The preservation of the skin of an animal which is modelled onto a body form to create a lifelike representation of the living animal. This includes the replication of fish, reptiles and amphibians by casting the actual animal.
This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
|Late 18th century. Unsuccessful methods were attempted from the 16th century.
Taxidermy grew through the first half of the 19th century and fine examples were shown at the Great Exhibition after which it became very popular. By the First World War many homes from the highest to the very modest had pieces of taxidermy as interior decor/interest. After the First World War interest declined except for field sports fraternity. By 1950s only two large firms in London and a very small number of solo operators remained and by late 60s only one London firm. At this time there was renewed interest and numbers grew (mainly professionals) through the 70s and 80s.
Birds and small mammals are mainly mounted by fitting an anatomically correct body made from balsa or styrofoam into the cleaned and washed skin using galvanised wires for the structure. Larger mammals are mounted putting the tanned skin onto a sculpted mannikin or form. This is anatomically accurate to the specific animal and is commonly made from PU foam. Commercial forms can be bought for many species. Whist fish and reptiles can be prepared using similar methods the preferred technique is to mould the actual specimen using silicone rubber and then make a replica with epoxy resin or similar.
Taxidermists have different strengths and specialisms.
- Tanning, but not chrome as is used for sheepskin rugs. Some UK taxidermists send their larger mammal skins to Germany as there are no longer any suitable tanners in the UK. The method needed is the same as used for fur dressing.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- The vast majority of the experienced, qualified professionals are of the age 50+. Many of these entered the craft in the 1970s and 80s. Of those who have become interested recently only 2 or 3 are showing signs of being able to progress. It is the loss of quality, experienced people through age (retirement) that is the biggest threat at the moment. In 10 years time the number of really good experienced taxidermists could be 10 or even lower.
- Whilst taxidermy as a hobby is currently very trendy the actual fashion for quality taxidermy in the home which sustained much of the increase in the trade through the 80s and 90s has gone. This leaves the business that comes from field sports which itself may prove difficult as public opinion goes against blood sports.
- In the 1980s there were over 30 taxidermists employed in UK museums; there are now none. This pool of experience and skill is no longer available to provide training, advice and experimentation.
Craftspeople currently known
The Guild of Taxidermists has a list of qualified current members on the FAQs page of its website. Virtually all practitioners are now sole traders.