‘Mills bomb’ lighter

Three views of the ‘Mills bomb’ lighter sold for £3100 by Gerrards, plus the hallmarks.

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The Mills ‘No 5’ grenade, or ‘Mills Bomb’ as it was known colloquially, was introduced in May 1915 and remained the dominant British grenade for the rest of the conflict.

It is estimated that some 75 million of them were manufactured before Armistice. Inventor William Mills, who had been tasked by the War Department with improving both the mechanism and means of manufacture of the hand grenade, was knighted for his services in 1922.

However, almost as soon as it entered production Mills’ distinctive pineapple design had been put to other uses.

Solid silver versions of the grenade, complete with removable ‘safety pin’ and ‘strike lever’ were made as table lighters as early as 1916. They were doubtless just the thing for passing around the officer’s table as the cigars were brought out.

Often carrying the registration number RD655472, and occasionally a presentation inscription to a respected soldier, they are known with hallmarks for a number of maker-retailers.

Production continued until 1918 and was evidently revived during the Second World War as some carry assay marks for the early 1940s.

The lighter offered by Gerrards in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on February 16 had marks for the Goldsmith and Silversmith Co, London, 1916, making it one of the earliest of its type. It was estimated at just £200-300 but brought £3100 (plus 20% buyer’s premium).

An example by the same maker and same date was sold by Bonhams for £4000 in November 2006.

However, neither price can compare to that achieved by the Mills Bomb lighter hallmarked for Deakin & Francis, Birmingham 1917 sold by Sotheby’s in March 2021 as part of the collection of the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma. It too had been estimated at £200-300 but in the heat of a ‘celebrity’ sale had sold at £12,000.