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200-year-old set of false teeth go under the hammer

The teeth will go under the hammer at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers on November 25 with an estimate of £3,000-£7,000 Credit: Hansons Auctioneers

A man who dug up a 200-year-old set of false teeth while out metal detecting says he hopes the find will be his claim to fame when they go under the hammer in Derbyshire this month.

Peter Cross has found numerous objects during his 40 years of metal detecting but says the ancient set of upper dentures, made out of gold and possibly hippo ivory, is his most interesting find to date.

The teeth will go up for auction at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers on November 25 with an estimate of £3,000-£7,000.

Peter Cross thought the false teeth were sheep's teeth when he found them. He said, “I found them in March (2019) in a field near Waterstock Mill. Though that village is in Oxfordshire, I found them on a track across the river in neighbouring Buckinghamshire."

Peter Cross says the ancient set of upper dentures, made out of gold and possibly hippo ivory, is his most interesting find to date. Credit: Hansons

“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."

“They would have belonged to a very wealthy person. They date back to between 1800 and 1850 and would have cost a fortune at the time. A dentist friend said the owner would have paid between £200 to £300 in the 1800s and that would have bought half the houses in Brill back then – a very affluent village."

“I’ve shown the teeth to many people and consulted the British Dental Association and the British Museum. Everyone’s amazed – and everyone wants to take a photo of them. They’re unique."

“I’m only aware of one other slightly similar set of false teeth and they belonged to American president George Washington and date back to the late 1700s. They’re on display in the States.”

– Peter Cross
A combination of ivory and gold have been fashioned to create the dentures, which are missing the bottom set Credit: PA

A combination of ivory and gold have been fashioned to create the dentures, which are missing the bottom set.

He added: “A dentist told me that bottom dentures would have been attached to this upper set. I’ve been back to the same area two or three times and searched a 20ft area around where I found the teeth but had no luck locating the other section. That’s because there’s no metal in the bottom section of the dentures, so it could never be found with a metal detector."

“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."

“They are white in colour to resemble real teeth while the tusk around them is brown to resemble gums. It’s very cleverly done."

“At the back of the dentures, the teeth are not so detailed but there are incised lines and cross hatchings to give the illusion of real back molars."

“On the side of the dentures is a spring attached to a circular rivet which would have been attached to lower dentures."

“The denture plate itself is made of gold and bears the initials ‘WSF’ and ‘N 435’. It’s likely the gold base would have been swaged by hand onto a plaster model of the upper jaw. The dentures were incredibly advanced for the period and an amazing find for any metal detectorist to get their teeth into.”

– Mark Becher, metal detector finds consultant at Hansons

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