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Biographical entry Colyer, Sir James Frank (1866 - 1954)

KBE 1920; MRCS 1 August 1889; FRCS by election 13 April 1916; LDS 22 November 1887; FDS by election 13 November 1947; LRCP 1889; LLD Bristol 1934.

25 September 1866
30 March 1954
Curator and Dental surgeon


Born on 25 September 1866 he trained as a dental surgeon at the Royal Dental Hospital, and completed his medical education at the Charing Cross Hospital. He served as house surgeon and demonstrator of operative dentistry at the Royal Dental Hospital, and was subsequently surgeon to the Hospital and Dean of its School 1904-09. At Charing Cross Hospital he was elected dental surgeon in 1893. During the first world war he was consulting dental surgeon to Croydon War Hospital, the Queen's Hospital for Facial Injuries at Sidcup, and to the Ministry of Pensions.

He took a prominent part in the work of the British Dental Association, the Odontological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine of which he was president in 1919, and the British Society of Dental Surgeons of which he was the first president in 1932. From 1900 he was honorary curator of the museum of the Odontological Society which was vested in the Royal Society of Medicine and transferred in 1908 from the Royal Dental Hospital to the Royal College of Surgeons. Sir Frank built up this museum during more than fifty years' work and largely at his own cost to be the most comprehensive collection of comparative odontology in the world. On this collection he based his invaluable historical books.

His textbook, first published as Diseases and Injuries of the Teeth in collaboration with Morton Smale, was revised with the help of Evelyn Sprawson and ran to eight editions under the title of Dental Surgery and Pathology. Colyer was universally respected and loved for his sterling and forthright character, the simplicity with which he carried his great knowledge, and his ever-youthful zest. In younger days he was an active player of ball games and continued to follow them with keen interest. In later years he could not easily accept the changing policy of the College Council who, in his view, put the social life and teaching work of the College too far before the interests of the Hunterian Museum of which he was a Trustee. However he loyally carried on his work as honorary curator, even when his exhibits were partially dismantled.

Colyer was elected a Fellow of the College in 1916 and was created KBE for his war-work in 1920. The Royal Society of Medicine founded a triennial Colyer prize in 1926 to commemorate his first 25 years service to the Museum, and the Faculty of Dental Surgery, whose Fellowship he accepted in 1947, awarded him its first Colyer medal in gold in 1954. He was a vice-president of the section of comparative medicine at the centenary meeting of the British Medical Association in London in 1932, and was elected an honorary member of the British Dental Association.

He married in 1895 Lucy Olivia Simpson who died on 5 September 1950. He died on 30 March 1954, aged 87, survived by his son, Norman Colyer, a house-master at Epsom College, and his daughter Mrs Bilham. His other daughter, Eileen Colyer, a prominent lawn tennis player, had died very young. Sir Frank Colyer's portrait, by Clarence White, was presented by his admirers to the British Dental Association on his eightieth birthday in 1946, and his own replica was given after his death to the Odontological Museum by his son.

Diseases and Injuries of the Teeth, with Morton Smale 1893; 8th edition (Dental Surgery and Pathology, with Evelyn Sprawson) 1942.
Dental Disease in its relation to general medicine. 1911
John Hunter and odontology. 1913.
Chronic general periodontitis. 1916.
Variations and diseases of the teeth of animals. 1936.
Old Instruments for extracting teeth. 1952.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit dent J 1954, 96, 197; Lancet 1954, 1, 786 with appreciation by Evelyn Sprawson and Lilian Lindsay; Brit med J 1954, 1, 879; The Times 1 April 1954, p 8 g, and 13 April p 10 c, memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and 1 July, page 10 d, will; Ann Roy Coll Surg Engl 1954,14, 344-346 with portrait, and character sketch from Sir Arthur Keith's Autobiography; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England