Calder’s Dentine, usually called Calder’s Saponaceous Dentine, was a tooth powder developed by Providence, Rhode Island native Albert L. Calder. Although it was comprised of nothing more than chalk (56%) and soap (44%) flavored with wintergreen, it became popular in the 1860’s and was sold well into the 1920’s. According to Merriam-Webster the word saponaceous is based on the Latin word “sapo,” meaning soap.
Weeks & Potters Revised Catalog of Foreign and Domestic Drugs, published in 1879, included an advertisement promoting it “for cleansing, preserving and beautifying the teeth.” The advertisement went on to deliver much the same message as today’s toothpaste manufacturers.
This agreeable and efficacious Tooth Powder, established by more than twenty years experience, has received the sanction of the members of the Dental and Medical profession generally, and by them it is daily recommended and prescribed. It is as pleasant in the application as it is excellent in its effects; it speedily renders the teeth white and smooth, the gums healthful, red and firm; and by frequent use will preserve them in this desirable condition. It gradually but effectively removes tartar, and destroys the parasitical animalcule which neglect may have permitted to collect and prevents their further accumulation, thus serving as a complete beautifier and preserver of the teeth.
Another early advertisement, this one printed in the June 10, 1872 edition of Davenport Iowa’s Quad-City Times sent the same message but a little more succinctly:
Everyone having teeth and wishing to keep them should use Calder’s Dentine. Sold everywhere.
According to Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island, Vol 2, published in 1908, Albert L. Calder was born and raised in Providence Rhode Island and spent some time in Boston before returning to Providence for good in 1850. At that time:
He engaged in the apothecary business with his brother George B. Calder, this arrangement continuing from February 1851, until June, 1853. In the latter year the store which stood on Westminster Street, where is now Dorrance Street, was burned out in a disastrous conflagration. Mr. Calder at once bought the lease of the (nearby) lot on Westminster Street where the new part of the Journal office is now located, erected a building for his business purposes, and continued there until he sold out in 1885, to retire from the apothecary business, in order to give his special attention to the manufacture of Calder’s Dentine, a proprietary article which was well and favorably known throughout the country.
Information in the Providence city directories supports and adds to the above narrative. Calder’s, initial apothecary was listed in both the 1852 and 1853 directories at 151 Westminster Street. His brother George Calder was listed as a clerk at the same address. After the fire caused Calder to relocate in 1854, his new address was listed as 161 Westminster Street. At this point he was the sole proprietor of the business, his brother George having started his own apothecary business at 21 Westminster Street under the name Chambers & Calder.
Albert Calder remained at 161 Westminster Street through 1886. Although later advertisements mention that Calder’s Saponaceous Dentine had been manufactured since 1850, it was during this time that the product apparently gained prominence. This is evidenced by Calder’s annual advertisement in the Providence City Directory
As late as 1866, Calder focused on his retail pharmacy business that in addition to medicines also included perfumes, soda water, cigars and artists materials. There was no mention of Calder’s Dentine.
It wasn’t until 1867 that he even mentioned in small font that he was the “sole proprietor of Calder’s Saponaceous Dentine.”
Several years later, in 1870, the product had achieved much greater visibility.
It was some time in late 1885 or early 1886 that he gave up the retail portion of his business, selling the pharmacy to two local druggists. The sale was announced in an April 15, 1886 news item in the Pharmaceutical Record.
Mr. A. L. Calder of Providence R. I. has sold his well known pharmacy on Westminster Street to Harvey I. Leith and E. C. Danforth, both pharmacists of excellent repute of that city. The new firm is Leith & Danforth, and they will certainly receive, from all who know them, congratulations and good wishes in their new home and for great business prosperity.
Calder proceeded to construct his new office and laboratory for the manufacture of Calder’s Dentine at 181-183 North Main Street in Providence where it was first listed in 1887.
In 1890, Albert Calder’s son, Charles Albert Calder, joined the business. His biographical profile also contained in Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island, stated:
In 1890 he became interested with his father in the manufacture of Calder’s Dentine, and upon his father’s death succeeded him in that business.
Albert’s death occurred on May 24, 1899 after which Charles was listed as “manager”at the North Main Street address up through 1906 or 1907. The 1908 directory stated that Charles A. Calder had removed to Diamond Hill so it appears that he was no longer associated with the business by then.
On January 14, 1908 the Albert L Calder Company incorporated and a year later, on January 5, 1909, a new company, the Calder Dentine Company, was also incorporated. The relationship between the two corporations was described in the 1910 Providence City Directory listing.
CALDER DENTINE CO. The lessees of The Albert L. Calder Co., dentine and toilet articles. 183 North Main.
The accompanying advertisement in the directory simply mentioned the Calder Dentine Co.
Sometime during this period the business apparently formed an association with Samuel Everett, founder of Everett & Barron, a large shoe polish manufacturer. In 1912 both firms were utilizing the same address, 217 Canal Street and according to the 1915 edition of “Who’s Who in New England Samuel Everett was serving as president and treasurer of both Everett & Barron and the Calder Dentine Co.
Both companies listed 217 Canal Street as their address up through the late teens. At times the Calder Dentine Co. also listed 181-183 North Main as another address so it’s likely that they maintained their manufacturing facilities at that location.
In the early 1920’s both companies relocated to 359 Eddy Street, also in Providence. The Calder Dentine Company remained listed there until the mid 1930’s but the product itself disappeared from newspaper advertised drug store price lists by the mid-1920’s. Everett & Barron was still listed in the Providence directories well into the 1960’s.
Over the course of its history Calder’s Dentine was sold in 25 cent and 50 cent sizes. Smaller 10 cent sample sizes were also available. The bottle I found is a small mouth blown jar, two inches in diameter and three inches high. It matches the smaller of the two bottles shown in this October, 1900 advertisement published in Parsons Magazine suggesting it was the 25 cent size.
A labeled example of the 25 cents size that recently appeared for sale on the internet is pictured below.
This 1901 Cosmopolitan advertisement indicated that if you were looking to purchase a bottle you had to look for it packaged in a paper wrapper.
Finally, in addition to being available in bottles, this 1907 Life Magazine advertisement stated that Calder’s Dentine was also sold in metal containers. A metal example also recently appeared on the internet.