A Delightful Odor to the Breath: Toothpaste in Nineteenth-Century Toronto

International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 20 no. 4 (2016)
Caitlin Coleman
International Journal of Historical Archaeology

The Bishop’s Block site in downtown Toronto contained the foundations of four townhouses constructed between the 1830s and 1860s, which were occupied as private residences into the early twentieth century. From this site came a ceramic container of “Atkinson’s Celebrated Parisian Toothpaste,” a commercially prepared product developed in the late 1850s to appeal to people worried about having a bright smile, sweet breath, and impeccable hygiene. Cleanliness and social acceptability became ever more intertwined during the Victorian era, while epidemics remained a grim reality. In this context we see toothpaste transform from a product used by a narrow segment of the population at the beginning of the nineteenth century into a more widely adopted badge of cleanliness at the close of the nineteenth century.