Painless Promises: Business Cards of the Victorian Dentist

This collection of business cards was donated to the A.W. Ward Museum by Maurice J. Owens, DDS.

Popular in the mid to late 1800s, advertisements or “trade cards” appeared in numerous sizes and proportions, and in a variety of forms using advances in chromolithographic color printing embellished with embossing, die cutting, folding and even semitransparency. To attract customers, certain themes predominated. Then as now, pretty women, small children, cute furry animals, with a scenic landscape or bouquet of flowers occasionally thrown in, enchanted the public. The images seldom related to the services being offered, and preprinted decorative stock cards were available for businesses to customize with their specific information.

Among the Victorian era dental business (or trade) cards in this display, several offer products intended to relieve toothache. One will pull a tooth for a quarter. The most striking card has no accompanying words but features a distressed patient in a dental chair surrounded by excited relatives. It might be downright scary to the would-be client if not for the fact that they are all cats.

Reference

Croll, TP and Swanson, BZ 2006 Victorian era esthetic and restorative dentistry: an advertising trade card gallery. J Esthet Restor Dent 18:235-255.

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