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.



While the preparation of skeletons for the cabinet is sometimes undertaken by the general taxidermist it is more often the work of a trained osteologist. Collectors in the field are often asked to preserve rough skeletons of desirable varieties and the skulls at least should be preserved with the skin of each quadruped taken for mounting.

A specimen with a damaged or imperfect skin may yield a good skeleton and in the case of something very rare both the skin and skeleton may be mounted separately. This process is one calling for a skilled operator as all claws, nails or hoofs should remain on the skin while their bony cores are part of the skeleton.

In the preservation of rough skeletons, skinning by any method is the first step, next the removal of the viscera, etc., then the most of the flesh and muscle should be dissected off the bones, after which poison with dry arsenic and put where it will dry out quickly and be out of the reach of foraging animals.

The legs of small animals should be unjointed as well as the skull and after trimming be put inside the body cavity and securely tied to prevent loss; birds are treated about the same and all large animals are pretty thoroughly taken apart in order to properly clean the bones.

Always remember that a skeleton with parts cut away or bones lost is about as good as none. Leave any cartilage attachments and any parts of a bony nature for the osteologist, to be on the safe side. Sometimes along salt water an uncleaned skeleton may be put in a wire netting cage and anchored in the water where various small marine animals will soon clear away the flesh. On land, too, a similar expedient may be practiced by putting small carcasses in a box with holes bored in it and burying it in some active ant hill. In both cases the openings need to be small, that the smaller bones may not be carried off and they should be removed before the ligaments are destroyed.


When they are not wanted for scientific purposes, skulls may be cleaned with the minimum labor by boiling. Watch them closely, however, and remove as soon as the flesh gets tender as much cooking will cause the teeth to fall out and the skull to separate at the sutures. Glue and plaster paris will put such disintegrated skulls in shape for commercial mounting but they are ruined forever for the scientist.

A friend was once cleaning a quantity of skulls (for museum purposes) and to expedite matters put them on to boil; all went well as long as the pot was watched, but an accident, the collapse of a large building, called him away and prevented his return until a dozen or so skulls had turned to a mass of loose teeth and scraps of bone. I never knew just what transpired between him and the museum curator afterward, nothing of interest to the general public.

Small specimens which it is proposed to skeletonize are best preserved entire in alcoholic solution as loss and breakage are thus prevented. The solution of formaldehyde can be used for this purpose but is not as good as it toughens the flesh, making its future removal more difficult. The complete cleaning of a skeleton is a matter of much soaking and scraping, calling for much patience and a strong stomach. Ligamentary skeletons of the smaller birds and animals are often prepared and mounted by the non-professional with fair success.

The entire specimen is cleaned of all flesh without disconnecting any of the bones except the skull and the leg of all but the smallest species.

The spinal cord is replaced with a brass or galvanized wire of suitable size and length; this should project enough to penetrate a piece of cork fitted to the cavity of the skull. If the leg bones were removed they should be fastened back in place by drilling small holes through them at the joints, inserting a piece of brass wire and clinching the ends over.

The skeleton is hung by cords or threads in a frame of wooden strips, so the feet will rest on the base, and then arranged in some natural attitude, holding the parts in place until the ligaments are fully dry by means of pins, threads and strips of cardboard.

The finished skeleton had best be supported on its pedestal by two metal rods with a U shaped fork at their upper ends which will clasp the vertebrae just in front of the hind legs and back of the head. These rods should be of brass or galvanized iron gilded and their lower ends are either threaded and provided with two nuts, or bent at right angles and stapled to the under side of the mount. Bird skeletons are treated in a similar way, but the wing bones need a supporting wire fastened to the back bone and a single standard. The smaller birds and animals up to the size of a small squirrel may be skeletonized and mounted without metal supports.

A ligament which gives way may be replaced by some fibres of raw cotton saturated with glue. While cleaning the bone for a ligamentary skeleton it should be kept damp until it is given the final attitude. Water with a few drops of carbolic acid should be used for this. A bath with chloride of lime solution will help to whiten the bones, though very greasy ones call for an application of benzine.

Fish, reptiles, etc., demand about the same treatment. The large birds and quadrupeds are usually cleaned bone by bone, and each joint articulated in the laboratory, though their preservation in the field as rough skeletons require similar methods.

The main rule in collecting skeletons is to never, never lose a bone or anything of a bony nature attached to the specimen.



As our game becomes scarcer I believe there will be more demand for the preservation of the sportsman's trophies than in the days of abundance now past. Then only a phenomenally rare or large or freakish example seemed to warrant the trouble and expense of putting in the taxidermist's hands. Now the souvenir of a good day's sport or a memorable outing is deemed well worth keeping.

Heads, horns, skins for floor or hangings and fish and game panels for the dining room walls have always been in high favor with sportsmen. So also are unique articles of use and decoration for the home. The naturalist sportsman whose trips are, from force of circumstances, only local can in a short time make a splendid showing by preserving such good types of game as he may procure.

In mounting birds as hanging dead game it is well to hang the specimen before skinning, in the position wished and if possible sketch it so, at least impress its appearance well on the memory. The main points of the process are the same as for ordinary mounting. There are, however, a few exceptions which I will mention.

If one side of a bird is defective in any way it may be mounted with such side next the panel, so often, if the specimen is to have the breast or under side displayed, the opening cut is made down the back or on one side. If a pair of birds of the same kind are used on one panel pose them to display the back of one and breast of the other.

It will usually be necessary to wire the wings of birds for game panels so as to adjust them properly, though they are sometimes fixed from the outside by embedding sharpened wires in the body.

FLYING DUCK. (For wall.)

Ducks of all kinds are especially suitable for panels in that their plumage being stiffer and more durable does not make casing in glass so necessary, though most of our game birds can, by proper treatment, dispense with such protection. One of the most effective duck trophies which I ever saw was a string of three or four small duck rising in flight apparently from one corner of a room, to the ceiling in the center of the side wall.


For this effect they are mounted with wings spread and raised, head and legs outstretched. They are hung on nails in the wall in a regularly ascending line, the point of suspension being a wire loop under the wing on the side next the wall. Single birds look well in the same position. Rabbits and squirrels are also mounted as hanging dead game either in combination with some of the small game birds or separately. In selecting panels for this class of work use those finished in a contrasting color to the general tone of the specimens, a dark bird on a lighter panel and the reverse. On all panels and shields smooth rounded, beveled or Ogee edges are advisable. Small headings and intricate moulding are dust catchers. Wild cats, 'coons, foxes, coyotes, even bears and pumas gathered by night hunters and dog enthusiasts are usually best made up as more or less elaborate rugs. As wall and couch or chair hangings these have no trimming and often no lining except under the head. If for any reason the skins are unfit for this the heads can generally be used as wall mounts.

Room may be found for a few of the smaller specimens mounted whole but in the average home they are the bugbear of the housekeeper, early exiled to the attic. A friend of mine has his collection of small game birds, occupying the plate rail of his dining room, well out of the way and admired by many. Well mounted heads and antlers are suitable almost anywhere that they do not seem crowded. The famous East Room of the White House has some handsome examples. To make them answer a useful purpose they are made into hall racks, alone and in combination with feet. The makers of mounts offer a number of very attractive designs in the well-finished hard woods, some provided with plate glass mirrors. Fish make beautiful trophies which lend themselves particularly to wall decoration on panels or as framed medallions. How often the mounted trophy would save the fisherman's reputation for veracity. Perhaps their rapidly perishable nature accounts for the rarity of fish trophies. In conclusion I would say if you are a sportsman try the preliminary or entire preservation of some of your trophies, at least get them to the taxidermist in as good order as you can. Remember no matter how fine a specimen may have been, if allowed to be mutilated, become putrid or damaged, it can never be entirely repaired.


The taxidermist must recall that exigencies of the field are responsible for neglect of many details and a nature loving sportsman is a friend worth having, who will share the contents of a seldom overfull purse with you in return for your best efforts.



There is almost no end to the useful and interesting things an ingenious person can turn out in this line. There is quite a demand for the preservation of the plumage of game birds for millinery use since the killing of other birds for this purpose was forbidden. Wings, tails, heads and breasts, principally, of grouse, pheasants and water fowl so used do not call up visions of starving nestlings. They need only to be skinned and poisoned as usual and pinned out to dry in the desired shape often loosely filling in and some cases wiring with rather small soft wire. When dry all raw edges or surfaces should be covered with pieces of cambric or lining canvas glued on.

Antlers and horns are sometimes worked up into armchairs and two pairs of small deer antlers turned upside down and screwed to a square of board make the foundation of a nice stool. Hat, gun and rod racks of feet, antlers and heads in various combinations are mentioned elsewhere and occasionally some one attempts an electrolier of antlers, mounted either on the heads or separately.

To do this grooves are chiseled out of the back of the antlers to receive insulated wire running to each point which is equipped with a light bulb. After placing the wires and bulbs and testing, the grooves are filled with "mache" or putty colored to match the other surface.

Peacock feather and fox tail dusters are fitted with buck horn handles or those made of fox or wild cat paws. Riding whips will look well with the same style handles.

Screens from mounted birds are highly ornamental, especially those of framed plush or satin on which birds of contrasting plumage are mounted in medallion style. It would be hard to find a more beautiful object than a snow white heron medallion on a black velvet screen framed in gold. These medallions are mounted by flattening the subject considerably so it is in little more than half relief.

A number of small birds may be mounted on a satin covered screen with embroidered branches and foliage. Some of the smaller fur bearers have been used in this way with success.

Some artists have specialized in grotesque mounting of small specimens, singly and in groups. Frogs, toads and squirrels are best suited to such caricature work.

FOOT MUFF, TRIMMED WITH HEAD AND TAILS.A foot muff can be made up from scraps of fur and will be appreciated in cold climates on long rides and indoors as well sometimes. To make this a covering of the size and shape of a foot stool is made of carpet or similar material. The bottom and sides are of this and the top of some short fur. A slit is made in this top and a bag of long fur or wool is sewed into the slit so when the muff or stool is loosely filled with tow and excelsior the feet may be thrust down into the fur lined pocket. The head of a fox or wildcat in half relief put on top, over the feet will give a finish to it.

A novelty in fur rugs is to mount the skin of some small animal in the center of a larger one of contrasting color. The so-called Plates of black goat are often so used with a fox, coon, or lynx in the center.

To do this mount the fox as for a half head rug, when dry and shaped cut out a paper pattern the exact size of it. Apply this pattern to the back of the goat plate, mark around it and cut out, leaving the opening a little smaller than pattern. Be sure pattern was right side up. Sew the skin in from the back, wad and line it. A felt trimming is unnecessary on this rug.

Match safes, candle holders, and similar things are made from the heads of fish and ducks with metal containers fastened in their open mouths. Monkeys, bear cubs and alligators mounted erect with card trays are quite striking while foxes or raccoons peering over the edge of umbrella jars or waste baskets are equally so. Many animals are mounted in Germany for advertising purposes, being either sold outright or rented by the month. Some of these are really a form of slot machine with coin actuated mechanisms while others are motor driven, attracting attention as moving displays always do. Bears and foxes on swings and seesaws and various small animals on merry-go-rounds are always attractive.



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