Online Reprint of

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.



These with reptiles are most difficult to preserve with any success by the ordinary methods. There are some individuals which it is impossible for the taxidermist to prepare the skins of, so as to retain a natural appearance for any length of time. They can only be represented by casts painted to the best of the artist's ability.

Most of the varieties of medium and large game fishes can be mounted by the average taxidermist and it is with these we are mostly concerned. There are almost as many methods of mounting fish as there are operators, each having some pet kink of real or fancied superiority.

As often as otherwise fish are mounted in the medallion style, with one side only showing. This is especially adapted to display on walls and panels. For filling material everything from sawdust to plaster has been employed but as good results as any are secured by a hard core of the approximate size of the skinned fish, coated with some plastic substances which is moulded into shape through the skin.

In skinning some fish the scales must be protected by pasting thin paper over them but ordinarily it is sufficient to keep the skin wet and not allow it to dry out until it is complete. A piece of oil cloth is good to work on in skinning fish or birds either. Some taxidermists have a large pane of glass set flush in a table top for this purpose.


With a freshly caught fish at hand which is to be made into a medallion the process is about as follows: Before skinning lay it flat on one side on a piece of soft wood board of the proper thickness and mark out its outline. Though only one side of the mounted fish shows, a little more than precisely one half is preserved in order to include the tail, the vertical and dorsal fins and also to give an appearance of rotundity.

Leaving this margin all around, the skin is cut away from the side which, on account of damage or other reason, is selected for the back. The head must be cut through with chisel or a fine saw. Severing the bones at the base of the fins with the scissors the whole body is removed by cutting the spinal column at its junction with the skull.

In skinning fish you will note a white layer, like tin foil, which gives the fish its silvery color. Do not disturb this if possible. Remove all surplus flesh, cut away the gills and interior of head and if at all greasy (what fish is not) treat to a bath in gasoline. Use absorbent, sawdust or meal to remove oily gasoline, drop in alcohol or formaldehyde solution while the body is prepared. To do this cut out the board by the outline on it with a short bevel on the back and the other side the full shape of the fish. The whole form is slightly diminished, however, to allow for a coating of clay. This is applied after the skin has been removed from the solution and poisoned.

When a good fit is secured the skin is fastened in place by sewing from top to bottom, across the back board, or if large, nailing the edges to the board. The fins which have been kept wet are to be spread; each clamped with two pieces of pasteboard. On very large fish spring clothes pins may be used to clamp the fins, for small ones pins forced through both thicknesses, outside the fins.

Sponge the fish off carefully to remove all clay or other dirt and give it a coat of rather thin white varnish. This prevents the scales curling up and to some extent fixes or restores the colors of the fish.

The eye is set after the fish is dry and if it does not fill the socket, model around it with wax or paper pulp. Fish eyes vary so greatly that to strictly copy nature you had better use the uncolored fish eyes, painting the back with suitable oil colors with a coat or two of shellac over it to prevent the clay in which it is set from affecting the paint. The final painting of a mounted fish which is necessary to complete the best work is a task for an artist. If a specimen in the flesh (living if possible) is at hand this is made easier. All fish skins collected should be accompanied by color sketches if possible.

All silvery fish should be coated with size and nickel leaf over their entire scaly surface. On this ground paint with thin oil colors. If the paint is not too thick the desired silvery sheen will show through. If the whole fish is dark no leaf is needed and in some cases the upper part of the body requires a gold ground with the nickel leaf on the silvery under parts. Japanese gold paint or something similar will do for a golden ground.

The finished medallion may lie flat in a case, be fastened on the face of a panel, or hung by a loop at the mouth or center of back. Panels of natural wood are a favorite mount and framed panels covered with plush or the imitation pebbled upholstery leather.

Another method of mounting medallions is to take a plaster mold of the display half of the fish and from it make a plaster cast like the back board. This is sandpapered down to allow for the skin and gouged out at the bases of the fins and tail. The head too is not reproduced on the cast.


When the skin is ready to apply, coat this plaster cast with some nonporous modelling material. A mixture of thin liquid glue and whiting is good for this. Some paper pulp is put inside the head and at the junction of body and fins. Shape from the outside with the fingers.

A piece of wood should have been placed in the back of the plaster cast when making same, in order to fasten to a panel by screws from the back. Paint the wood with melted paraffin before putting in the wet plaster or it may swell and subsequently shrink enough to crack the cast. By either of the preceding methods the entire fish can be mounted if desired.

The opening cut should be made from head to tail along the lower edge of the body in most scale fish and will require some neat modelling to hide as both sides are to be on exhibition.

Entire fish are usually supported by metal standards rising from a wooden base. Such standards are preferably of brass, threaded and fitted with nuts and rosettes at both ends. Two nuts at the lower end clamp the base and with the upper end inserted in the back board, the upper nut will adjust the fish at the right heighth. The rosettes cover the nuts and add a finished appearance.

Especially adapted to tarpon and other ponderous fish are medallions mounted on paper. To do this a half mould is made as described, the skin removed, cleaned, poisoned and replaced in the mould. Then it is backed up with numerous layers of soft paper, well pasted and pressed in with the hands. Let these layers of paper overlap the mould at least as much as the margin of skin left on the back.

When a sufficient thickness is attained fill the hollow form loosely with crumpled paper or excelsior and fit in place a back board of light wood. Nail through the margin of skin and paper into the edges of this. If a number of large holes were made in the back board it will expedite the drying out.

When partly dry, remove from the mould, painting and finishing as before when completely dry. By this means the contour of large fish is absolutely reproduced and the finished work is extremely light and durable.

Many of the smooth skinned fishes are impossible to mount satisfactorily, a cast is the best we can do for them.

When using a living fish as a guide in painting, it may be confined in an aquarium and by sliding a wire screen partition, be kept just before the artist's eye.



Some years ago A Practical Method of Fish Mounting was advertised by Mr. Baumgartel in Angling and Sporting publications. Entire satisfaction was given to those who studied and applied the lessons, through correspondence school methods. Both the author and publisher of HOME TAXIDERMY FOR PLEASURE AND PROFIT, are indeed glad to publish the entire course as used by Mr. Baumgartel, including diagrams, figures, etc., as same together with copyright was conveyed to A. R. Harding.

The same degree of excellence in mounting fish has not been so generally attained as in other branches of the taxidermy art, and this I believe is because an equal amount of study has not been given the subject. Hundreds can mount birds well to one who can prepare fish in as skillful a manner, although the mounting of fish dates from as early a period in the art of taxidermy. It is a question of method and the right one.

The usual methods of mounting fish have proven so unsatisfactory that they have been almost entirely abandoned, and, until the method to be described was devised, it was necessary to place specimens in alcohol or other preserving liquids or to make plaster casts of them. The objections to the former process are that it is expensive, requiring especially constructed jars to show the specimens without distortion. They usually lose all their natural colors, and in most cases shrink to such an extent as to give only an approximate idea of their original form. There are also serious objections to the latter method. Plaster casts are easily broken and certain parts, such as the interior of the mouth, cannot readily be produced. Further, it is not desirable in natural history collections to exhibit casts of the objects when the originals can be displayed. Then, too, the sportsman does not care for a cast of his "Big Fish," but wants the real thing to verify history of the one that didn't get away. To me a plaster cast of an object that can itself be preserved is about as interesting as a nicely painted decoy duck compares with a well-mounted skin.

As is the case with nearly every taxidermist, professional as well as amateur, I have always been an enthusiastic sportsman. The desire to preserve the specimens taken by me led me to devote myself to the study of taxidermy. Perhaps the dilatoriness of the "artist" who mounted my first specimens had a stimulating effect. Later, as a professional taxidermist, I for many years mounted fish by means of the various methods, but the results obtained were not satisfactory to me.

In 1903 Mrs. Baumgartel and I made a trip to Pine River, Michigan, for trout. It was in June. The weather turned cold, and we took few fish. On the twelfth I made what was to be my last cast, had taken down my rod and was walking along the bank of the river on my way to camp, when at the edge of a pool I noticed a fish jumping. I could not resist the temptation to try one more cast, and making preparations I dropped a Parmachene Belle a few inches from the spot where the fish had just broken the water. There was a rise, a strike, and I was fast to a fish destined to be mine. After an exciting struggle, I landed a thirteen-inch grayling weighing one pound and two ounces. Of course, this fish I had to preserve and wanted it to look as it did when taken from the net. We boarded the train for home that evening, and supplying my wife with reading matter, I was soon lost in meditation. The madam told me many times during the journey home that I was not at all companionable. Be that as it may, the result of the earnest study given the matter, and the previous experience gained in experimenting with other processes, was that a practical method of mounting fish was devised, a method by means of which the angler can successfully mount his own specimens. "Necessity is the mother of invention," you know.

A picture of this grayling is given below. It still occupies a position in our dining room, together with others to remind us of pleasant days on lake and stream. It is mounted with the very fly and leader on which it was taken.


For the past four years I have successfully taught my method by correspondence. A few years ago activities in other directions compelled me to give up taxidermy work, and other interests now demanding more of my personal attention, the publisher of this book, always on the alert for something of practical value to interest his readers, will present to you in these pages the identical instructions I have so successfully used. I take the liberty of quoting verbatim from a letter just received by me from a friend of a prominent eastern professional man, one who, while "chained to business," still finds time to get "close to nature" for a season each year:

"Referring to the fish mounted on our Newfoundland trip: I may say that it was our first experience and we were agreeably surprised at results. In all there were ten specimens of salmon, sea-trout and brook-trout mounted and we found no great difficulties. All the work was accomplished in an old barn after we got home evenings and early mornings before going out. The only obstacle we encountered was getting the fish back to the states in good shape. Five of the specimens now occupy prominent place in the Doctor's den and I am always pleased to point out to friends the results of our labors."

You can do as well.

Needle and thread.
Saw, fine toothed.
Scissors, straight and curved.
Skin scraper, not the toothed-edge.

One can get along with simply a jack-knife, pair of shears, and needle and thread; but to do first-class work easily, good tools are required.

Aluminum leaf.
Arsenic, powdered.
Clay, potters' or modelling.
Eyes, glass, clear except pupils.
Papier mache, prepared.
Pine board.
Plaster, calcined.
Tube paints.
Varnish, clear white.

PRELIMINARY INSTRUCTIONS—Try first a perch or other fish having scales firmly attached. See that the fins and tail are uninjured, and that no scales are missing from the side to be displayed. As every perfectly formed fish has both sides alike, and as ordinarily but one side can be seen at a time, only a little more than one half of the fish is to be mounted.

Fig. 1 Eye of Lake Trout

Note carefully the colors (including those of the eye and the interior of the mouth) of the freshly caught fish, making a sketch of the specimen, showing the extent of the different colors and markings, the spots, if any, and the eye. The pupil is not usually round. The eye of a lake trout appears like Fig. 1. A carefully kept note book is a valuable aid.

While the tail is of course a fin (the caudal), in this work it will be called the "tail," to distinguish it from the other fins. See Fig. 2 for key to the names of the fins.

FISH IN MOULD. (Fig. 2.) Names of fins: D—Dorsal, A—Adipose, C—Caudal (tail), P—Pectoral, V—Ventral, An—Anal.

END VIEW. (Fig. 3)THE MOLD.—Wash the fish in water to remove dirt and mucus. On a board somewhat longer and wider than the fish, place a sufficient amount of moist sand in which to imbed the specimen to one-half its depth when lying on its side in the desired position. Level the sand and hollow it out for the larger part of the body. Large fish should be displayed straight, with the mouth closed or only slightly open. Smaller and more graceful ones may be shown in positions of activity; rising to fly, breaking away, etc. If the mouth is to be open, fill it with cotton or cloth in order to keep out the plaster. Place the fish in the position you wish it to have when mounted, the side to be displayed uppermost. See that the dorsal and anal fins, and the tail, lie flat on the sand, and that one-half the body appears above the sand its entire length. There must be no uneven places. Viewed from the end, it should appear like Fig. 3; from the side, like Fig. 4.

SIDE VIEW. (Fig. 4)

Heap up the sand all around, about an inch from the fish, to prevent the plaster flowing off the board.

Mix a sufficient amount of plaster to cover the fish to a depth of about half an inch, covering the fins and tail as well as the body. Mix the plaster by stirring a little at a time into cold water until it has the consistency of cream. Place the pectoral and ventral fins flat against the body. Pour the plaster over the fish slowly and evenly (covering the head, tail and edges first), allowing it time to dry until quite hard, perhaps thirty to forty minutes. Then turn the mold over (it will appear like Fig. 2) and, by inserting the fingers in the gills, carefully remove the fish. Lay the mold aside for a time. Wash all sand and plaster from the fish.


SKINNING THE FISH.—If the fish has scales easily dislodged, wrap it, with the exception of the fins and tail, in several thicknesses of tissue paper, which will readily adhere to the moist skin. Lay the fish on your table, on the side which was covered by the plaster and place wet cloths on the fins and tail to prevent drying. Commence at the gills and make two cuts with the scissors or scalpel lengthwise of the fish to the tail, cutting into the abdominal cavity below, joining these cuts (see Fig. 5), removing the strip of skin, including the pectoral fin, with adhering flesh, and the contents of the cavity.

With the fingers, or tweezers, grasp the cut edge of the skin of the back and with the scalpel carefully separate it from the flesh as far as the middle line of the back from the head to the tail. Remove the exposed flesh to the backbone. With the knife, shears or fine tooth saw, split the head lengthwise a little to one side of the middle, leaving somewhat more than half. Do not sever the skin of the body where it comes to a point between the gills, and use great care when removing the flesh from this portion.

You now have a trifle more than one-half the fish to work on. With the scissors cut through the ribs and remove the backbone with some of the flesh. Be careful when cutting through the backbone at the tail not to cut through the skin below. Going back to the head, remove the remaining flesh, and with the curved scissors and scalpel cut away all the cartilage possible from the head; the more the better so long as the skin is not injured. If enough of the cartilage can be removed to expose the muscles of the cheek from the inside, cut them away, taking out the eye; otherwise it will be necessary to work from the outside of the skin through the eye opening, and this must be done very carefully or the skin of the cheek may be broken. With most fishes it is possible to remove all the cartilage from the head, and this should be done to prevent shrinkage. If the mouth is to be open, do not cut away its lining or much of the tongue behind. The tongue is to be split perpendicularly lengthwise and about one-third of it removed. When the head has been thoroughly cleaned, remove the remaining flesh from the body with the skin scraper or scalpel.

The ventral fin which is uppermost as the fish lies on its side and is not to show, should be carefully cut off outside the skin. Do not cut off the ventral fin on the side which is to be displayed. Do not scrape away the silvery lining of the skin if this can be avoided. Some of it will come off. Cut away the bases of all the fins and the tail inside with the curved scissors and scrape away all flesh, working close to the fingers so as not to stretch the skin. Tie the vent inside with thread. Unless the fish is quite small, the skin of the lower jaw must be loosened with the knife or scalpel and the muscles cut away. The adipose, or small fleshy fin on the back near the tail of such fishes as the trout, must be carefully opened from the inside of the skin with a small-bladed knife and the contents removed, to be later replaced with clay.

Place the skin in water to loosen the paper—if any has been used—carefully washing the skin and wetting the fins and tail thoroughly. You may allow the skin to remain in the water until you are ready to put it back in the mold, but not longer than a few hours.

FILLING.—Brush the sand from the mold, and if the upper edge is uneven, smooth it with a knife so that it will be perfectly straight. Should there be any rough places on the inside of the mold, carefully scrape them down with the skin scraper.


Cut out roughly a piece of soft pine one-half to one inch thick the shape of the outline of the fish, but somewhat smaller, using the mold as a guide. One side will, of course, be flat, and that side should be uppermost when placed in the mold. Work up with water a sufficient quantity of clay to about the consistency of fresh putty. Place the mold on your bench or table, resting it on something soft (such as a piece of old carpet or burlap) to prevent its breaking. Drain the water from the skin and put it back into the mold, adjusting it nicely. The median line will guide you. See that the head, fins and tail occupy the same places they did before. Pour a little alcohol on the skin inside and let it run along the bases of the fins and tail, over the entire inner surface of the skin and into the head to preserve any bits of flesh that may possibly remain. Drain off the surplus alcohol. Fill the adipose fin (if the fish has one) with clay. Sprinkle powdered arsenic over the entire inside of the skin and head. Do not use more than will readily adhere.

The chances are that you removed more or less of the silvery lining of the skin. Whether you did or not, cover the entire inner surface of the skin of the cheek and body with two or three thicknesses of aluminum leaf. Do not cover the entire surface at once. Cover a small part at a time, and then put on top of the leaf enough clay to cover it, commencing at the head and continuing to the tail. Replace the muscles and cartilage of the head with clay. Be sure to keep the skin properly adjusted to the mold. See that the fins and the tail remain in their proper places and that they are kept covered with wet cloths.

Flatten out the clay (a small quantity at a time) with the fingers and cover the inside of the skin to the depth of about one-eighth of an inch, pressing it down firmly, especially at the bases of the fins and tail and into the cheek and head. Fit in the piece of pine, cutting it down as may be necessary. Its shape will be something like Fig. 6.

Mix some more plaster, and before putting in the piece of board, pour in the plaster on the clay, filling the skin perhaps two-thirds full. Quickly, before the plaster sets, put in the piece of wood, carefully pressing it down into the plaster until it is level with the upper edge of the mold, removing any surplus plaster quickly and neatly. Sew up the skin from one edge to the other as shown in Fig. 7.


REMOVING SPECIMEN FROM MOLD AND DRYING.—Lay a piece of clean board of the proper size on top of the mold, turning both over. Lift up the mold a trifle, gently shaking it. The fish may or may not come out. If not, turn the mold back, insert the point of a knife in the wood and try to start the fish. In extreme cases it may be necessary to break the mold carefully. However, there should be no undercuts to hold the fish.

Carefully wash the fish as it lays on the board to remove all clay and plaster which may be on the upper surface. With the fingers smooth out any wrinkles or uneven places. Sometimes, when drying, small wrinkles or bubbles may appear in the skin of such fish as trout, but they will soon disappear. If you placed the fish in a natural position when making the mold and properly adjusted the cleaned skin to the mold, there should be no wrinkles.

Place thin pieces of wood the shape of the fins between the board and the dorsal and anal fins, which should stand out from the board a little way. Cover the tail and the fins which lie flat with thin pieces of wood, pinning them to the board until dry. The fins which do not lie flat should be spread between thin pieces of wood held in place with pins or clips.

When the surface of the fish is dry, which will be in from six to twelve hours, give it a coat of the very best white varnish (the ordinary yellow varnish will not do) and put the specimen in a well ventilated place out of the sun to dry. In three or four days when the fins are dry, remove the thin pieces of wood and apply another coat of varnish.

CAUTION.—Arsenic is poison and should be kept out of the way of children and animals. Keep the box covered when not in use.

Cuts in the hand can be protected by covering them with liquid court plaster. Clean the finger nails carefully when through work, washing the hands in warm water containing a few drops of carbolic acid.

FINISHING.—While the fish is drying secure uncolored glass eyes with the properly shaped black pupils and paint the iris from your sketch. When the specimen is thoroughly dry, in two or three weeks, dig a sufficient amount of clay out of the eye opening and put in the glass eye, setting it in papier mache. Use the prepared mache, which only requires boiling with water for preparation. When the mache is dry, give the exposed portion of it one or two coats of paint of the proper color.

Now do such painting as may be necessary—for instance, the spots and fins of the brook trout, colors of which have doubtless vanished by this time. Use tube paint, thinned with the white varnish. Usually it is sufficient to place a small quantity of the paint of the proper color directly into the varnish. Do not use much of the paint—just enough to secure the color and yet not obscure the scales. Where the markings are prominent, put some of the paint directly on the fish and spread it with the varnish. Brilliant spots, such as those of the trout, can be reproduced by the use of the paints without the varnish.

While the specimen is drying prepare a panel for it. To show the fish to the best advantage, the panel should be of polished hardwood, although stained pine will answer. Bore two holes about half way through the panel from the back, slanting upward, by which to hang it. (See Fig. 8.) Bore two holes entirely through the panel in the proper places and screw the fish to it, putting in the screws from the back of the panel and into the fish where the wood is thickest. Countersink the screws.


Finally, apply a last coat of the varnish. Do not varnish the glass eye. By keeping a piece of writing paper between the panel and your brush you can varnish the fish without getting any on the panel. It is best to put on the final coat after the specimen is mounted on the panel, because if the fish is handled before the varnish is hard finger marks will show.

SIDE VIEW. (Fig. 9)

MOUNTING HEADS.—With a sharp knife or saw cut the head off squarely just back of first (pectoral) fins, as shown in Figs. 9 and 10, which show the head of a black bass. In this case the ventral fins are also left on. Place the head on a board with the cut part down, spreading the fins as in Fig. 10. If it is to be displayed with open mouth, fill the mouth with cotton or cloth to exclude the plaster. Cover the whole head with plaster.

FRONT VIEW. (Fig. 10)

After the plaster sets, with a saw and knife cut the mold into two parts lengthwise, being careful not to cut into the head. Use the saw first and when the plaster is cut down close to the skin use the knife carefully. Do not attempt to remove the head before cutting the mold in two.

Remove flesh and cartilage from the head, line with aluminum leaf, and proceed as previously instructed. Of course none of the tongue is to be removed if the mouth is to be left open, in which case do not remove the bony parts of the gills. Before placing the cleaned skin in the mold, tie the two parts of the mold together. Cut a neck board to fit and set it in plaster. Finish as previously advised.



The largest reptile of the United States, the alligator, is mounted by methods applied to medium sized animals. Leg, head and tail rods are stapled to a stout back board and after building up the legs from tow the larger part of the body is filled by stuffing with coarse tow or fine excelsior. Let the skin rest back down while engaged in this, sewing up the skin as it proceeds, with stout twine and a sail needle. You may even need to use the awl to pierce the armor like skin.

For any natural position the leg irons need not be heavy as this animal usually keeps its body and tail in contact with the ground. The leg rods are clinched or bolted beneath the pedestal as in other quadrupeds and in addition some long screws are turned into the back board from below and the tail held down by wire fastened to its central support and clinched beneath the pedestal.

All but the smallest lizards are mounted in the same way as the small furbearers. There is apparently no known mode of "stuffing" a snake so as to resemble its natural state.

The skin must be placed on a carefully modelled manikin with a plastic layer between. For small snakes tow is wound on a wire and shaped with thread, and excelsior is used in the same way for the large ones.

The larger manikins are to be posed and paper coated in most cases before receiving the skin. Frogs and toads are also very difficult to mount in natural positions, but are nicely represented in painted casts.

Frogs, however, possess the distinction of not having to be sewed up, when skinned as they usually are through the mouth. In doing this the entire body is dissected away through the mouth and the legs are detached and skinned the same way.


After turning completely wrong side out and poisoning the legs are wired, wrapped with tow or cotton in the same manner as other small animals. One hind leg wire is cut long enough to reach through the body and head and to this the other leg wires are twisted. Some claim that to leave the vertebral column attached to the skin of the back is an invaluable aid in giving that part its proper shape.

The body filling is tow or cotton placed through the mouth in small pieces until the proper shape is acquired. Dry sand has been used to fill the bodies of frogs, being poured in the mouth through a funnel and retained by a cotton plug until the skin was dry, when it was poured out.

Painting and varnishing are required to finish mounted frogs. The frog is a favorite with the caricaturist as it can be made to take almost any human posture with laughable results.

Turtles may be mounted by wrapping and wiring legs, tail and head like other small animals, after detaching the under shell on three sides, removing the body and skinning the limbs. The tow wrapped legs should have a covering of soft clay which can be shaped with the fingers after they are returned to the skin.

Twisting the wires together is all right for the small turtles, large ones need a block of wood to clinch the wires in. The under shell is replaced and fastened with small wires and as enough skin was left attached to it to sew to, all cuts are closed that way. Heavy wires are seldom necessary in turtles. Those having bright colored shells will need to be touched up with paint and all should be varnished thinly to give a fresh appearance.


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