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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2019 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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.TSITNED: 1919

.TSITNED: 1919

Washington, D.C., circa 1919. "S.B. Johnston, Dentist; interior." The premises last glimpsed here and here; Dr. J. was evidently a member of the U-Md. dental college Class of 1911. National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.

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Little Shelf of Horrors

On the window sill, in amongst the frightening assortment of false teeth and tools of the trade, appears to be a bottle of carbolic salve, a common pain medication of the era. Those interested in experiencing dentistry of the past could purchase some "J.R. Watkins Petro-Carbo Salve", still available on Amazon and elsewhere, and ask their dentist to use that instead of novocaine. Recommended only for the most masochistic of patients.

Period Dentistry

I'm sure Dr. Johnston spared no pains when treating his patients.


Even with all the modern dental technology, new methods of sanitation and more efficient instruments, removing a single deeply-rooted tooth (from the lower back of a patients's mouth for example) still requires lots of novicaine, the dentist's brute strength and a pair of pliers. Just think happy thoughts.


Perhaps surprising to some, many of the basic instruments (the first thing you learn in dental school is they are not tools!) are still in use in most dental offices today. Today's offices are a interesting mix of 100-year-old instruments along with lasers and in office cad/cam abilities. By the way, the bulbous thingy on the chair tray gives the dentist ( pre-air compressor times) a way to blow tooth dust and/or excess amalgam off the tooth being treated. The Caulk company box by the window is still a major supplier to dentists.

Get some light on the subject

Note the need to face the window to get enough light on the subject. Trying to see inside someone's mouth with a feeble 1919 electric lightbulb in the ceiling can't have been easy. How they did it by gaslight I don't know. This may be why other Shorpy examples of 'Painless Potter' are situated on the higher floors of buildings.

What's the point of a steriliser

if you lay all the instruments out on the window sill?


How reassuring.

Medical Instruments

from the late Steam Punk era always look so much more sinister than modern ones--almost looks like a trocar hanging in front of the window and those clamps and scissors, ugh!


I remember chairs and setups such as this when living in the Philippines 50 years ago. Would have been a tad bit more sanitary with the instruments on a tray or table next to the chair. My father would tell other horror stories about pedal powered drills. At least I did not have to go thru that.

I prefer not to know

What is spattered all over the wainscoting ?

Spattered with... blood??

The wall seems to be splattered with something. You might think the dentist would clean it.

Overall, this looks like a chamber of horrors, compared to a modern dentist's office, where the instruments of torture are kept (mostly) out of sight.


You can see the scuff marks on the wall from flaying feet during a procedure -- last patient "I'm outta here!"

Of Course

It would be 'Painless' I presume.


A case could be made for YPROHS instead of SHORPY to have been engrained onto this image, given the title chosen by Shorpy.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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