Dentist Collects Hundreds of Vintage Toothpastes and Powders

Featured Article, Odd Collections, People
on September 25, 2012
David Mudd

Weaving past examining rooms at his Peach Street Dentistry office in Alpharetta, Ga., Dr. Val Kolpakov, 46, approaches a wall of wooden cases filled with 500 tubes and containers of toothpaste.

Opening a glass door, the dentist retrieves a package of rocket-shaped Orbit Dental Cream from the 1960s, with instructions to mail 25 cents for rocket fuel to launch the empty container in the air. “I don’t think they’re making the fuel any more,” he says, laughing.

Moving from case to case, Kolpakov points to other toothpastes: glittering, metallic-gold tubes from Japan; chocolate-flavored paste from Italy; and British Punch-and-Judy puppet characters stamped on a cardboard “stage” that pops out of the box. Near the bacon- and pickle-flavored gag gifts from the United States is a tin “Tooth Guard” tube from Australia with a twist-off royal guard’s head.

In another room, Kolpakov showcases his dental powders, including a Russian tin from the early 1900s and a Dura-Perl dispenser that resembles a snow globe.

For every item on display, the toothpaste-collecting dentist owns three more—representing 100 different brands and 2,200 toothpastes and powders altogether.

Kolpakov’s pursuit of teeth-cleaning products began 10 years ago, a decade after he emigrated from Russia to the United States to take a job as a medical researcher. Realizing he preferred to work with his hands, he enrolled in the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry, and in 2000 opened his practice in Saginaw. Two years later, while surfing the Internet, he stumbled across a reference to a German man who’d collected 500 tubes of toothpaste.

“If there was a record, I had to beat it,” he recalls. “I didn’t realize how much fun it can be; how many different toothpastes exist.”

Kolpakov began buying antique pastes on eBay and new ones in ethnic stores. Friends from other countries sent him samples, strangers donated their small collections, and toothpaste companies contributed their outdated products. At first he stored his collection—which emits a strong minty scent— in a guest room of his home, before displaying some toothpastes and powders at his Saginaw dental office, where he maintains a part-time practice. In 2008, he moved to Alpharetta (pop. 57,551).

In 2010, the World Records Academy recognized Kolpakov as owner of the world’s largest collection of toothpastes, and he has applied for certification by Guinness World Records as well.

Occasionally, Kolpakov brushes his teeth with one of the more unusual pastes. Holding up a Splat Dark Mint sample from his native country—the phrase “recommended for strong-willed” graces the side of the box—he gently squeezes the tube to reveal a substance resembling black shoe polish. “It’s not really that bad,” he says, laughing heartily. “It becomes kind of grayish when you start brushing.”

He also collects denture holders and dental-related movie props, such as a set of robotic dentures from “Bicentennial Man” starring Robin Williams, and a blue tube from “Prison Break,” which sports a fictional “Brenner’s Toothpaste” sticker covering up the original “Colgate.”

Kolpakov estimates the value of his collection at $30,000. He bought his most expensive dental collectible, a silver 1801 Georgian tooth powder box, from Manchester, England, for $1,500. Among his oldest toothpaste specimens are battered Doramad tubes recovered from German trenches after World War II, containing radioactive compounds believed at the time to restore unhealthy gums.

“These are my favorites,” says Kolpakov, referring to the alcohol-flavored selections—Bourbon and Scotch, Chablis and amaretto—manufactured in the 1960s for Neiman-Marcus department stores. “I’ve heard lots of jokes, like if you have a drink and you’re driving and the officer stops you, you just say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I just brushed my teeth,’” he adds, laughing. “People just love that.”

For Kolpakov, collecting toothpaste isn’t just a hobby; it’s a way to make patients feel comfortable. “People come here—lots of them are a little nervous,” he says. “I show them all this funny toothpaste and they relax.”