Of all the imaginary characters from our childhoods, the Tooth Fairy is one that historians have not been able to accurately determine the origins of. Others like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny have pretty clear stories that date back many, many years and have since had numerous new movies and myths attached to them.
The Tooth Fairy, however, is a more elusive creature. Her story is a bit harder to pin down, though there are some hints of her throughout history in other stories and childhood traditions.
We do know that National Tooth Fairy Day is coming up on February 28, and in honor of her, we thought we’d pull together the bits and pieces of her story that are known.
The First Sightings
The Tooth Fairy may not be credited in earlier traditions, but they bear striking similarities to her. In the 19th century, French and Italian children would receive small gifts for their lost teeth, courtesy of a magical being.
Paralleling that tradition in England, it was custom to leave fairy coins out while the peasant girls slept. In Ireland, the locals believed in a fairy changeling which was a strange phenomenon where a fairy would kidnap a child at nighttime and swap them out with a fairy. Looking to deter this behavior, people would bury lost baby teeth nearby which would signify to the fairies to leave their kids alone.
On the Stage
A little later, a play about fairies, magic and lost teeth is debuted called “La Bonne Petite Souris,” or “The Good Little Mouse.” The tooth fairy-esque creature in this tale disguises herself as a mouse and appears to a good queen that was locked away in exile by her abusive husband, the king. The queen’s liberation is preceded by a rather gruesome series of events where the fairy in disguise rips the king’s teeth from his mouth, hides them under a pillow and then executes him.
Clearly this is not our version of the Tooth Fairy, but it laid a solid foundation for more events to come such as:
- In the 1920’s “La Bonne Petite Souris” is now shown in English.
- In 1949, Collier’s magazine features a story about the Tooth Fairy.
- In the 1950’s, American children have become the center of the home due to the prosperity of the time.
- In 1950, Disney’s Cinderella introduces us to The Fairy Godmother who has a large fan base.
- A couple years later in 1953, Tinkerbell makes her debut in Disney’s Peter Pan and becomes a favorite fairy of America.
- In 1979, The Tooth Fairy is now listed in The World Book Encyclopedia, cementing her place in childhood history.
Keeping Up With Inflation
Interestingly enough, the Tooth Fairy keeps track of how much she gives children for their teeth. When she began she offered a modest 15 cents per tooth, but now she dishes out an average of $3.70 for each tooth children lose today.