Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
Engraving hand coloured on paper, 1811
Towards the end of the 18th century, people were becoming dissatisfied with ivory dentures and experiments began with porcelain and the production of "incorruptible" dentures.
The whole of the denture, teeth and gums, were made of china. In their favour they were more hygienic, however they were brittle, the colours weren’t very realistic and generally they did not fit well. They were the subject of a good deal of hilarity at the time.
People made much fun of them as depicted in this picture by Thomas Rowlandson. It shows the French dentist, Nicholas Dubois de Chemant, demonstrating his porcelain dentures on a buxom lady to a potential client who inspects them through his double lorgnette.
Nicholas Dubois de Chemant (1753-1824) was an important dentist in Paris before the revolution of 1789. He perfected the manufacture of his mineral paste, or porcelain dentures, which he claimed were an improvement on the more usual ivory teeth as they did not decay in the mouth.
Alexis Duchateau (1714-1792) invented the process in 1744, but De Chemant was able to overcome the problem of shrinkage during firing. King Louis XVI granted him an inventor’s patent. However, in 1792 he fled to England to escape the French Revolution.
On arrival in England he, was granted a 14-year patent for the exclusive manufacture of his invention and established himself in 2 Firth Street, near Soho Square, London.
The Wedgwood Company supplied him with the porcelain paste the process needed and by 1804, he claimed to have made 12,000 false teeth. It was at the height of his fame that Rowlandson completed this etching in 1811.