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Culture:English (probably)
Title:tooth key
Date Made:ca. 1750
Materials:base metal: steel
Place Made:United Kingdom; England (probably)
Measurements:overall: 6 in x 2 3/8 in; 15.24 cm x 6.0325 cm
Accession Number:  HD 64.167
Credit Line:Gift of Mrs. Dorothy Williams Hartigan
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Steel tooth key with a folding handle used in dentistry to extract diseased teeth, which descended in the Williams family of Deerfield through the descendants of Dr. Stephen West Williams (1790-1855) of Deerfield, who was the son of Dr. William Stoddard Williams (1762-1829) and grandson of Dr. Thomas Williams (1718-1775, and married Harriet Taylor Goodhue in 1818. Harriet was the daughter of Dr. Joseph Goodhue (1762-1849) who was a doctor at Fort Constitution, N.H., and moved to Deerfield by 1822. Stephen and Harriet had four children, one of whom, Dr. Edward Jenner Williams (1823-1881), studied medicine with his father and and then moved to Laona, Illinois, where he married Orilla Nancy Webster in 1856. Two of their three sons and their daughter lived to adulthood - Dr. Henry Smith Williams (1863-1943), Dr. Edward Huntington Williams (1868-1944), and Harriet Goodhue Williams Myers (1867-1949) who wrote a privately printed book (1945), "We Three, Henry, Eddie and Me: Henry Smith Williams, Edward Huntington Williams, Harriet Williams Myers." The donor, Dorothy Williams Hartigan, was the daugher of Henry Smith Williams and Florence Whitney Williams, and first cousin of Helen Myers Curtis and her sister, Neva Myers Brown, who were the daughters of Harriet Williams Myers (see spectacle case, HD 64.168) and William Raymond Myers. According to a note in the file, Mrs. Hartigan inherited this piece "from the Williams family of doctors of Deerfield." Both Mrs. Hartigan and Mrs. Curtis gave Historic Deerfield a number of Williams/Goodhue family pieces. Before the era of antibiotics, dental extraction was often the method of choice to treat dental infections, and extraction instruments date back several centuries. The tooth key, which was also known as "Clef de Garengeot," "Fothergill-Key," "English-Key," and "Dimppel Extractor," was first mentioned in 1742, but was probably in use from about 1730. Modeled after a door key, the dental key was used by first inserting the instrument horizontally into the mouth; the small curved metal arms at the base were set around the affected tooth, and the doctor or dentist grasped the wooden handle at the top, twisting and pulling until the tooth loosened and came out. The design of the dental key evolved over the years. The original design of the key, such as this example, featured a straight shaft which exerted pressure on the tooth next to the one being extracted, often resulting in the tooth breaking, and/or causing jaw fractures and soft tissue damage. By around 1765, a straight curve was given to the previous straight shaft, which was developed into a distinct bend by Ferdinand Julius Leber (1727-1808) about 1780. Many modifications were made over the years, such as a design by the French master cutler and instrument designer Joseph-Frédéric-Benoît Charrière (1803-1876) with interchangeable claws. By the end of the 19th century, the introduction of forceps rendered the tooth key mostly obsolete. However, a modern version of the dental key, the Dimppel Extractor, briefly revitalized its use later in the 20th century.

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