This is one of a set of 31 painted plaster casts of horses' teeth showing the stages from birth to an "advanced age". They were purchased by the Museum in 1885 and displayed in the Animal Courts in the Museum's old building in Harris Street, Ultimo. Horses were a vital part of people's lives in the 1800s and early 1900s and the ability to determine a horse's age was an important skill when considering buying a horse.
Just as there are disreputable second-hand car dealers in 2015, buyers of horses had to take care not to be sold an old nag. Horses were a big investment. The term "straight from the horse's mouth" means to hear something directly from the best authority. It comes from the method of working out a horse's age by looking at its teeth. As a horse got older, its twelve incisor teeth (the grinding teeth at the front) became worn down. The gums receded, and the teeth protruded from the mouth becoming "long in the tooth". The teeth also changed in shape from oval to round to a triangular shape and finally to a four-sided shape and became very discoloured.
Advice given to purchasers of horses by John Stewart in Sydney in 1890 said that "a male horse is deemed to be most valuable at age five. Before that, he is not capable of extraordinary exertion" and after that he "sinks in value".
Just like toddlers, the foal has a set of milk or baby teeth. These were worn down as the foal was weaned and began to graze, and replaced by the adult (or permanent teeth). An adult horse has 40 teeth, 12 incisors (front ones), 4 canines, 12 premolars, and 12 molars.
Dell, Catherine, 'Superbook': Horses, Kingfisher Books, Grisewood & Dempsey Ltd, London, 1985.
Clutton-Brock, Juliet, 'Horse Collins Eyewitness Guides: Horse', HarperCollins, 1992.
Clutton-Brock, Juliet (ed), 'The Visual Dictionary of the Horse: Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries', Readers Digest, Surry Hills, NSW, 1994.
Margaret Simpson, Curator, July 2015