You can now listen to Antigua News articles!
by Mick the Ram
In what an auction house director described as being “among the most unusual items” they had ever sold, a set of false teeth that were owned by Sir Winston Churchill, have been sold for an extraordinary price of £18,000.
The actual winning bid for the gold-mounted gnashers was £23,184, with premiums included, and took place at the Cotswold Auction Company, in Cheltenham,
The successful bid was considerably higher than the guide price of £8,000 and came from a UK collector, who was bidding online.
The famous wartime leader had problems throughout his lifetime with his teeth, losing many in his early twenties. This particular set is believed to be one of three or four that were identical and were crafted by Mr Churchill’s dentist, Sir Wilfred Fish and his team.
The dentures would have been worn throughout much of the second world war when the great man made many of his renowned speeches, including probably his most famous address to the nation: “We shall fight them on the beaches”.
When Mr Churchill was just sixteen and still a public schoolboy at Harrow, his mother apparently complained about how much money was being spent on his dental bills. Later he suffered from severe pain in his gums and was constantly tormented by agonising toothache, which often developed into abscesses and could make his face swell to almost twice its normal size.
He also had painful wisdom teeth extracted. Comically, Sir Winston was said to prefer to have brandy instead of mouthwash when he visited the dentist, along with two cigars.
“Fishing” for the right fit
The revered premier had the false teeth specifically made to preserve his natural lisp and were considered so important he carried two sets with him at all times throughout the war years.
He enlisted the help of the man regarded as the most acclaimed dentist of his generation – Sir Wilfred Fish. Assisted by his able technician, Mr Derek Cudlipp, they designed and crafted several sets of soft fitting dentures, which became essential to Sir Winston’s daily routines.
Letters that have previously been sold at auction, revealed that the greatest fear of Britain’s wartime commander was losing his ability to speak, as a result of the many problems he encountered with his teeth.
Public speaking was recognised as one of Mr Churchill’s most powerful attributes, so it was vital that his replacement teeth were of such quality that they allowed him to conduct his addresses free of discomfort.
Mr Cudlipp’s son, Nigel, recalled his father saying that he could always tell how the war was going from the distance Winston hurled the teeth! Adding: “They were prone to breaking, especially when Mr Churchill got a bit angry.”
Part of collection
The false teeth in question had been auctioned previously and had been bought by a Gloucestershire-based collector named George Ridgeon, who had included the dentures as part of a collection of memorabilia brought to the Cheltenham auction.
Mr Ridgeon’s collection included a range of historical pieces, with one of them being a microphone, reputedly used by Churchill on VE Day to announce the end of World War Two, which sold for £11,500, plus buyer’s premium.
Director of the Cotswold Auction Company, Liz Poole said “We were absolutely delighted with the international interest in the sale of Churchill’s false teeth and other memorabilia, which included phone bids from collectors in the United States and UK.”
Ms Poole added: “The story generated global media coverage and featured in the news as far away as Canada, the US and Poland,” before quipping: “The buyer has snapped up a unique piece of our country’s history.”
An “honour” to wear them
After the war and into his last term as Prime Minister, Sir Winston displayed his admiration and appreciation for his trusted dentist, when he sent a personal letter to the then Mr Fish, confirming he had been nominated for a knighthood.
He wrote: “I am very glad it fell to me to recommend you for a well-deserved honour”. Then, having covered the formal duty, he proceeded to explain that he was enclosing a set of his false teeth for repair. “I should be so much obliged if you would tighten them up a little for me. The others are working very well.”
One of the sets made by Sir Wilfred, along with the one sold at the auction, are thought to be buried with the great man himself at St Martin’s church, Bladon, just outside Blenheim Palace grounds.