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Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit

A Guide for those who wish to prepare
and mount animals, birds, fish,
reptiles, etc., for home, den,
or office decoration

By Albert B. Farnham, Taxidermist 

Published by
A. R. HARDING, Publisher
Columbus, Ohio

Copyright, 1944
By A. R. Harding Pub. Co.
Publisher's disclaimer: Information provided is dated and is for information purposes only.

CHAPTER I.

HISTORY.

It is very evident that this art—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, on 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.

AN EARLY DAY SPECIMEN.

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.

It is to be regretted that the once flourishing Society of American Taxidermists has not been perpetuated, numbering, as it did, among its membership the best artists in their line in this country.

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.

CHAPTER II.

OUTFIT—TOOLS AND MATERIALS.

The extent and variety of work undertaken will determine the necessary working space and the assortment of tools needful. Other things being equal, the most complete assortment of tools and supplies makes possible the production of the best work in the minimum time. The equipment of the beginner need be but small and inexpensive, however, increasing the same as he discovers what is most necessary and desirable, in an increasing field of work. Wonderful pieces of taxidermy have been done with a pocket knife, pliers, needle and thread, some wire, tow and arsenic.

WORK TABLE-SUPPLIES ON LOWER SHELF, TOOLS, ETC. ON WALL.

If no other room offers, much may be achieved (with the permission of the lady of the house) in a corner of a dining room or kitchen. A room or part of one well lighted, by north window or sky-light preferably, makes the best location for the work table. This table may be of the common unpainted kitchen variety for all small work. It is well to make the top double by hinging on two leaves, which when extended will make it twice its usual width. When so extended and supported by swinging brackets it is specially adapted to sewing on rugs and robes. Such tables usually have one or two shallow drawers which are most useful to hold small tools. A shelf should be fitted between the legs, six or eight inches from the floor, forming a handy place for boxes of materials, books, etc.

If large work is in prospect a table should be built of the usual heighth, two or three feet wide, and six long. The legs of stout scantlings should be fitted with casters, making it easy to remove it to the center of the room where it can be approached on all sides, as will often be necessary. The double top, drawers, and shelf should be a part of the larger table also. Usually the table is kept in front of the window with tool racks and shelves for small articles each side of the same where they can easily be reached.

For preparing and mounting all small and medium size specimens I would advise the following list of tools. They will enable the worker to care for any of our native birds, quadrupeds up to the coyote, and any of our game heads, fur rugs, etc.

1 small skinning knife
1 medium skinning knife
1 larger skinning knife
1 pair scissors, fine points
1 pair shears, heavy, short
2 pairs flat nose pliers, large and small.
1 pair side or end cutters
1 pair fine forceps, 5 or 6 inch
2 flat files, large and small
1 adjustable tool handle, assorted tools, awls.
2 pinking irons, ¾ and 1½ inch
Needles, assortment of cloth and glovers
Oilstone
HOME MADE TOOLS. (1) Skin Scraper (made from screw driver) (2) (3) (4) Modeling Tools (wood and brass) (5) Setting Needle. (6) (7) Stuffers (heavy wire.)

If it is capable of taking and holding a good edge the small blade of a pocket knife is equal to a surgeon's scalpel and a sharp shoe or paring knife, ground to the proper shape, is a nice medium size for skinning or trimming skins. A hunting or butcher knife is sufficient for the largest size. A few carpenter's tools are necessary and a complete set does not come amiss if much large work is attempted.

We must have:

Handsaw
Hatchet
Hammer
Bit brace
Assortment, drills and bits, ½ in. and less.
Drawshave
Screwdriver
Small grindstone or corundum wheel
Chisels, two or three sizes
1 wood rasp
1 cabinet rasp
1 chopping block, made of a section of hardwood log

If large animals are to be mounted we will need in addition some iron working tools, such as

Set of taps and dies ¼ to 1 in.
Monkey wrench
Hack saw
Tanner's knives, 1 or more

A combination vise and anvil will be needed in any case as well as some miscellaneous tools:

Fur comb, coarse and fine combined
Paint, wax, and varnish brushes
Foot rule
Tape measure
Putty knife
Pointing trowel
Skin scraper

and some stuffing and modelling tools which you can make yourself. The list of materials seems like a long one, but many are inexpensive and others are used only in some small amounts, so the aggregate cost is small.

Excelsior
Fine tow
Cotton bat or wadding
Plaster paris
Corn meal
Gasoline
Potter's or modelling clay
Set tube oil colors
Glass eyes, assorted
Soft wire, assorted
Pins
Cord
Spool cotton, coarse and fine, black and white
Wax, varnish, glue, paste
Papier mache, or paper for same
An assortment of nails, tacks, brads, screws, screw eyes and staples
TAXIDERMISTS TOOLS. (1) Gimlet (2) Expansive bits (3) Brush (4) Bone cutter (5) (6) (7) (8) Pliers (9) Pinking irons (10) Hand vise (11) (12) Scalpels and knives.
TAXIDERMISTS TOOLS. (13) Scalpels (15) Sewing palm (16) Straight Surgeons Scissors (17) Curved Surgeon Scissors (18) Angular Surgeons Scissors (19) Fine Point Scissors (20) Scissor Handled Stuffers (21) Stuffer.
TAXIDERMISTS TOOLS. (22) Stuffer and forcep, curved fine point (23) Regular taxidermists stuffer and forcep (24) Gauge (25) Hack Saw (26) Egg drill

A packing box or two will furnish some lumber for temporary stands and interior frame work. The permanent mounts are treated of elsewhere.

In ordering glass eyes it is often best to get them in the clear glass iris with black pupil so they may be given any color desired by painting the backs with tube colors, afterward protecting the paint with varnish. In this way a small stock will answer for many varieties. The plain black eye which is the least expensive can be used for many of the smaller birds and mammals, but should never be when the iris of the eye has any distinct tint. Do not make the mistake of ordering an assortment of "off" sizes and colors, that is those which are seldom called for. Aim to have those on hand for which you will have the most frequent use, the exceptions can be quickly had by parcel post. There is more demand for eyes of some shade of yellow or brown than any other colors, probably.

GLASS EYES FOR ANIMALS, BIRDS, FISH.

All birds have the round pupil. Elongated pupils are suitable for horned game and the cat tribe, irregular pupils fish, and the veined iris for dogs, wolves and foxes. Suitable sizes for some species of birds are as follows:

Number   3 to 5   Sparrows generally.
Number   5 to 7   Robin, blue jay, flicker.
Number   7 to 9   The smaller hawks and herons, nearly all the ducks.
Number   10 to 12   The smaller owls, the wild goose.
Number   12 to 14   The larger hawks and herons.
Number   15   Screech owl, eagles.
Number   17   Barred owl.
Number   19 or 20   Snowy owl and great horned owl.

Size of eyes for quadrupeds:

Number   7 or 8   Mink, skunk, red squirrel.
Number   10 to 12   Gray and fox squirrel, wood chuck, raccoon and opossum.
Number   12 to 14   Rabbit, small dogs, house cat.
Number   15 to 17   Jack rabbit, fox, medium size dogs, wild cat, black bear.
Number   18   Large dog, wolf, lynx, and grizzly bear.
Number   20 to 22   Puma, jaguar, small deer.
Number   23 to 24   Large deer, tiger.
Number   25 to 27   Moose, elk, caribou, horse, cow, lion.

SIZES OF GLASS EYES.

SIZES OF GLASS EYES (Style 1)

Of wire the following sizes are suitable for birds:

Number   6   Pelican.
Number   7   Wild turkey, swan.
Number   8   Eagles.
Number   9   Loon, goose, large herons.
Number   10   Seagull, large ducks, hawks, owls, and fish hawk.
Number   11 or 12   Medium size ducks, herons, and similar.
Number   13 or 14   Small ducks and grouse.
Number   15   Small herons, and medium owls.
Number   16   Doves, small owls.
Number   17 or 18   Bob white, jay, robin, snipe.
Number   19   Blackbird, waxwing, oriole.
Number   20   Bluebird, cardinal.
Number   21 to 24   Warblers, wrens, titmouse, finches.
Number   26   North American humming bird.

For quadrupeds:

Number   7   Wild cat.
Number   8   Foxes.
Number   10   Raccoon, wood chuck.
Number   11   Skunk, opossum.
Number   12 or 13   Muskrat, rabbit.
Number   14 or 15   Mink, large squirrels.
Number   17 or 18   Weasel, bull frog, and small squirrels.

These sizes are approximate, varying with size of the individual specimen and the required attitude wanted. For instance, a bird mounted with wings spread would be better for a large size wire than if in a resting position. An animal crouched does not require as heavy supports as one upright or in action. It is best to give the specimen the benefit of the doubt, as nothing is more disastrous than to have an otherwise well mounted subject sag down and spoil the entire effect from lack of sufficient mechanical support. The best wire for this purpose is annealed, galvanized iron. Larger animals require Norway iron rod in the following sizes:

¼ in.   Coyote, setter dog.
5/16 in.   Wolf, puma.
⅜ in.   Medium deer.
½ in.   Caribou and large deer.
¾ in.   Moose, elk.

A large earthen jar or two will hold sufficient skin pickle for small animals. For large animals or great numbers of small ones a tank or barrel. Keep such jars or barrels covered to prevent evaporation. With dry arsenic and alum, arsenical solution, formaldehyde for an emergency and plenty of salt, even a beginner should be able to save almost anything that falls into his clutches.

There are numbers of reliable dealers in tools and supplies for the taxidermist and a perusal of their catalogs will be helpful, among the number being James P. Babbitt, 192 Hodges Ave., Taunton, Mass. Ready to use head forms, pinked rug and robe trimming, artificial tongues and ear forms, and even paper head and neck forms for the mounting of large game heads are some of the time and labor saving supplies they list. If you cannot attain to these, emergency supplies can be had of the dealer in hardware and dry goods, and one who cares for the art will rise superior to the material at his hand. What you "stuff 'em with" is of small consequence provided you use brains in the job. I have seen an elk head stuffed with old clothes with the bottoms of pop bottles for eyes, but would advise some other filling if possible.

Chapter III - PRESERVATIVE PREPARATIONS, FORMULAS, ETC.

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