A brief history of taxidermy
Taxidermy - the word meaning; the art or process of preparing, stuffing and mounting animal skins so that they have a lifelike appearance. It comes from the Greek taxis; arrangement and derma; skin. Some say, in one form or another, that it has been around since early cave man - after all they used skins to clothe themselves. The ancient Egyptians certainly practiced the art of preservation. However, taxidermy as we know it - the mounting of, in a lifelike appearance, seems to originate from around 400 years ago. With the advent of international trade such as the Dutch and the East India company came the naturalists exploring the globe and returning with tales of wonderful creatures. Although the Romans had brought big Cats, Bears etc to the rest of Europe, these were alive and pitted against slaves or Gladiators. Bringing back specimens from afar, owing to the time it took, caused obvious problems. If they died on route (and most did) that was the end of it - unless something could be done with the dead body. They knew how to preserve skin, so the next step was fairly simple - if you had the eye and the artistic flair for it.
Science, Education and the Europeans insatiable appetite for beauty resulted in Museums being the order of the day. In the "Victorian" era collecting and adorning your house with all things natural took the country by storm. Hairdressers, Gun makers, Butchers and specialist naturalists all took up the scalpel as a part time or full time vocation. Big game hunting then became the vogue of the aristocracy and from this some taxidermy firms became international, such as Rowland Ward of London and Nairobi and the prolific firm of Van Ingen of Mysore, India. Every town had a taxidermist or two - some better than others. It is this legacy that still exists today. Some museums are full of the "boggle eyed creations" that fascinated me and others as a schoolboy. The creations that were artistic and more lifelike, molded by the hands of the true naturalist/taxidermist can still today, and quite correctly, command a high price at auction.
It must be remembered that these works of art were born from a time when the camera, the television and the package holiday did not exist. They were scientific and educational tools of the day and should, even in this "green" outlook we rightly have today, be used and treated as such.
The modern taxidermist does not require a gun, just a few clients with cars or a domestic cat. Millions of creatures are killed on the roads each year and the average Cat leaves the odd "trophy" on the doorstep - and there are 8 million of the little darlings in the UK alone. Why in the world would we want to go to India and shoot a Tiger - there are far more in captivity (they estimate 10,000 in the USA alone) than in the wild and they will all die naturally one day. Add overhead wires; patio doors; pollution; adverse weather and many other natural causes and who the hell needs a gun. Rebuild this broken creature you found on the road, stick it on a kids desk and teach him or her at close quarters - then you have the power of a preserved specimen. It beats T.V. every time, you get an idea of size and you can feel the texture of fur or feather.
For more details on the history of taxidermy, treat yourself to a copy
of the following books - now collectors items in their own right.
A History of British Taxidermy by Christopher Frost - privately published in 1987
A Record of Spicers by Rob Chinnery published by The Victorian Taxidermy Co. Ltd in 2001
Rowland Ward - Taxidermist to the World by Dr. Pat Morris - privately published in 2003
Edward Gerrard & Sons - A Taxidermy memoir by Pat Morris - privately published in 2004
Search them out - they are well worth it.
Van Ingen & Van Ingen - artists in taxidermy - by Dr. Pat Morris - published by M.P.M. (2006)
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