Gold plated 'hippo ivory' dentures discovered by Brill metal detectorist set to fetch thousands at auction
A set of gold plated 'hippo ivory' dentures which were discovered by a metal detectorist from Brill are set to make up to £7,000 at auction.
Peter Cross, 59, who is bricklayer by trade, has found many unusual 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.
And on November 25 the dentures, which were found near Waterstock Mill, will go on sale at Hansons auctioneers in Derbyshire, and are expected to make up to £7,000.
The proceeds will be split with 50% going to the landowner and 25% each to Mr Cross and fellow metal detectorist Diana Wild who was with him when he made the discovery.
Mr Cross, who made the find in March this year, said: “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.”
A combination of ivory and gold have been fashioned to create the hardy dentures, but sadly the the bottom set is missing, possibly soon to be found by another lucky metal detectorist.
Mr Cross said: “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.
Mark Becher, metal detector finds consultant at Hansons, said: “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.
“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.
“But 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.”
Since the find Mr Cross has attempted to find out if the initials WSF relate to anyone who used to live in the village, but to date his research has turned up no results.
He said: “Whoever they belonged to probably dropped them by accident, I found them on ground where there is slight incline. If he was riding a horse they could have fallen out of his pocket. At that time people didn’t wear false teeth all the time – they just popped them in when they were eating.
“It’s difficult to value the teeth because they are unique but dental experts tell me they’re potentially very valuable and should be in a museum. Everyone has a claim to fame and I’d like to think this is mine.”
The false teeth will be sold on November 25 at a Historica and Metal Detecting Finds Auction at
Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, DE65 6LS.
To arrange a free valuation or find out more,
email: [email protected]