Papier mache horse gnashers prove a popular exhibit

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The collection of papier mache horse teeth commissioned for use by the French cavalry. Photo: Whipple Museum/CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
The collection of papier mache horse teeth commissioned for use by the French cavalry. Photo: Whipple Museum/CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

A rare collection of 29 papier mache models of horses’ teeth will take centre-stage this week as one of the stars of Cambridge University’s Whipple Museum of the History of Science.

The teeth were made in France by Louis Auzoux in the 1800s.

He first made papier-mache human medical models as teaching aids during an era when corpses for dissection were scarce.

To get around the shortage, he produced accurate anatomical models that could be taken apart piece by piece.

With financial support from the French state, Auzoux founded a factory for producing anatomical models. The models became a commercial success and were used by schools, universities and hospitals, as well as by private individuals who could rent the models at low cost.

Responding to changing trends in scientific research and education, the company branched out and began producing models of human embryos, animals and plants.

The Whipple’s set of horse teeth is now an extremely rare example of the sort that were sold in the 1840s for £10.

The specially designed wooden case opens out to reveal four rows of spaces for sets on each side. A hinged wooden flap holds the teeth in place.

It still has 29 of the original 31 pairs of jaws and their original labels, showing horses of different ages and condition, including examples of teeth filed down by dealers to disguise their true age, and teeth damaged by “crib biting” on the timber of its stall.

They were commissioned from Auzoux to help the French cavalry regiments choose good horses, but were also pressed into use for the training of veterinary students.

The horses’ teeth are on display in the main gallery of the Whipple Museum. The horse teeth have proved to be popular with museum visitors over the years.

Picture sourced from Whipple Museum.

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