17 Dec 2008
It is snowing this morning in Norwich but this is not a blog about the cold weather it is a blog about the insurance of teeth, specifically false teeth.
I have been looking through some copy policy registers of one of our smaller constituent companies, Scottish Imperial Insurance Company, and enjoying the lists of occupations given by the insured. These range from the usual merchants, joiners, surgeons, teachers and accountants to the rarer jugglers, hosiery cardboard manufacturers and stevedores.
I have wondered aloud about the job of "sack contractor" given as the occupation of John George Smith in 1874 and the odd combination of occupations given by William Phillips, Manure and Seed Merchant and Accountant of Camborne. However, this blog was inspired by William Birkett of Bow London who, when he took out his insurance in 1906, described himself as a toothmaker. His occupation reminded me of a number of toothy tales I have come across in old staff magazines and advertisements, some of which I have gathered together to share with you.
The first is a letter from a customer in the North of Tweed sent to the fire department of the British General Insurance Company and reproduced in their magazine of April 1931.
"Dear Sir, Just a note to ask you if you think I could get anything off the fire insurance for my teeth? I got out all my teeth lately, and I had my top set before, except my two eye teeth, and since I got them out, my top seam would not stay up to eat my dinner with, so when I was taking my dinner on Thursday, I laid them on my paper, and when I finished I just rolled up the paper and threw it in the fire.
"Before I noticed, they were too far gone. I got 10 of the teeth and took them to the dentist, but he said they were all useless, so that is £3 3s up the lum (chimney). So if you think I could get anything, you will, maybe, let me know. And Oblige, Yours faithfully."
It seems that false teeth should perhaps have been put in a high risk category as far as insurance was concerned given the perils to which they were evidently exposed. The British General magazine does not relate the outcome of the claim above but the Northern Assurance staff magazine of Christmas 1930 records the fact that that company had paid out a fire loss claim on a set of teeth " which a dear old lady sneezed into her drawing room fire ."
In the same issue the contributors discussed whether a firm could claim under the workmen's compensation act for the loss of a workman's false teeth which, while performing his duty, had fallen into a pot of molten metal, again as the result of sneezing.
The teeth themselves could also be the cause of accidents and the same snappy issue of the Northern staff magazine refers to a claim made by one man under a personal accident policy for injury caused through sitting down and being bitten by his own spare set of false teeth which he kept in his hip pocket.
Of course some sets of false teeth are worth considerably more than £3 3 shillings and in 1979 General Accident proudly recorded the fact that, along with the FA cup, the company had also insured a set of solid gold dentures. These were made in London for a sheik who had been measured for them while on a visit there. When the teeth were ready for collection a member of the sheik's staff was sent for them and took them straight to the General Accident Marine Department to request cover of a " valuable personal item in transit ".
A last minute entry to this dental blog turned up while I was researching the family history of one of our Australian General Managers. According to the Autumn 1972 issue of the magazine General Notes, produced for staff of General Accident in Australia, " a client came in and wanted to insure a bridge so the counter clerk politely asked the construction and suggested cover for Contractors All Risk and Public liability. The client replied I think you have misunderstood - what I want insured is a bridge - a new dental plate! "