Oscar Wilde’s false teeth were kept by a hotelier – but the family didn’t want them back

An Irishwoman’s diary: One person’s gruesome keepsake is another person’s priceless memorabilia

You probably don’t spend too much time thinking about Oscar Wilde’s teeth. And I wouldn’t blame you. There are no photos of him flashing his pearly whites – perhaps because his teeth were neither pearly nor particularly white. While the writer is remembered for his style, his teeth embarrassed him and were variously described as decayed, long, protrusive and with a green or black hue. His maxim that he could resist everything except temptation might partially explain the tooth decay.

In fairness to Wilde, dental practices had a long way to go in the 1800s and most people were probably walking around with teeth that looked like rows of crooked tombstones. We do know, however, that he did something about it because when he died in 1900, he owned a set of false teeth.

I discovered this when I stumbled across claims that his funeral had been faked. The rumour was still circulating 20 years after his death, according to a blog by Rose Staveley-Wadham on the British Newspaper Archive website. She points to a 1927 article in the Dundee Evening Telegraph which said the rumour suggested he had staged his death “to escape calumny and has since been living the life of a recluse in a Paris suburb”.

The conspiracy theorists believed he had induced a sculptor friend to make up a fake body and with the help of a doctor, he escaped. And just like Elvis, he was sighted all over the place. Those who reported seeing him in Paris described a “paunchy old man, grave and bearded”, which suggests that faking your own death is not good for the ageing process.


Anyway, the Dundee Evening Telegraph firmly laid the rumour to rest by contacting Jean Dupoirier, who owned Hotel D’Alsace, where the writer died. He had been living there for more than a year, despite being somewhat erratic in the payment of his bills. The genial hotelier cared for Wilde in the last days of his life and firmly denied the story of the fake funeral. “Wilde died in my arms,” he told the newspaper, adding helpfully: “I have his false teeth as a memento.”

He also had an umbrella, which he subsequently lost, a shirt and two trunks of books and magazines. The false teeth were the oddest keepsake, though. Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, later wrote that the hotelier’s daughter offered the shirt and the dentures to his mother and while she accepted the shirt, she turned down the teeth on the grounds that they were too gruesome.

One person’s gruesome keepsake is another person’s priceless memorabilia. That explains why a set of Winston Churchill’s false teeth were sold for £15,200 in 2010. While the former British prime minister might have been famously against surrendering, his teeth were not as tenacious. They surrendered to decay early in life and he had many dental problems.

“These are the teeth that saved the world,” Jane Hughes, of the Royal College of Surgeons’ museum, dramatically told the Guardian when discussing Churchill’s dentures in 2010.

What the winning bidder did with the world-saving teeth is anyone’s guess. It’s safe to say they did not end up in a large jar, sitting in the window of Anthony O’Halloran’s Dental Laboratory in Limerick city. The jar, offering second hand false teeth for sale, has made many people stop in their tracks since it first appeared more than a decade ago.

When he featured on Ronan Kelly’s Ireland YouTube series many years ago, Anthony O’Halloran explained that they weren’t actually for sale – a customer had brought the old dentures into the shop so he displayed them for fun. Clearly a man with a gift of the gob, he said the jar of teeth drew more tourists than King John’s Castle. “The Chinese absolutely adore it. They’d be bursting their sides laughing at it.”

When I recently checked in with him to see if the jar was still on display, he said it was the best thing that had ever happened to him. “I call it my silent salesman. It’s incredible what it’s done for my business. A man once told me if you don’t advertise, it’s like winking at a woman in the dark,” he said. “No point in that.”

So, business is good? “I can’t complain,” he said. “I’m eating ham instead of jam.”

He still delights in seeing people laugh when they spot the jar of teeth. “If I never did anything decent in the world, I put that out there and made people smile. You can’t put a value on a smile.”

Now, there’s a sentiment Oscar Wilde would definitely agree with.