Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Toothless...But Not Wooden

Today I was discussing portraiture with someone in my office and happened to mention that although George Washington had wooden teeth, he would put cotton in his mouth while posing for portraits (the idea was to keep his lips from sinking in over his toothless gums). I'd always thought this was odd, since couldn't the painters "throw him a bone" in the looks department and fix his mouth without props?

Anyway, said co-worker had never heard the wooden teeth thing, which I condescendingly told him was common knowledge. So you can imagine my horror when I discovered that the wooden teeth legend is apocryphal!

According to the site, Washington never had wooden teeth. He had many sets of dentures, but they were constructed of ivory and other materials. Most interesting was the set of dentures he used when first inaugurated as president in 1789 (when he had only one natural tooth left). The set had a lower base of hippopotamus ivory (?!) embedded with real human teeth (the upper part had teeth carved of regular ivory).

I sincerely hope that the human teeth were from men that Washington had himself killed (though not from British soldiers, since you can imagine what shape their teeth would be in). Sadly, the Web site could not confirm this.