‘A Delightful Odour to the Breath’: Toothpaste in Late Nineteenth Century Toronto

Author(s): Caitlin Coleman

Year: 2014


The Bishop’s Block site (AjGu-49) in downtown Toronto contained the almost untouched foundations of four urban townhouses dated from the mid-to-late 19th century. The 2007 salvage excavation uncovered how these buildings transformed from upper middle class houses to mixed-use dwellings and working class homes by the beginning of the twentieth century. The Bishop’s Block site offers many completely intact and intriguing artifacts, one of which is a white ceramic toothpaste container. This artifact, which is labeled ‘Atkinson’s Celebrated Parisian Toothpaste’, is an excellent example of the class tensions at play in Victorian Toronto. Toothpaste has been around in a variety of forms for millennia, but commercially made and packaged toothpaste is a product of the nineteenth century. The marketing of toothpaste fed into worries about needing a bright smile, sweet breath and impeccable hygiene. Cleanliness and social acceptability became ever more intertwined, while epidemics remained a grim reality. Fear of disease combined with an increased desire to define one’s social standing through personal appearance and cleanliness created a perfect market for manufactured toothpaste.

Cite this Record

‘A Delightful Odour to the Breath’: Toothpaste in Late Nineteenth Century Toronto. Caitlin Coleman. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 436692)

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): SYM-13,04