The Dunhill Rollalite petrol lighter has some advantages over your typical vintage cigarette lighter.
The iconic Dunhill name has a reputation for quality, well-made cigarette lighters and other smoking implements. The company’s origin can be traced to Alfred Dunhill opening his first tobacco shop in London in 1907. Over time, Dunhill was responsible for some of the finest petrol, as well as butane lighters in vogue with discerning smokers the world over.
Early Dunhill lighters were produced in a variety of finishes, including enameled and precious metals. There were watch and aquarium motif lighters and both of these models bring a premium when offered for sale on public auction sites such as Ebay.
Popular Dunhill models include Unique, Savory, Tallboy & Rollagas, among others. Vintage Dunhill lighters constructed of precious metals will obviously tend to fetch higher prices but there are other considerations that can increase the value of an otherwise ordinary lighter.
The Rollalite petrol lighter is not alone among Dunhill’s catalog in regard to quality workmanship and reliable function but it does stand out in my mind for its classic appeal and overall ease of use.
Most Dunhill Rollalite’s were manufactured from brass and then plated with chrome, silver or gold. Various engine turned designs were available as well as plain models that featured engraved initials.
There was the Standard Rollalite that stood a shade over two and a half inches and the Small Rollalite that was just a little more than 2 inches. On a personal note, I’m not a huge fan of the Small Rollalite. I have short, somewhat fat fingers and it just feels clumsy in my hand. The Standard Rollalite, by way of comparison, feels perfectly weighted and seems to be an extension of the operating hand.
There were Rollalites with watches and also table models with a base.
Solid gold and sterling silver models were made and are highly sought after by today’s collectors. I can’t recall ever having seen a Rollalite petrol lighter with an enameled finish.
One thing that turns off many modern smokers in regard to using petrol lighters is they need to be refilled relatively often. To some degree, you’re just going to have to live with wasted fuel when using a vintage cigarette lighter but some are definitely worse than others.
This can occur with more “open” fuel storage systems(mainly the insert or Zippo type) but it’s not really an issue with the Dunhill Rollalite, with its closed tank system. When you refuel a Dunhill Rollalite, you can be assured, that fuel is not going to evaporate from the lighter in a few short days, as some others seem to do.
I have written here about the waste of disposable lighters and it’s not just the plastic. How many times have you actually drained a disposable lighter of all its fluid? Personally, I usually lose them before progressing that far. Maybe you are more responsible than I but my point is there is waste either way you go. So, why not opt for the option that is less damaging to the environment?
Concerning the need to constantly refill, once you’ve invested in a can of fuel and refilled a few lighters, it’s simple enough to come up with a rotation of lighters so you’ve always got one full. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself with a new hobby and will have forgotten all about the chore of refilling lighters.
To replace the flint in a Rollalite, one need to only depress the spring release lever with the end of a fingernail and work it backward. This will allow the flint carriage to swing to the outside of the lighter and permit insertion of a fresh flint. This system is much more efficient than those using long springs administered from the bottom of the lighter. In the case that old flint has degraded or expanded, these flint carriages are generally easier to clear and much more accessible than your average bottom flint tube.
When rewicking a Rollalite, I use an old Ronson packaged wick or the IMCO wire lead type wicks. Either seems to work fine, though I have developed a method of insertion that I believe simplifies the process and generally leads to fewer headaches.
The Rollalite also features a barreled hinge which provides more than enough strength to keep even the grimiest and most abused of specimens relatively straight. The spring influenced hinge snaps open or closed with purpose. Fill screws usually contain a hidden compartment on the inside that’s made to hold a spare flint.
As I’ve said before, there’s nothing cool about plastic. Carrying a plastic lighter will not set you apart from your contemporaries. A Dunhill lighter, on the other hand, and a Rollalite to be precise says something to those around you. Sort of like wearing a Rolex or a pair of Dan Post boots.
Every Smoker Has A Favorite Lighter
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DependableFlame.com was created out of a desire to highlight, promote and shed further light on the hobby and business of collecting, repairing, restoring and selling vintage cigarette lighters, along with ashtrays, tobacciana and other useful mechanisms. Articles cover lighter repair, selling on Ebay and sometimes, some things you might want to use a lighter to do.
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18 thoughts on “Dunhill Rollalite Petrol Lighter: An Elegant, Reliable Classic”
I liked reading about the history of the Dunhill lighters. It’s very interesting. I remember my aunt and uncle using beautiful lighters (they’re both smokers). My grandfather also had those really old lighters, just beautiful. I have no idea what happened to them …
Although I don’t smoke, I would love to have one, perhaps the bigger model. I understand how someone would like to collect them, they truly make a great collection.
Thank you for your comments, Christine. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. These old lighters truly are works of art.
I have one of the Shanghai silver dragon inscribed lighters missing the fuel caps. Do you have any idea where I might find one to purchase?
Thank you so much for your time,
You’re most likely to turn one up doing a search of Ebay listings and keeping your eyes glued to the listings in that search result. You can find several links to Ebay here.✌️
Thanks for the really cool post. These look like beautiful lighters. Whenever I come across some vintage lighters, I’m always impressed how much detail and craftsmanship went into them. I had found a few in my attic a couple years back and ended up selling them because I had no real practical use for them. I wish I had kept them looking back, even if I wouldn’t have used them. You just can’t find things made with the same quality today. Thanks again.
Thank you, Dan and I’m glad you liked the post. The single, most intriguing part of my job is discovering some mechanism, heretofore unknown to me, and figuring out how it works and, most of the time, how to fix it. It’s a job I was born to do.
Wow, I am a cretin. I didn’t know about the spare flint. I found a very nice gold plated Rollalite two years ago at a flea market for forty dollars with box and instructions. The instructions don’t mention the flint. Of course the spare flint I just found in mine was swollen and I had to dig it out with a small screwdriver. There is very little info about Rollalites out there. Thank you.
Thank you, P.L. for reading the article, I’m glad you learned something from it. The Rollalite is at the top of my list of favorites for its reliablity and style. I love the way it feels in my hand. That extra flint compartment is one of those cool, secret “easter eggs” that some old lighters have built into them.
Hi. Ok, so how do you rewick the rollalite? Does that serve as a flame adjustment or is there a way to manually do that—my flame’s low. Thanks.
Thank you for the question, Nicholas. Petrol Lighter flames are not adjustable like the butane flames you may be accustomed to. You can manipulate the flame somewhat through bending or shortening the wick and experience with a particular petrol lighter will train you how to groom your wick and keep the lighter fueled to operate as intended. To rewick the Rollalite, start with this article and accompanying video.
Great article. Didn’t know about the extra flint in the fill screw! I have a sterling silver Rollalite wick lighter (925) that is missing the fill screw. I remember that it had “Dunhill….London” engraved on either side of the channel (for a screwdriver). Can you tell me if it is possible to find one so I can use the lighter again? thanks
Thank you for the question, Polly. The best advice I can give would be to stake out Ebay listings that contain the term Dunhill and any variations thereof. You can also befriend other collectors, such as the folks at OTLS and Facebook groups for vintage lighter collectors.✌️
Very cool and informative article.
I started collecting dunhill lighters because my mom had one. Have around 10 of them now.
Now I finally acquired a mini auto rollalite, was a great deal, only 50€ 🙂
But the flame is very small, the wick is also very short. I’ve tried to pull the wick out with a tweezer, but it feels stuck… Am I missing something?
Ive watched your other video about replacing wicks, it looks like I should be able to pull it out, but sadly it won’t.
Thanks in advance!
If the wadding is packed in the tank too tight then you may have to unpack and rewick and repack the wadding. This video is not an identical lighter but should help with the basics for your project.
Hi, I recently came into possession of a Dunhill Rollalite after my father died (his father’s lighter). I remember it being part of his life until he gave up smoking in the 90s at some point. It really is a thing of beauty and the level of craftsmanship is incredible, possibly silver plated, with my grandfather’s name (the same as mine) and the inscription’Posadas 1567’ which is an address in Buenos Aires which was also an address that Juan and Evita Peron lived at for a while. Just a bit of background but my question is, how do I date it? Many thanks in advance.
I’m not an expert on dating them but I think most were made in the 1940s and ’50s.✌️
Hello, do you know what year Dunhill introduced the Rollalite? Was it possible for an officer in WWII to have had one? Thanks.
Thanks for the question Greg! The Volker Putz online museum lists several Rollalites as circa 1940 so I think it is possible.✌️