I am an indentured labourer at the State Library of Western Australia. This article is made up of an amalgam of items from our collections. I have been trying to plaque up the courage to write it for some time but was concerned that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. I won’t floss over the issue of the slight decay that occurred while I investigated the collection.
The tooth hurts, but there is no point being down in the mouth for pro-mastication will get me nowhere – and who knows? – This might one day be called my crowning achievement.
One would not normally associate a dental company with glitz and glamour, but during the first half of the 19th century Perth’s major dental firm had an image of modernity and high fashion without equal in Western Australia.
The Metropolitan Dental Company was established in 1908 advertising its aim to provide affordable dental care for all, including people on lower incomes.
The State Library has a small but delightful collection of material relating to the Metropolitan Dental Company including photographs, a day book, scrapbooks, certificates, advertising mock-ups and other ephemera.
The Company was described as the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The owners were Wolf Blitz, Alfred Kaufman, and Alfred Rogers, with notable dentists such as Edgar McGillicuddy, Thomas Wilson and Albert E. Ford working for the company at various times.
The Metropolitan Dental Company advertised widely in newspapers, using the lure of a short anecdote or educational snippet followed by an invitation to use their services. In fact they made an art of the “advertorial”. Some examples of marketing gems from Trove Newspapers include:
“Aseptic Methods in Modern Dentistry” – absolutely sterile instruments…
“Deadlier than Snake Venom” – food detritus and tooth cavities.
“Mental, Physical and Moral Degeneration” – the link between juvenile delinquency and bad teeth…“Private health really means public morals”. [Yes! Really.]
A day book from 1908 lists appointments, treatment and fees charged. It is noted that Mrs Townsend of Highgate Hill had to cut short her treatment on being called away to Albany “her child having broken its collarbone”.
Included in the collection are some original artworks for advertising and for the windows of the company’s offices. A mock-up for a Neon sign is so impressively bright that one is tempted to take it into a darkened room to see if it glows.
Also in the advertising ephemera are several metal printer’s engraving plates that are wonderful works of art in their own right.
To associate an air of beauty and sophistication with a dental firm is no easy task, but the Metropolitan Dental Company achieved this by employing attractive young women to grace their colourful posters.
The full collection of photographs may be viewed here.
The Metropolitan Dental Company is just one of the private business archives in the State Library Collections. These records provide a view into a past that is so much more vibrant and interesting than we may have thought from viewing black and white photographs.
We are always pleased to hear from members of the community who may have private business records that they would like to be considered for the State Heritage Collections.