Wednesday 18th October 2023 - Cara Bentham
Take a look at the remarkable art of preserving and mounting animals for display.
Taxidermy truly stands at the intersection of science, art, and history. This guide to taxidermy delves into its fascinating evolution, notable practitioners, legal considerations, UK destinations to explore, and practical tips for collectors.
The roots of taxidermy can be traced back to ancient civilisations that sought to document and understand the natural world. However, the craft as we know it today began to take shape in the late 18th century. Taxidermy gained popularity in the Victorian era, becoming a common fixture of museums and homes.
Victorian society held a morbid fascination with death and "memento mori" – a Latin phrase meaning "remember you must die." Taxidermy became a popular means of immortalising nature's creations. It was an era when every drawing room featured a collection of carefully preserved creatures.
As time passed, perceptions of hunting and environmental concerns led to a decline in the popularity of taxidermy. However, in recent years, ethical taxidermy has made a comeback. Modern practitioners, like Harriet Horton from London, are redefining the art, often incorporating unique elements such as neon lights to create captivating and ethically sourced pieces.
Some notable taxidermists are:
In the UK, taxidermy is subject to regulations that aim to protect wildlife and ensure ethical practices. The key considerations include:
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
This legislation governs the protection of various species, and it is crucial to ensure that any specimens acquired for taxidermy are sourced legally.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates the trade and preservation of endangered species. It is imperative to verify that any taxidermy items, especially those involving exotic or endangered species, adhere to CITES regulations.
Responsible taxidermists prioritise the ethical sourcing of specimens, favouring those not hunted or acquired through methods that harm wildlife or ecosystems.
The UK offers several destinations to explore the art of taxidermy up close. These institutions showcase remarkable collections and provide insight into the history and craftsmanship of the craft:
The Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire
Home to the collection of Walter Rothschild, this museum features an extensive display of exotic and domestic animals, including an array of taxidermy specimens.
The Grant Museum of Zoology, London
This unique museum hosts a Victorian-era collection of taxidermy specimens and preserved items in jars, providing a glimpse into the history of zoological research.
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History
This museum boasts one of the largest collections of natural history specimens in the UK, including taxidermy displays of diverse animal species.
The Booth Museum, Hove, East Sussex
Known for its historic bird dioramas, the museum is a treasure trove of taxidermy collections, providing insight into the work of early 20th-century taxidermists.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow
This museum features galleries dedicated to the lives of animals in their natural habitats, along with a notable collection of indigenous Scottish wildlife.
If you're interested in starting your own taxidermy collection, you may find the following tips helpful:
Research and Education
Start by learning about taxidermy through books, courses, and museum visits. Understand the ethical considerations and legal requirements.
When collecting taxidermy specimens, prioritise those acquired ethically and legally and ensure that endangered species adhere to CITES regulations.
Inspect and Verify
Examine the condition of the taxidermy piece closely. Look for signs of damage or deterioration and inquire about its provenance.
Choose pieces that appeal to your personal taste and interior decor, as taxidermy can be a striking addition to your living space.
Taxidermy specimens require proper care. Keep them away from direct sunlight and moisture, and dust them regularly.
Join collector communities, attend auctions, and connect with established taxidermy collectors to gain valuable insights and access to unique pieces.
Set a budget for your taxidermy collection and stick to it. Prices can vary significantly, so having a clear budget ensures responsible collecting.
Auctions are a great place to buy and sell taxidermy responsibly. You can be assured that our auction houses using the easyliveAuction platform have the knowledge and expertise to ethically and responsibly facilitate the sale of taxidermy pieces. Compared to other marketplaces, this gives you peace of mind that your buying is ethical and legal.
If you’re looking to start or build your taxidermy collection, consider these items from our upcoming lots:
This antique taxidermy head of a black bear has glass eyes with mouth open. It goes for sale at Stamford Auction Rooms on 28th October and is estimated at £100 - £150.
This Victorian cased mount of Common and Golden Pheasants goes up for sale at Claydon Auctioneers on October 22nd with an estimate of £100 – £200.
Taxidermy is an art form that has captivated generations with its melding of nature and craftsmanship. Whether you're a seasoned collector or a novice enthusiast, the world of preserved wildlife awaits your exploration, appreciation, and responsible curation.