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.



This subject is more of interest to the museum preparator than the home taxidermist, but a short consideration of it is not out of place here.

Many instructive and pleasing little groups of our smaller mammals and birds can be prepared for display in the home. Such groups usually require casing for protection but are well worth the trouble and expense.

Always try to make a group mean something. Let the subjects be feeding, fighting or occupied in any natural way. Family groups showing the male and female, adults and young, in the home surroundings are always good.

The seasonal groups of Spring, Autumn, Summer and Winter have been produced by most bird taxidermists at some time. Appropriate varieties of small birds are the blue birds for Spring; gold finches, Autumn; yellow birds or tanagers, Summer; snow birds, Winter. Framed with painted backgrounds and suitable accessories their shallow wall cases may be hung like pictures.


Never make the mistake of grouping animals that would never meet in natural circumstances or furnish them with incongruous surroundings.

The arrangement of groups for the exhibition cases of museums is very exacting as they are made open to the view on all sides. In order to judge of the affect such groups are modelled in miniature clay figures which are changed and re-arranged until satisfactory before the mounting is begun.

Such work is rather out of our province but an intelligent arrangement of two or more figures can be made to convey many more ideas than a single one would suggest.

Some of the most striking groups are those of the larger carnivora in combat, but they hardly possess the real value of painstaking life studies of some of our more familiar kindred of the wild.



A knowledge of this subject coupled with the necessary mechanical ability will enable their possessor to take place in the front ranks of taxidermists. Even if we have but little opportunity to study the anatomy of some of the rarer varieties of animal forms we can inform ourselves of certain typical features possessed in common by other more common members of the same great family or species.

Press and camera supplies us with much reliable information on the subject. Books on natural history, travels and sports were never so complete, interesting, and withal, so easy of access as they are nowadays.

A great help to the naturalist is a collection of pictures such as appear from time to time in periodicals. Back numbers of magazines on outdoor life and sports will contribute quantities of these, most of them reproduced from photographs and in a short time a large collection of such can be made. Packing these in the pockets of a letter file will keep them together, and at the same time make it possible to withdraw any one or more for inspection when wanted.

Photos of dead animals are not particularly valuable but casts always are; make them whenever opportunity offers. Not so much casts of the entire specimen as casts of various details.

Get a set of moulds of the noses of say deer, moose, domestic cattle and sheep and keep the resulting casts for reference. Their value will be apparent when mounting heads. Any sketches, however rough, will also be of use.

The circus and zoo will furnish feast days for the student of animal anatomy and pencil and camera may be used freely at both with the assurance of the best of treatment from officials and keepers.

A visit to the meat market will afford opportunity for study of the muscular system of the domestic animals.

The sculptor builds up his clay model unhampered by fur, feathers or bones and chisels out his statuary on a scale determined by himself while the taxidermist must not only construct his figures or manikins in correct proportions, but make them fit a certain skin. Hence it behooves him even more than the sculptor to be well grounded in at least the main principles of the anatomy of animals.

Birds in particular are a fruitful source of study, muffled as they are in feathers, when stripped presenting a very different appearance. To illustrate the value of a knowledge of avian anatomy I will mention an incident occurring many years ago at a large taxidermy establishment.


Two of the frugal minded workmen having skinned a large plump duck laid the body minus head, feet, and wings aside to furnish a dinner next day. The porter regarding same as his perquisite abstracted and hid it. The first owners discovering it substituted the body of a large horned owl then in the process of mounting and so made all concerned happy. The porter bragging loudly next day of the fine duck he had done them out of, they were able to convince him of the truth only by exhibiting the duck remains as a part of their lunch.



One of the leading authorities in this country has aptly said, "The ideal taxidermist must be a combination of modeller and anatomist, naturalist, carpenter, blacksmith and painter. He must have the eye of an artist and the back of a hod carrier." This should not dismay the beginner for such casting and modelling as will be indispensable are comparatively simple.

In order to cast we must have molds and in our work these are chiefly of plaster. They are divided into two classes known as piece and waste molds. As the names indicate the latter is wasted or destroyed after making one copy while the piece variety can be used for a number of reproductions. The piece mold is divided into sections in such a way as will allow its removal without injury to either mold or cast. The waste mold is made from soft or fleshy objects which can be drawn from it in spite of projections known as undercuts.

As an illustration let us procure a cast of a deer's nose for reference in mounting the head later. For our purpose we wish a cast of the nose and lips, so with the head in the flesh at hand, the hair as far back as the corner of the mouth is coated with clay water to prevent the liquid plaster from penetrating and adhering. This done the head is propped up on the table and a rough box arranged around it, which will reach nearly to the mouth as the head is placed with nose uppermost. Pour sand in this box until only as much of the nose projects as is desired to cast.

Now mix in a bowl or basin a sufficient amount of water and plaster of paris to cover the surface of the deer's nose about ¼ inch thick. This should be of the consistency of cream and enough bluing or lampblack should be added to give it a decided tint.

If the skin of the lips and nose is disposed naturally the plaster may be ladled on with the spoon, endeavoring to get about an even coating. Wash any remaining bits from the dish and mix say twice the amount of plaster without coloring. Distribute this over the other and allow to harden, which they will do in about 20 minutes. A little careful work will withdraw this mold from the nose and it may either be laid aside or used at once in making the cast.

To do this brush the inside with clay water and pour it full of plaster. Shake well to prevent bubbles and when hardened chisel away the mold. In doing this lay it on the lap or a cushion and chip off the mold. When the first layer (the colored one) appears work with caution to avoid marring the cast.

If a wire loop was inserted before the plaster hardened the cast may be hung on the wall for future reference.


The preparation of a piece mold is somewhat different. A mold can be made in two pieces of a round object like a ball and if each piece is exactly one-half, it will draw, because there is no point under which the plaster will hold. Any hollows or projections will form "under cuts" necessitating making the mold in a number of pieces that it may relieve or be lifted off the cast. Molds of heads from which to cast paper forms are often wanted and are easily made. With the skinned head of a fox, let us say, on the table, the lower part is embedded in fine sand or clay about on a line with the mouth. Cover half of the exposed upper part of the head also with clay. Pour to the depth of at least ½ inch on the remainder.

Remove the clay from the other half of the face, and after countersinking two or three shallow holes in the edge of that part of mold already made and coating that edge with clay water, pour plaster for the second piece of mold. When this hardens pick up head from its bedding of sand or clay and turn over so the final piece of model can be made.

Always coat the edges with shellac or clay water to prevent adhesion and countersink a few holes for dowels to aid in holding the pieces in place. Dry out thoroughly and shellac the whole interior and joining edges. If it is slightly oiled before using a great number of casts may be made from it. This will give us a complete cast of a fox head with closed mouth.

A shorter method to obtain molds of the upper part of the head and face for making paper half-head forms, is to imbed in sand or clay as directed and stick a piece of stout thread or cord along the central lines of the head and face. A little clay will hold this in place and there should be a few inches surplus at each end. Mix the plaster and cover the entire top and sides of the head with it. Just as the plaster begins to harden draw the thread upward through the stiffening plaster cutting it in two parts which are easily removed when hard. When dry coat with shellac, tie together and they are ready for use.


To cast half head forms soak some paper and after coating one side with paste, press into the mold with the fingers. The first layer should be quite soft so as to crowd into all depressions. About six layers of building paper is thick enough for a fox head size. When dry cut the cords and detach the mold.

Molds for deer head forms are made in two pieces, one for each side of the head, and are necessarily not carried completely around the antlers. This gap is just filled in the head form by the plate of bone bearing the antlers, which is sawed from the skull.

The entire neck may be molded in connection with the head if desired. Gelatine and compositions of glue and wax are used for molds where fine definition is desirable, and wax as well as plaster and paper for making casts. The ground up paper pulp is used for many casts, pressing it into mold with fingers and spatulas.

Clay is the stand-by of the taxidermist modeller. That furnished by art dealers is best, but for common use potter's clay is all that is necessary. A little glue mixed in plaster delays its setting and makes it harder when dry. Good papier mache is one of the best materials for much modelling and wax for very fine work. Tools for this work may be purchased or home made of wood, bone or metal.

Many forms of fishes and reptiles are difficult or impossible to mount by ordinary methods. On these the caster and modeller may work his will, and if he also possesses a good eye for color the results may be of the best. As an indisputable record of anatomy even a poor cast is valuable.

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