eBay Tuesday: Sheffield Dentifrice Advertisement

1909 advertisement is for New London company, still in existence, which invented the modern form of toothpaste

"Welcome to New London: Birthplace of Toothpaste." Perhaps it's not the most tourism-driving slogan you can put on a sign, but you could certainly do a lot worse.

The original advertisement featured in this week's auction item is from the company that makes that claim. Offered by user okie-cowboy-2003, the 1909 ad is for "Doctor Sheffield's Creme Dentifrice," a product of the Sheffield Dentifrice Co. in New London. It touts the compression key to squeeze the tube and save the strain on your fingers, along with the fresh flavor and dental health benefits.

"The children use it without urging," the advertisement reads in part. "This fragrant antiseptic creme makes the mouth fresh, sweet, and antiseptically clean for hours after each brushing."

If the company name sounds familiar, it's because it's is still around today at the same location and still in the same trade. Sheffield Pharmaceuticals continues to manufacture toothpaste along with products such as creams and ointments.

It seems the Colgate company is usually credited for the invention of the kind of toothpaste we use today. Originally a soap producer, the company has laid claim to inventing the first modern toothpaste with Colgate Dental Cream, first sold in jars in 1873. Colgate also says in its official timeline that it introduced toothpaste in a collapsible tube in 1896.

Sheffield beats these claims by years in each case. And while Colgate at least acknowledges on its history of dental hygiene products that Creme Dentifice predates its own product, it never mentions the Sheffield name and or the fact that its introduction of toothpaste tubes was developing on a New London innovation.

Products for cleaning teeth have been a slowly evolving industry, starting with powdery mixtures of ingredients such as ash, sand, honey, or herbs. This kind of toothpaste dates back at least to the days of ancient Egypt, but the use of tooth powders continued well into the 19th century.

The Sheffield Pharmaceuticals official history proudly displays a picture of Dr. Washington Wentworth Sheffield beneath the caption "Inventor of Toothpaste." This account says Sheffield was a dental surgeon and chemist who in 1850, at the age of 23, invented the first modern toothpaste from his Broad Street laboratory. The popularity of the toothpaste led to the expansion of the laboratory as well as the development of complementary products.

The New London company also says it had the idea to transfer toothpaste from jars to the more convenient tubes, with this development coming about after Sheffield's son - Dr. Lucius Tracy Sheffield - noted the use of metal tubes for paints and inks while he was studying in France. Accounts put the year for this change at 1892 - four years before Colgate started the practice.

The advertisement is three inches by four and a quarter inches, described as being in excellent condition with little or no fading from age. The asking price is $10.99 and shipping is free. The auction ends at about 6 p.m. today.

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