The Dunhill archive

Wednesday, February 1st 2017
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As 'heritage' has become more popular in recent years, brands have increasingly emphasised their longevity, their history and their traditions. 

This has several issues.

Most obviously, the brands that push this hardest often have the least to shout about. They may well have been founded as a little workshop in Italy, but today there is little connection to the founders in terms of craftsmanship, philosophy or even design. 

A second, perhaps more subtle issue is that customers don't necessarily know what they want. 

They may think they want original designs, but in reality these are too antiquated. They latch onto 'Made in the UK' or 'Made in Italy' as signs of quality, even if they're not. And they're not really sure whether it matters who owns the company, whether they've always owned the company, where the owners are from, and so on. 

Dunhill archive picasso

However, one thing that consistently maintains a connection between a brand and its history is an archive. 

This is something that again, brands have tried to build up in recent years - but Dunhill is one that has always maintained a strong historical collection, and it has consistently informed parts of the range - particularly that in Bourdon House. 

I've seen extracts of the Dunhill archive before, but just before Christmas I finally got around to touring the whole thing.

It has a fascinating range of pieces: not just clothing (tuxedos belonging to Frank Sinatra and Truman Capote), driving accessories and smoking paraphernalia, but also whisky, trophies, darts and boxing gloves. 

Dunhill archive picasso lighter

I picked out five of my favourite pieces to photograph and feature. 

First, shown above, is a lighter carved by Picasso with an image of his then girlfriend.

As an avid fan of 20th century art, this was in some ways the most exciting piece. It was the first Picasso I've ever handled and might well be the last.

Dunhill archive namiki pensDunhill archive namiki lacquer pen

Next, two vintage Namiki lacquer pens.

One of the crafts I enjoyed learning about in Japan last year was lacquer work - particularly its interaction with gold, described beautifully in Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's book, In Praise of Shadows

The collaboration between Dunhill and Namiki pens goes back to 1930 (to the point about heritage). 

Dunhill archive driving coatDunhill archive leather driving coat

Third, a driving coat (there had to be at least one piece of clothing).

Although still too large for me, it would have been worn with several layers underneath, in order to ward off the cold of driving an open car.

It would also have been worn by someone smaller, and therefore have been virtually floor length. 

Dunhill archive clock horn

Next is a horn-embedded clock.

One of the things I loved exploring when I was writing about Dunhill for my 2015 book Best of British was Alfred Dunhill's restless exploration of ways to combine clocks with other things. In make-up kits, in smoking kits, hidden away in lighters. The innovation was constant. 

Also, holding this thing feels like the most manly way to tell the time. Ever.

Dunhill archive gogglesDunhill archive goggles driving

And last were a pair of driving goggles.

Not quite as inventive as Dunhill's famous 'bobby finders' (which had telescopic fixtures on each lens to allow drivers to see policemen further up the road) but still great to see, in their workmanship and how they have aged.

Dunhill archive driving coat detail

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

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Amazing! It would be also interesting to see recent bespoke commissions.

Nick Inkster

For many years I was a smoker, and I had a truly beautiful Dunhill S type rollogas lighter which was a true work of art.

When I stopped, it went into a draw, from where it was stolen many years later during a burglary, which is ironic as, had I not stopped, it would have been in my pocket and therefore safe………

John Lloyd

Simon – You seen to write a lot of advertorial for Dunhill. Would be nice if you disclosed your financial arrangements with this brand to your readers.

Adam Harvey

Those pens! ?


Love the driving coat, very ‘Withnail and I’!


Thanks for this post! I never know how sincere those “heritage” marketing tactics are. Glad to know Dunhill holds up!

Robin Winch

Great summary of the visit, and nice idea picking your top 5 things Simon. Really enjoyed reading that, and seeing Jamie’s pics. Do you have to book appointments to see the archive? Is anyone allowed to go or is it more press / customers e.t.c?


It is a refreshing look at something else in the world of craft and design. excellent photography by the way. If swayed by commerce the content would have been much more advertorial. The feature piece, the Picasso lighter is of special interest (one wonders about the value?). On another subject you previously mentioned another book on the way. Could I ask you Simon to re-think the approach to cover design. I ask as I was in a bookstore recently and the Finest Menswear in the World cover seemed camouflaged as an academic text book and, regretably, was the least eye catching. I think your work deserves better and hope that ‘street style’ has a cover of artistic colour and style to match.


Hi Simon, back in May 2010 you wrote a great article about Ducker and Son of Oxford. Readers may know them as the last and only bespoke shoemaker in Oxford (shoes for JRR Tolkein, The Red Baron, Rowan Atkinson…). Just read about their impending closure around end of February (owners due to retire). Some items still for sale until then.

Joseph Tay

Hi Simon,

Was wondering about the shirt under the driving coat – it looks terribly familiar (like the one that you’ve paired with olive trousers before), but I just can’t place it. Beautiful buttons and a lovely shade of blue (looks like there’s some linen mixed in too?). Could you kindly point me in the right direction please!

Joseph Tay

Hi Simon,

Thanks for the offer – that’s terribly kind of you. Was under the impression that you had written a post on it and if I’m not wrong –

^might it be the above post! If so, my eyes betray me, for it is instead a lovely shade of grey. Cheers.

Joseph Tay

I see. Thanks for the clarification – appreciate it! And cheers on the great writing and lovely photography, always a pleasure.


Hi Simon, this is not for publication to your site, I just wanted to raise something with you. I only have time to occasionally check your blog – which I enjoy very much – and happened to read this entry and your pop up store entry. On both I saw adversarial comments (on this one John Lloyd and on the pop up site from a “Nick”). I just wanted to flag that you might wish to look into these kinds of comments in the future if a trend seems to be emerging. I’m not an expert but it strikes me that it could be a systematic effort to undermine your site which would be a great shame. I’ve certainly not noticed two broadly similar attacks in such quick succession before.

So as I say, please do not publish this – just wanted to post you a private message about this.

On another note I will be sad to not be able to see the opening of your pop up site – ironically I will be flying back to Geneva from Manila and will drop into London for some meetings on the 17th. On that occasion I expect to purchase some good English shoes and drop by W&S so will not be too far physically but a week early. Your blog has been a great learning experience for me and I look forward to reading it when I have the time.

Best wishes,

David Meddings


Good example of real longevity is 4711 Cologne
Bad example: Creed:


Over the years I’ve bought a number of pieces from Dunhill and enjoyed them.
That said, my experience of them since their acquisition by the Richemont Group has been at best, variable.
There seems to be a lack of consistency. They don’t really seem to know what they want to be and their Bourdon flagship is a huge missed opportunity.
Their raison d’etre seems to be to sell England to Asia but it has all the authenticity of Arthur Daley. A great shame for a house with such a venerable heritage. Why is it that these things loose their soul once the multi nationals get involved? It’s a great shame.