An “incredibly advanced” 200-year-old set of false teeth discovered by a British metal detecting-enthusiast could fetch a pretty penny at auction later this month.
Peter Cross has been finding artifacts through metal detection for the last four decades. In what has been described as an “amazing find,” the 59-year-old British bricklayer came across the upper portion of a set of dentures hand-carved from hippo or walrus ivory and gold in March of this year along a track across a local river.
“I know this sounds crazy but when I first pulled them up out of the ground, I thought they were sheep’s teeth. When I began to clean off the mud and clay, I could see there was a gold plate – and that they were human false teeth,” said Cross in a statement, adding that the false teeth were constructed between 1800 and 1850 and would have cost between £200 and £300 (about $250-$400) at the time.
The “cleverly” made false teeth are hand-carved from what is thought to be a hippo or walrus tusk with the outer layer being made to resemble gums and the interior white layer to look like human teeth. It is likely the dentures belonged to a “very wealthy person” as such materials and construction efforts would have been a costly endeavor, says Cross.
“The outer part of the dentures is made of ivory, possibly from a hippo or walrus, and would have been carved by hand. The curve of the tusk cleverly fitted the shape of the mouth,” said auction house metal detector consultant Mark Becher. “The front six teeth have retained the enamel of the tusk to give the effect of the surface of a tooth – though I doubt they’ll be in a Colgate advert anytime soon.”
One of the most famous bearers of ivory-laden dentures was George Washington, notes first president organization Mount Vernon. Contrary to popular belief, Washington’s false teeth were made of ivory that was wired to his original remaining teeth – not wood as later legend would have it. (Fun fact: when Washington was inaugurated in 1789, he had just one real tooth remaining in his mouth.)
Today, dentures are generally made from resin or porcelain but centuries ago, the British Dental Association notes that false teeth were traditionally carved from elephant, walrus, or preferably hippo ivory. Dentures were generally made by technical workers, such as clock or watchmakers, rather than medical professionals. As such, the teeth themselves were roughly made and were difficult to both fit properly for the mouth and keep in place. Upper sets were normally horseshoe-shaped and were attached to a lower, weighted set by a set of springs that would help keep the upper set in place, similar to a spring found on the recently found teeth.
“On the side of the dentures is a spring attached to a circular rivet which would have been attached to lower dentures,” explained Becher, adding that the denture plate bears the unidentified initials “WSF” and “N 435.” It is not known who the false teeth belonged to or when they were lost.
The dentures will be sold at auction on November 25 at Hansons. The dentures are expected to fetch between £3,000 and £7,000 (approximately $3,800 and $9,000), half of which will be given to the landowner and a quarter each to Cross and his colleague.