It became my favorite tobacco, and still is. When Peter saw how much I liked it, he took me to several tables and introduced me to some of the people at each of them. They were especially pleased that I was a member of the Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club of Boston, and had just become a PCOL member. Then, as if an afterthought, he asked if anyone was going to take the Condor. None wanted it, so he took it and gave it to me. I must have left with about 250gr of Condor Original. I was a little embarrassed, but he said not to worry.

The event came to an end all too soon, and I had to head out to Chester, so I couldn't stay long after the event. But what a wonderful day it was. I'll remember it for the rest of my life. All, in part, because of a lighter I'd picked up for free in Colorado, and a good friend.

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