Davis Turnkey

Middle Island Mail

January 17, 1936

Yaphank Man’s Old Collection Includes Interesting Articles

Well, what do you make of the picture on the front page? Bet you identified a chair, an odd and old walking stick (hanging from back of the rocker, left), a hand-wrought iron poker, (right) of artistic design and an old fashioned bed warmer (box-Like affair hanging on string, lower front of photo.) But what is that object with a handle like a corkscrew and a hook on its end?

“Everybody has a hobby” is an old saying and if you keep at it long enough you will learn that your most intimate friends, aye, relatives, have their hobbies. And so have Deputy Sheriff John Ed. Davis of Yaphank and J. P. Tonsfeldt, druggist of White Salmon, Washington. It’s a long way between Yaphank and White Salmon, away up in the Columbia River section of the state of Washington. Kipling wrote: “East is East and West is West but never the twain shall meet,” but these two men have met through one of their hobbies- an old fashioned tooth puller.

Now the secret is out. That corkscrew handled object in the photo is an old tooth puller of the type called “turnkey” and was owned and operated “gratis” by Davis’ grandfather. In fact, John Ed. Recalls having a molar extracted by means of the hand-made iron tooth puller. He cannot tell how old the “instrument of torture” is and neither can Dr. Mordecai H. Overton, well known Patchogue dentist. The latter believes it is the oldest of its kind on Long Island.

Davis thinks the turnkey is not only the oldest but the cruelest piece of man-made machinery he ever saw. Its wooden handle is four inches long and about one inch thick. The rod to which it is attached is about seven inches long and as thick as a lead pencil. On the lower end is welded a solid piece of iron (which is hidden in the picture by the rod), square in shape with a beveled edge. The hook like end of the rod is another piece of iron that wings at the will of the tooth puller. It has notches in it so that it can get a “strangle hold” on a tooth after it is fitted around it. Once upon a time the old time doctor, barber or professional tooth puller used to travel around the country in pursuit of business, the latter wearing a belt studded with teeth to advertise his trade and prowess at ending toothaches.

Davis believes that Dr. Leroy L. Hart man of Columbia University school of dental and oral survey, who recently gave to the world his formula for desensitizing teeth during drilling, must have seen or read about those “instruments of torture” used by old time tooth pullers. At any rate, the Hartman announcement supported by the prestige of Columbia, has served to remind the world, that dental surgery has gone a long way since the days when barbers were the chief tooth pullers.

It was not until 1844 that something like painless dentistry came into use. And then, Dr. Horace Wells, of Hartford, Conn., was called a faker when his invention, “laughing gas” failed in its purpose and instead of putting a patient to sleep, it made him yell long and loudly. However, Dr. Wells induced 12 college students to take the gas and when they started laughing their heads off but suffering from the experiment he was conducting, his name was made. Hartford erected a monument to his memory. Since 1844, cocaine and Novocain have been used to deaden pain in drilling teeth. “it certainly will be more comforting,” opined Davis, “to go into a dentist’s office and look at a bottle of Dr. Hartman’s formula that one of those tooth pullers such as mine.”

After viewing Davis tooth puller we decided to look up our registry of hobbyists. And we came across a collector of old tooth pullers, J. P. Tonsfeldt, druggist, of White Salmon, Washington. We secured permission to send Tonsfeldt a picture of Davis’ tooth puller together with a request for some data on the hobby and if you don’t believe the saying: “there’s nothing new under the sun,” read Tonsfeldt’s letter, which follows. Davis refuses to sell his tooth puller.

Oh yes, before you reach Tonsfeldt’s letter, let us explain that the old bed warmer in question was used by Davis’ grandparents to warm their beds in the days before steam hear or even heat above the first floor. It is made of metal enclosed in a wooden frame. You lift its hinged cover, fill the enclosure with stones heated in a fireplace or atop a stove, close the lid, slip the warmer between the sheets early in the evening, and when you retire your bed is warm. John wants us to dig up some bed warmer hobbyists because he has several of these old-time heaters.

The hand-wrought iron poker is an artistic looking affair. It was made to resemble a branch of a tree and the knots and stumps of trimmed branches are very real looking and evidently were pounded out on an anvil by an expert blacksmith. The natural wood cane is “not very old” according to Davis “only about 80 years.” Nothing seems old to Davis unless he can trace its origin back more than 100 years.

Following this letter from one hobbyists to another:

White Salmon, Washington

January 17th, 1936

Inquiring Reporter, Mid-Island Mail, Patchogue, N. Y.

Dear Sir: I got your letter and picture of turnkey. That picture sure had

me guessing for a little while, until I used a magnifying glass on it and then I could tell what was turnkey and what was shadow. It is about the plainest type, straight rod and has a screw in the end that hold the hook. There might be just s slight difference in the size or the handle, but it is so near what I have that I can’t use it. When I first looked at the picture I thought that it was anther two-hooked affair like one I got from Detroit not long ago. It has one hook at the end that hooks over a back tooth to help steady the instrument and the other hook slides on the rod, which is square, until it is in line with the tooth that is to be pulled. Quite an ingenious affair, made by some blacksmith:

I have one on the way now from Ohio, it is all iron folds somewhat like a jackknife. That will make fifty I have, all different. Pretty soon I’ll have 57’ varieties’ like Heinze, only Heinze’s are pickles.

How would you like to sit on a foot stool and throw your head way back and a fellow behind you hold your head between his knees and reach in with one of these old instruments of torture and pull a tooth. An old fellow just a few days go told me that he had a tooth pulled that way about 1884 in Vienna, Austria. He said, “O it works right, he yanked it out in a hurry”.

If you get a hold of any that are different than this don’t fail to write, or send it by insured parcel post, and if I use it I’ll make an offer, and if we don’t make a deal I’ll return it by insured parcel post and I’ll pay the postage both ways.

I am not a curio dealer. Turnkeys, keys, old guns and arrow points from the Columbia river are my hobbies.

Yours truly,

J. P. Tonsfeldt.

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