Californian Condor

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Californian Condor

This is a request for assistence.

Background to the research

Before they became extremely rare, California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) were regularly collected as specimens for museums and private collections. Over 200 specimens are now known to be in existence, most of them acquired between 1850 and 1920. As might be expected, most are now found in museums in the United States, but at least 35 are distributed in collections elsewhere in the world.

St Gallen's Californian Condor.

As was the custom of the times, many California condor specimens were originally prepared by taxidermists as live mounts. In the interest of saving space and better preservation, most have now been relaxed and converted to study skins. Because most taxidermists were lucky to work on one or two condors in their lifetime, and because there were few early condor photographs available to help taxidermists prepare lifelike specimens, some of the specimens have been correctly described as "poorly prepared," "under-stuffed," and "indifferent work." However, there are still some very fine mounts that have survived. In most cases, the taxidermists who prepared the individual specimens are not known. Most were prepared by the resident taxidermists in the larger museums and in businesses like Ward's Natural History Establishment. One well-known private taxidermist, Thomas Shooter of Los Angeles, California, is known to have prepared at least five California condors. Joseph Cullingford, noted taxidermist of Durham, England, received a California condor to mount in 1903, but the location of that specimen is unknown.

Paris's Californian Condor.

Geneva's Californian Condor.

Geneva's Californian Condor.

Condor's skull.

Condor's dated 1925 in dioramas.

Condor's dated 1925 in dioramas.

Sanford Wilbur, an ornithologist and historian (Gresham, Oregon, U. S. A.), has been compiling information on California condors since 1970. He is currently writing a history of the condor specimens, including information on how and when each specimen was secured. The study also includes biographies of collectors, taxidermists, agents, and others who were prominent in building the store of condor specimens. He is eager to receive any information on the present location or history of California condor specimens (including live mounts, study skins, eggs, and skeletons), particularly those in smaller museums and private collections that he may have missed in his survey.
Stockholm's Californian Condor.

Condor diorama.

Condor from unknown source.

Joseph Cullingford and a Californian Condor 1901-03. Clearly Cullinford had an international reputation for producing quality mounts. The whereabouts of this particular bird is not currently known.

Robert Ridgway of the U. S. National Museum had asked Edward B. Towne of Massachusetts for a California condor skin that could be mounted for display at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Towne sent the specimen, but Ridgway found what he thought was a better condor to mount. In 1903 the Towne bird was sent to "Mr. Cullingford, The Museum, Durham." I assume it was preserved somewhere, but I have no further information on it. Several of the California condor specimens at the Natural History Museum (Tring) do not have collection or preparation data. It might be one of them, but maybe not.

Chain of custody documentation 1901-03 for the Californian Condor, sent to Cullingford.

Chain of custody documentation 1901-03 for the Californian Condor, sent to Cullingford.

Chain of custody documentation 1901-03 for the Californian Condor, sent to Cullingford.

I have found a number of California condor mounts and specimens in Europe, but currently all the UK specimens I know about are at Tring. If you know of specific locations, I would very much like to add them to my list. To date, I can account for some 300 California condor specimens (mostly study skins, but some taxidermy mounts) worldwide, most of them collected between 1875 and 1920. There are some earlier mounts, like the ones in Paris that date to the 1850s.

If you have any information pertinent to this research then please contact us and we will pass on the information. Many thanks.

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