Tooth bottle?
February 28, 2015 12:15 AM   Subscribe

In Code of the Woosters (PG Wodehouse), reference is made to a "tooth bottle," apparently containing liquor. Anyone have any idea what a "tooth bottle" might be?
posted by words1 to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Random guess: liquor to soothe a toothache? I know this is a tried and true method, rubbing it on the affected area.
posted by RainyJay at 12:39 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Enid Bagnold, the author of National Velvet, used the same term several times to describe a container of wine in something from the same decade. So you can at least rule out Wodehousian wordplay. But I don't see tooth-bottle among the many tooth- things listed in the OED2. My wild, wild speculation would be that perhaps it's an oblique reference to the shape of an easy-to-use stopper on a bottle that gets re-used to store open wine. I don't even know that anyone ever did that, but googling wine stoppers, I see they have a toothy shape, and it might be convenient to buy just one bottle for that purpose rather than plug up every new bottle. It would make sense in the context of these two stories as well, because it sounds like it's alcohol that's just on-hand.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:54 AM on February 28, 2015

The indentations on crown cork bottle caps are actually called teeth. But those are more for beer than liquor, I think.
posted by Leon at 2:41 AM on February 28, 2015

A bottle of toothpowder (pre-toothpaste) is a pretty common item for a gentleman's dressing/washing kit. If you google image search them, they're usually slightly dinky little bottles - which would make sense of Mons. Caution's link to the Alice & Thomas book where it's clearly a small portion.
posted by AFII at 2:42 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

From Albert Christian Revi's American Pressed Glass & Figure Bottles (Nelson, 1964, p. 368):
Tooth Bottle

On July 16, 1895, John H. Gault of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, patented a tooth-shaped bottle with a representation of a full set of teeth on the sides of the bottle. John H. Gault's "Tooth Bottle" (1.)
May be irrelevant, but I thought I'd put it out there. I also found a couple of references to a "mammoth-tooth bottle": "Plate 1020, despite being made of a truly ugly material, a portion of the tooth of a mammoth..."
posted by languagehat at 6:36 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like a bottle ostensibly containing water for brushing one's teeth. For situations where there is no ready access to tapwater.
posted by Grunyon at 6:42 AM on February 28, 2015

I'm with Monsieur Caution in that I think it refers to a bottle (carafe/decanter) with a glass stopper that could hold wine, port, sherry, brandy or liqueur. (In our house, it held creme de menthe *shudder*). I've seen both smooth and toothed stoppers, but, alas, can't Google anything to back this up.
posted by maudlin at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

This being Wodehouse, I would guess that it's a pun related to the definition of "nip" that means "a small quantity of liquor or a small bottle of liquor."
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:28 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sadly, the otherwise illuminating collected annotations hosted by Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums remain silent on the matter.
posted by zamboni at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2015

A possibility is that it was a bottle literally carved from a fossilized tooth. They seem to mostly have been used for snuff, but such an object would be likely found in the upper classes and perhaps big enough to hold a nip.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2015

In context (GoogleBooks link here), I think Wodehouse is referring to a small bottle with maybe only a few ounces of liquor in it.

The scenario is Bertie Wooster is talking to his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle, who is distraught. Gussie says he needs a drink, Bertie says the tooth-bottle is at his elbow, after Gussie's had a drink Bertie offers "a go at the jug", and Gussie declines this, saying he's had enough for the moment.

Blue Jello Elf may be on to something with the idea that Wodehouse is playing off "nip".

Other Googling suggests that tooth powder and other dental care products of the time came in glass bottles about the size of a flask (say 4 inches high by 2 inches wide) - so maybe he's referring to such a bottle re-purposed to carry booze (with some level of plausible deniability; "No, Aunt Agatha, it's medicine for my toothache, not whiskey, I'd never bring whiskey to the opera!") or Bertie is just playing off the idea that a hip flask and a bottle of tooth powder are about the same size and shape.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

(.... like I said above, I'm about 99% sure it's a toothpowder bottle - right for small nips as people here have pointed out; it could be a tooth-ache medicine bottle, but since that would already contain alcohol, and possibly quite a lot of other exciting substances, re-filling it with wine or brandy would rather dilute its strength than make it a secret snifter).
posted by AFII at 12:12 PM on February 28, 2015

I've seen "tooth glass" used in books of a similar vintage, referring to the sort of plain glass tumbler you use to hold your brush and to rinse afterwards, so I'm voting strongly for a bottle used for keeping either toothpowder, or other dental stuff. Etsy turned up a lot of very likely looking specimans under "dentistl bottle" - I wonder if spirits were available in England in those flat flask bottles they are now? I *think* in sort of upper class homes, spirits were bought and immediately decanted into fancy bottles from which they were served. Because those flat dental bottles look super handy for smuggling small amounts of drink around, and would be a convenient bottle to slip in your pocket on the way to the drawing room and to fill up with purloined brandy or whatever, for later.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 12:48 AM on March 1, 2015

Wow. Thanks to everyone. I guess we're still short of a definitive answer, but it does seem that a "tooth bottle" is a small bottle containing spirits or wine, and has some connection to a small bottle or glass either containing tooth powder or used to store personal dental implements. My guess is that the connection is one of resemblance, not re-purposing, given the demographics of Wodehouse stories.

Thanks again!
posted by words1 at 3:41 PM on March 2, 2015

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