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Taxidermy supplies and tips > History of taxidermy
History of taxidermy
It is very evident that the art of taxidermy, preservation or care of skins had its origin far back before the dawn of written history.
There existed then as now the desire to preserve the trophy of the hunter's prowess and skill and the unusual in natural objects.
As far back as five centuries B.C. in the record of the African explorations of Hanno the Carthaginian, an account is given of the discovery of what was evidently the gorilla and the subsequent preservation of their skins, which were, an the return of the voyagers, hung in the temple of Astarte, where they remained until the taking of Carthage in the year 146 B.C.
This, of course, was not the art as we know it now, but shows the beginnings of what might be called the museum idea. The art of embalming as practiced by the ancient Egyptians was, however,
effective, not for the purpose of having the specimens look natural, or for exhibition, but to satisfy the superstition of the times, and though a preservative art, hardly to be classed with taxidermy.
In the tombs of that period are found besides the mummies of human beings, countless others of dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, sheep and oxen. There have been a number of efforts made to substitute
some form of embalming for present day taxidermy but without much
success, for though the body of the specimen may be preserved from decay without removing it from the skin, the subsequent
shrinkage and distortion spoil any effect which may have been achieved.
The first attempt at stuffing and mounting birds was said to have been made in Amsterdam in the beginning of the 16th century. The oldest museum specimen in existence, as far as I know, is a
rhinoceros in the Royal Museum of Vertebrates in Florence, Italy, said to have been originally mounted in the 16th century.
Probably on account of the necessary knowledge of preservative chemicals, the art seems to have been in the hands of chemists and astrologers, chiefly, during the middle ages, and stuffed animals such as bats, crocodiles, frogs, snakes, lizards, owls, etc., figure in literary descriptions of their abodes. Then as now also, the dining halls of the nobles and wealthy were decorated with heads and horns procured in the hunt.
The first publications on the art seem to have been made in France, in which country and Germany, many still used methods and formulas originated. Though the first volume of instruction in taxidermy was published in the United States as late as 1865, it has been left for the study and ingenuity of American taxidermists to accomplish what is probably work of as high a standard as any in the world.
The Ward establishment at Rochester has turned out many well trained taxidermists, the large museums of the United States are filled with some of the best work of the kind in existence, besides many
persons who have engaged in it for commercial purposes or to gratify private tastes. Many of these have made public their methods and modes in various publications. Among these are the works of
Batty, Hornaday, Shofeldt, Davie, Rowley, Maynard, Reed and others, all of which are invaluable books of reference, for the home taxidermist.
There is no royal road to success in this, more than any other of the arts and sciences, though I believe the ambitious beginner will find the way smoother; better materials are to be had, more helpful publications to be consulted and the lessening supply of wild life tends to make a more appreciative public than ever before.