Did you know there were more than a dozen taxidermists showing at the Great Exhibition in 1851, the year when 75,000 visitors paid to see John Gould’s exhibition of stuffed hummingbirds at Regent’s Park Zoo?
By the late Victorian era virtually every large village in the UK had a resident ‘professional’ taxidermist and almost every home a stuffed bird or mammal of some description. And interest in the natural world, the advent of foreign travel and the lure of big game hunting before the era of animal conservation ensured the industry thrived into the 1930s.
By the 1970s of course, taxidermy had entered its fashionable nadir, and most of the commercial companies had ceased trading completely, but it was not forever. In the past two decades, there has been an undoubted resurgence of interest in mounted specimens from the animal kingdom as serious antiques
Collectors of antique specimens prefer named cases by the best makers. It is not an exhaustive list but the best examples of antique taxidermy often carry the labels of Henry and Rowland Ward of Piccadilly, James Hutchings of Aberystwyth, James Gardner of London, Thomas Gunn of Norwich, A.S Hutchinson of Derby, Jefferies & Sons of Carmarthen, Murray of Carnforth, H.T. Shopland of Torquay and Peter Spicer of Leamington Spa.
There are equally respected European firms, while Van Ingen & Van Ingen of Mysore were renowned for their big game mounts (particularly tiger skins). Most taxidermists have a distinct style in case production: those by James Gardner for example are distinctive for their brightly coloured gouache or watercolour backgrounds, Peter Spicer for exceptional cabinetmaking.
Most collectors prefer cased birds and mammals that show the subject matter as close to how it existed in the wild.