It’s not difficult to see how Dunhill ‘fish tank’ lighters got their name. Not only do these 1950s perspex and electroplated lighters resemble miniature aquariums, but most were decorated with aquatic subjects.
These days good examples can bring over £1000 and in February 2005 the front page of ATG was illustrated with a Dunhill Miniature Aviary lighter decorated with game birds that took £3500 at West Sussex's John Bellman. The rare subject matter was the key to the price.
A Dunhill fish tank assumed even greater heights at the inaugural 422-lot Racing Sale at Bonhams Newmarket on July 20.
Although it was estimated at £1000-1200, a multitude of factors made it special: near immaculate condition, one-of-a-kind subject matter and the presence of an ensuite cigarette box.
The lighter was modelled and painted with racing themed scenes devoted specifically to the racehorse Royal Maid and her triumphs in England. Royal Maid was owned by Mrs. M.K. Greenwood and trained by Harry Wragg at Newmarket, who led her to 13 victories between 1952 and 1955, after which year she was sold for breeding in California. Pictures on both sides of the lighter show Royal Maid, identified by a white noseband, winning the Chesterfield Cup at Goodwood in July 1955, ridden by Peter Robinson.
The matching 7in (18cm) wide cigarette box shows a victory at Kempton Park, ridden by Manny Mercer, with artists' impressions of racing scenes around the sides. According to Bonhams specialist Michael Steel, the Greenwoods would have specially commissoned box and lighter from Dunhill, making it a one-off. It has been in the family until now and the vendors were able to provide the precise details of the subject matter.
According to Mr Steel it looked unused. "The plating on the top was perfect and the perspex wasn't scratched, as is the case with many examples," he said.
Lighter collectors and racing enthusiasts crossed swords before the hammer came down at £7000 (plus 17.5% buyer's premium).
By Stephanie Harris