Antique Taxidermy Restoration

Antique Taxidermy Restoration

We get asked to recommend Edwardian Taxidermy Resources by our friends , we now include below a list of those we have had favourable feedback on this is not a complete list, if you don't find what your looking for then please feel free to contact us. If you also wish to link to us then your taxidermy information shall only be placed in the appropriate class. We are interested in Purchasing Victorian Taxidermy, please respond via this on-line form of what you have for sale. HERE

General observation relating to taxidermy preservation

If you posses taxidermy, that has been handed down the generation or are just starting out collecting taxidermy. Firstly welcome to this interesting and diverse world of collecting. From our experience and observations is it NOT advisable to do the following:

Keeping the items in a garage / shed or attic. Damatic variations in temperature has a very dramtic effect on wood, cloth and paper. Mould occurs, cases split and allows both insects and dust into the displays. Damp also causes watercolour paintwork to spoil and paper to begin to crease/crack and also split. If you wish to preserve your investment, then we suggest that you keep these items in the home at an ambient tempreture.
A damp environment, particularly when associated with warmth, creates conditions that favour chemical decomposition, mould formation and pest attack (see below). High temperatures coupled with low humidity - such as may exist near a radiator or boiler - may cause skin to shrink and tear. Mounted specimens should never be placed on a wall over an active fireplace that is also producing soot and other harmful emissions.


Damp causing rust from non-galvanised wires typically used in the Victorian era. Impossible to practically rectify. Suggest that you keep taxidermy in an ambient temprature.

Two more examles of mould being caused by cases being left in a damp place.

Mergnansers by William Hope of Edinburgh. No thats not a snow effect on the females bill

Corncrakes by William Hope of Edinburgh. Staining to the back of the cases and also mould growth actually on the birds themselves.

Sunlight. Keep your specimens out of direct sunlight as they WILL "bleach" the natural pigments from both fur and feather. This in the main is irreversible and spoils the whole intended effect of the case. Ideally collection shold be kept in a darkened room, lit only by artificial light. Cases, unless designed specifically to do so, should not be hung on walls. Cases should also not be piled on top of each other as the cumulative weight breaks the weakest case, normally the one at the bottom. Good quality taxidermy is both rare to come by, expensive to buy and very very costly to restore. The value of the item is also significantly reduced if the item has been resotred.
The quickest way to de-value your collection is to implement all of the above. These are only our sugestions based upon cumulatively many many years of collecting and preserving. You are free of course to ignore any or all of our suggestions regarding taxidermy preservation.


Simply stunning female duck, as if swimming by J Cullingford of County Durham.

Historical perspective for Antique Taxidermy Restoration

For a detailed insight into preserving and restoring this art form you are better served to read books produced by Mr Robert Chinnery and Mr Christopher Frost. Both authours are very experienced and their books are well executed, with photographs and are now collector’s items in their own right. They have been well researched and should provide those with limited knowledge the confidence to approach the subject of Antique taxidermy restoration more confidently and in a better informed manner. To find them, simply research the names on the Internet.
In terms of my own discussion into the subject, it is merely my own opinion and you are more than welcome to disagree, but at least I have put pen to paper on this matter.

Victorian Taxidermy

I personally having seen a large number of "antique" taxidermy cases in both museums and private taxidermy collections that only a small percentage of the overall work produced is actually worthy of preservation. Many “labelled pieces” are best described as “junk” and do very little to convince others that this subject matter is both worthy of preservation and or collection. Do not forget that in the Victorian era, virtually every large village in the UK had a barber / taxidemist. The taxidermy trade was significant 120 years ago and only really went out of fashion in the 1930/40's and most commercial companies ceased trading in the 1970's. large numbers of cases were therefore produced as a result and consequently the quality varies dramatically. Many museums (in my opinion) and presumably due to lack of funds are not keeping their antique taxidermy collections in the manner that would best preserve them for future generations. This is a shame, but unavoidable currently. For the best examples of antique taxidermy to survive that era, it is best to observe the works by:
• Henry Ward
• Rowland Ward
• Peter Spicer
• James Hutchings (hardly ever affected by insect damage, unless the case has broken glass)
• James Gardner (Be warned, these cases do not survive well and is normally mothed to some degree)

Above are just my personal view of who created the best taxidermy cases, you may feel free to disagree. However during the above period, almost every small town in the UK has a resident taxidermist plying their trade as a side line to more conventional employment.

Simply stunning Short Eared Owl by Mike Gadd

Preservation / Restoration

I am afraid that I am in the “get the hammer out” school of taxidermy restoration. I personally cannot see the point in trying to restore a case, as in my view it is the contents of the box rather than the beading or the case work itself, that is important.
I agree that where possible it would be nice to have the case in as much as an original condition as possible, but I wonder if “stuffers” such as James Hutchings or Rowland Ward would have been so “precious” about the taxidermy items they produced. Paper pulp (mache) was extensively used historically as was "glued" moss or peat. dating cases from the scaps of Victorian paper, within the groundwork is always both interesting and amusing when reading the articles of the day. Time-capsules they most certainly are from that perspective.
European Jay by Robert Duncan of County Durham, before case restoration has taken place.

European Jay by Robert Duncan of County Durham, after case restoration has taken place.7 hours of work, re-waxed feet and re-set feathers. The results are as you can see.

Remember that these taxidermists were in business and produced taxidermy cases on an industrial scale that catered for the demand as it was then. A production line was common in the larger family run businesses, I cite Hutchings by example here.
It is now due to suggested rarity of the items that makes some seek only that which is original. The originality of taxidermy cases is a whole discussion point in itself. I agree that it would be preferential to have the case in original condition, but few taxidermy cases can survive 100 plus years of household use and abuse / treatment and not be affected by the passage of time. Cases themselves split, fading of the taxidermy occurs and insects do try and have a “chew” so to speak. The treatment of these issues can however be very rewarding and the finished article pleasing to the eye. It does however take a significant amount of time to restore a case that to the naked eye looks original. Buyers should always beware of fakes and caution when buying high value "original" items should be excercised. Buy in haste and repent a leisure.

Victorian case of Male and Female Crossbill by FC Waters of Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. The above case has just taken 11 hours to restore to what you see now. The top glass was brokern and therefore needed replacing with 3mm "float" glass, that was produced in the Victorian era. The taping has to be replaced sympathetically, and trying to retain as much of the original tape as possible. Sometimes restoration is both required and in this case worth the effort. This case in reality has had very little restoration, but broken glass should always be replaced as insect may potentially enter and cause damage. Good restoration takes a lot of time and therefore is very expensive to undertake.

Original glass is important as it does covey a certain presence to the item within the case, but this glass was only really that was commercially available and therefore if better materials were available such as toughened glass then I am sure that it would have been used. I personally find 2 / 3 mm glass a nightmare to deal with as it breaks so readily at the slightest touch. It is also difficult but not impossible to replace. Victorian "glass houses" are normally a good source for antique glass, but years in daylight and exposure to all weathers make it very brittle and thin.
There are a number of excellent restorers of old cases, namely:
• Christopher Frost
• Robert Chinnery
• Mark Ball
• Jeff Dent
• Tony Armitstead.
If you have a case of taxidermy that requires restoration then I suggest that you may wish to contact any of the above for a quote (Either by the Guild of Taxidermy or The Internet).

Remember however that the taxidermy restoration costs may be significantly more than the items “true” value so it would be advisable to seek a quotation before asking a professional to proceed. Most are happy to provide quotes from pictures or if you are in the area, then simply arrange a visit.

Taxidermy forgeries

Forgeries can range from the technically excellent, where you "cannot see the join", to moronic attempts to deceive. Monetary gain appears to be driving this type of activity, so no surprise there really. The frequency of forging attempts also appears to be increasing also. In our opinion Victorian fish taxidermy (John Cooper, WF Homer and Griggs) and the like, appear to be the most routinely copied. This is due in part to that the species used are still easily obtained and the skill involved in re-creating what appears to be a Victorian example is less arduous. Also these items were produced on an industrial scale and certainly have more mass appeal, other than restricted solely to taxidermy collectors. Not to mention also the items individual value which can be significant? Prices range from 500-10,000 and above for rare items. This then tends to attract the "bottom feeders" driven by monetary gain. Taxidermied fish age with time and change colour, which appears can be re-created readily and with little effort or skill. The only way to combat this is to only buy from reputable dealers and or do research on the subject so that you are more confident when purchasing. We would recommend however that you employ the services of a specialist taxidermist for advice and or go to a reputable dealer who perhaps specializes in fish taxidermy. Other attempts at forgeries range from very accurate attempts that fool most, to merely just adding a Victorian label to a case, the contents of which clearly not reflecting the suggested maker / artist. These ham-fisted attempts amuse rather than concern.

Game heads that magically detach themselves from their placque's only to find themselves re-attached to placque's with trade labels and historic data always raises an amused eyebrow by us when encountered. These are often rejected unless they are cheaper than a modern equivalent to produce. No point in wasting a good mount, but the historical context is then often lost. We have seen examples where competent Victorian taxidermy, removed from a broken case has been placed into a case where the original contents were destroyed due to insects but the original groundwork and the actual case are still sound in construction. This tends to be harder to spot, and we have no real answer as to how you can combat this if you only seek Victorian taxidermy that is totally original. Remember this is not "restoration" it is a forgery as it is purporting to be what it is not for monetary gain. The challenge also occurs when un-mounted original birds, the recent TE Gunn auction is a very good example, have the potential to find themselves re-located into an original TE Gunn case (contents previously "mothed" or badly faded) with associated original groundwork. The term mothed is a collector's term for insect attack that has caused irreparable damage to the subject. We would prefer to call this restoration, but clearly it was not as the maker intended and one would have to question the motivation of such an act should indeed this be actually happening. The more collectable the Victorian taxidermist the more likely this is to motivate those who wish to undertake this type of activity. A little sad, but then again not exactly surprising. Clearly the rarity of the item tends to reduce its ability to be faked mostly in part due to obtaining a similar quality item from the same period from another source to complete the illusion. Typically these cases are restored and this tends to be obvious when crudely undertaken.

One way to combat forgeries is to look at the site, as you will see on the whole original / restored examples of the Victorian taxidermy art, as well as modern day taxidermist undertaking competent work that pays homage to the Victorian styles. That said, we cannot and do not suggest that all the items show are original, but with reference to Peter Spicer (perhaps being the hardest to fake) and James Hutchings, we feel that most represented on the pages are as near as original , given the 100 plus years that each case has existed. Peter Spicers work is so complex, well executed and requiring not only competent taxidermy, but also superb cabinet making skills and artistic flare when painting water colours that these cases are beyond the skill range of most people these days. We cannot stress the importance of going to both reputable and knowledgeable dealers when purchasing higher value taxidermy by famous Victorian makers. Remember also that a makers label, ivorine disc and etched glass will not ensure that the contents are original. Our personal view and the Merlin's on the Rowland Ward page are a good example of this. That case is actually original (not for sale by the way, we are collectors remember), but lets discuss the hypothetical that the case is not???. The purchase price of the case was 125 pounds. Our view is that who cares if the case is a fake, given the cost to own. You would have to pay more than that for a single legally acquired bird today and then the cost to have it mounted and cased. A modern version of this case could be in excess of 1000 The opposing view would be that if the case was sold for 2500, then we are confident that the new owner would be somewhat aggrieved that it was not original given the financial expenditure involved. Ironically Chris Frost mentions his own experiences of forgeries back in the 1970's, so it seems that money motivated scumbags appear in every generation.

How do you protect yourself???. Original cases are exactly that, original. They tend to be un-opened and retain all of the issues associated with the case being in excess of 100 years old. Arsenic bloom on the inside of the case tends to suggest that the internal elements of the case have not been cleaned. Beading and paper taping should always look as though it has never been removed and or restored. Cases should look as though they have been around for 100 plus years, that said however that is also no guarantee that the contents are by the maker suggested on the label or etched glass. Newly painted cases could have the potential to have been "messed with", a term that generically describes cases in the collecting world that have a question mark placed upon them. Merely possessing a trade label, etched glass and data is not sufficient to convey originality. Look at the mount, does it look old, has it faded with age, do the colours look bright as if created yesterday. With birds glass eyes were the norm in the Victorian era, but have been replaced with more modern synthetic materials today. Glass eyes have a very different look to the modern versions. Feathers on birds also tend to curl with age, in particular the primary wing and tail feathers. More modern mounts tend not exhibit such traits. Look at the mount in context also with the general condition of the overall case. This is by no means a full proof method but it is a start. Also bear in mind that the more expensive the item, the more likely it is to be faked. Rowland Ward is going to attract more interest from the forgers than say W.H.Vignoe from Cornwall, the latter tends not be faked due to the poor overall quality of the mounts, groundwork and cases and the low sale price. Why would you bother, why indeed. You may also run the risk that when purchasing say a Victorian case that contains a Tawny Owl that the Owl is in fact a modern mount masquerading as an Old bird. You may also at this point be breaking the law, so caution is always advised. If you find yourself in this position it may pay you to consult with, for specialist advice as to how to deal with such an event. Kim has written an article on this very subject and his advice is worth having.
Just a quick statement for all you Ebay fans who so frequently use the term in your descriptions that "The item pre-dates 1947", so it does not require a licence. To use the term in your defence is not enough. You, in order to use that term, need to be able to prove, with the use of documented provenance that the items actually has been created before 1947. Otherwise the term and your ability to use the term is no defence. Our closing statement can only be "Caveat Emptor" when acquiring or be happy with the end result. I personally have never paid anything like some of the sums involved and paid by others to ever be concerned. A trait, that I shall continue going forward. As Oscar Wilde put it in specific reference to humanity but it works just as well here, that "Nowdays people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing If you would like to see what items cost (but not necessarily reflective of their value) then go to hppt://


Victorian Coot by Bryant from The Andy Henry Collection.

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