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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged Taxidermy:

The Dead Zoo

The Natural History Museum of Ireland, sometimes called The Dead Zoo, is a branch of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin which houses around 10,000 taxidermy specimens from around the world, some of which have since gone extinct.

Remaining largely unaltered since it opened in 1857, leading some to call it a ‘museum of a museum’, many of the specimens are faded and display the bullet holes that originally killed the animal. 

Unfortunately the upper floors were closed during my visit, and I understand they will remain closed while urgent repair work is undertaken, but there’s still plenty to keep one occupied on the ground floor.

The Frog Museum

The Frog Museum in Switzerland originated in the 1850s when an eccentric Napoleonic guard began collecting dead frogs on his walks in the countryside. When he returned home he would gut them, fill the skins with sand, and arrange them into satirical tableaux depicting domestic life in the 19th century. 

[Sources: Image 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Wikipedia | Atlas Obscura | Official Website]

The Strange World of Professor Copperthwaite

The Strange World of Professor Copperthwaite was a taxidermy collection of all manner of weird and wonderful creatures billed in the 19th century as having been brough to the UK by the fictional Victorian adventurer Professor Copperthwaite. The collection includes bizarre stuffed animals including [2-7] a unicorn, a bat-duck hybrid, a winged cat, a "cheasant" or "phicken", a Cambodian woolly pig, and a yeti. It is thought Victorians were fooled by these mythical creatures because they appeared alongside real animals and other curiosities such as conjoined lambs.

(Source: telegraph.co.uk)

Fur-Bearing Trout
The fur-bearing trout is a fictional creature native to northern regions of North America. The basic claim is that the waters of lakes and rivers in the area are so cold that a species of trout has evolved which grows a thick coat of fur to maintain its body heat. 
In reality, a possible source may have been a simple misunderstanding. A 17th century Scottish immigrant’s letter to his relatives referring “furried animals and fish” being plentiful in the New World, followed by a request to procure a specimen of these “furried fish” to which the mischievous Scotsman readily complied by making one up, is often cited. In fact, the “cotton mold” Saprolegnia will sometimes infect fish, causing tufts of fur-like growth to appear on the body. 
The hoax can be unequivocally documented to go back to at least the 1930s. Following is an excerpt from an article in the Pueblo Chieftain dating back to November 15, 1938:

“Old-timers living along the Arkansas River near Salida have told tales for many years of the fur-bearing trout indigenous to the waters of the Arkansas … Tourists and other tenderfoot in particular have been regaled with accounts of the unusual fish, and Salidans of good reputation have been wont to relate that the authenticity of their stories has never been questioned—in fact, they’re willing to bet it’s never even been suspected.Then, last week, out of Pratt, Kansas, where water in any quantity large enough to hold a trout—fur-bearing or otherwise—is a rarity, came an urgent request for proof of the existence of the furry fin flappers. Upon the sturdy shoulders of Wilbur B. Foshay, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, fell the delicate task of informing the credulous Kansan, without detracting from the obvious tourist-attracting qualities of the pelted piscatorial prizes. With admirable diplomacy, and considerable aplomb, Foshay dispatched posthaste a photograph of the fish, obtained from a Salida photographer and told the Kansan to use his own judgment as to the authenticity of the species. The photograph sent has been available in Salida for some time.”*

Stuffed and mounted specimens of these fish can be found in a number of museums of curiosities. These are made-up; the Saprolegnia ”fur” cannot be preserved by taxidermy. [Source]
* The use of the English language in this paragraph is beautiful!
[Credit MUST be given to The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things for this, an impeccable blog filled with all kinds of ridiculously interesting things..!]

Fur-Bearing Trout

The fur-bearing trout is a fictional creature native to northern regions of North America. The basic claim is that the waters of lakes and rivers in the area are so cold that a species of trout has evolved which grows a thick coat of fur to maintain its body heat. 

In reality, a possible source may have been a simple misunderstanding. A 17th century Scottish immigrant’s letter to his relatives referring “furried animals and fish” being plentiful in the New World, followed by a request to procure a specimen of these “furried fish” to which the mischievous Scotsman readily complied by making one up, is often cited. In fact, the “cotton mold” Saprolegnia will sometimes infect fish, causing tufts of fur-like growth to appear on the body. 

The hoax can be unequivocally documented to go back to at least the 1930s. Following is an excerpt from an article in the Pueblo Chieftain dating back to November 15, 1938:

“Old-timers living along the Arkansas River near Salida have told tales for many years of the fur-bearing trout indigenous to the waters of the Arkansas … Tourists and other tenderfoot in particular have been regaled with accounts of the unusual fish, and Salidans of good reputation have been wont to relate that the authenticity of their stories has never been questioned—in fact, they’re willing to bet it’s never even been suspected.Then, last week, out of Pratt, Kansas, where water in any quantity large enough to hold a trout—fur-bearing or otherwise—is a rarity, came an urgent request for proof of the existence of the furry fin flappers. Upon the sturdy shoulders of Wilbur B. Foshay, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, fell the delicate task of informing the credulous Kansan, without detracting from the obvious tourist-attracting qualities of the pelted piscatorial prizes. With admirable diplomacy, and considerable aplomb, Foshay dispatched posthaste a photograph of the fish, obtained from a Salida photographer and told the Kansan to use his own judgment as to the authenticity of the species. The photograph sent has been available in Salida for some time.”*

Stuffed and mounted specimens of these fish can be found in a number of museums of curiosities. These are made-up; the Saprolegnia ”fur” cannot be preserved by taxidermy. [Source]

* The use of the English language in this paragraph is beautiful!

[Credit MUST be given to The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things for this, an impeccable blog filled with all kinds of ridiculously interesting things..!]

The Victorian Obsession with Hummingbirds

The Victorians were - quite literally and without the least exaggeration - absolutely besotted with hummingbirds.  Not only did the number of known species proliferate over the nineteenth century - from 18 in 1758 to over a hundred in 1829 - but each new discovery seemed to shimmer more brightly with all the colours of the rainbow or was even smaller or more perfectly formed than all that had been seen in England before.  “There is not, it may safely be asserted, in all the varied works of nature in her zoological productions,” William Bullock wrote about hummingbirds in 1824, “any family that can bear a comparison, for singularity of form, splendour of colour, or number and variety of species, with this the smallest of the feathered creation.”

Hummingbirds were frequently arranged on branches and displayed in visually intoxicating hoards like the image[s] above, believed to have been created by Bullock in the mid-nineteenth century.  As Judith Pascoe notes, the diminutive size of hummingbirds and their appeal as bijouterie “increased the enthusiasm for and the ease of creating these kinds of conglomerations.”  Hoarding accentuated the shimmer and vibrancy of the plumage and created a sort visual ecstasy for those not lucky enough to see the birds alive in the indigenous habitats.

[Image Sources: 1 : 2 : 3 : 4]

(Source: ravishingbeasts.com)

From a feature on “animal furniture” in Strand, August 1896:

“This obsequious-looking bear was shot in Russia by no less a personage than the Prince of Wales; and for years it has ‘waited’ meekly in the smoking-room at Marlborough House.”

Evidently this was the vogue in the 1860s. Further examples:

  • A chair made from a baby giraffe shot in British East Africa
  • A pet monkey converted into a candle holder (“Mr. Jamrach, the famous wild beast importer, was vexed with orders for dead monkeys”)
  • A black swan table lamp, made to order for a wealthy Australian gentleman
  • A “tiger chair” made for a gentleman in the Indian Civil Service (“Observe the ingenious way in which the tail is disposed, as though the tiger were coiled right round the chair”)
  • A small elephant made into a hall porter’s chair

Gandhi would later write, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

(Source: futilitycloset.com)

‘Nondescript’
This marvellous little creature is an interesting relic of a time where the exploration of the world offered strange and exotic possibilities to the European imagination.  ’Nondescript’ was created around 1824 by an eccentric but well-respected 19th century English naturalist, Charles Waterton, a passionate environmentalist and explorer, [who travelled] to remote parts of South America to study exotic wildlife and was also an accomplished taxidermist who invented a preservation technique which used mercury-based chemical to harden the animal skins rather than relying on traditional stuffing.
In 1824 Waterton returned to England from his travels in South America with the bust of this strange humanoid creature. The curious being had woeful eyes set closely on a hairless human-like face, with a thick red mane surrounding it’s small, dark head. Waterton called it a ‘Nondescript’, due to the fact it didn’t fit into any existing taxonomic categories. Although a few sharp-eyed observers accused Waterton of presenting the scientific community with a hoax, many more believed that this monstrous creature was the real thing, no more unbelievable than the sloth or duck-billed platypus which had recently been introduced to Europe by scientists travelling in strange and exotic lands. But the ‘Nondescript’ was indeed a fake: a product of Waterton’s marvellous imagination and a demonstration of his innovative taxidermy skills, created by shaving the faces of two red howler monkeys and manipulating their wet skin together to give the hybrid a more human-like appearance.

‘Nondescript’

This marvellous little creature is an interesting relic of a time where the exploration of the world offered strange and exotic possibilities to the European imagination.  ’Nondescript’ was created around 1824 by an eccentric but well-respected 19th century English naturalist, Charles Waterton, a passionate environmentalist and explorer, [who travelled] to remote parts of South America to study exotic wildlife and was also an accomplished taxidermist who invented a preservation technique which used mercury-based chemical to harden the animal skins rather than relying on traditional stuffing.

In 1824 Waterton returned to England from his travels in South America with the bust of this strange humanoid creature. The curious being had woeful eyes set closely on a hairless human-like face, with a thick red mane surrounding it’s small, dark head. Waterton called it a ‘Nondescript’, due to the fact it didn’t fit into any existing taxonomic categories. Although a few sharp-eyed observers accused Waterton of presenting the scientific community with a hoax, many more believed that this monstrous creature was the real thing, no more unbelievable than the sloth or duck-billed platypus which had recently been introduced to Europe by scientists travelling in strange and exotic lands. But the ‘Nondescript’ was indeed a fake: a product of Waterton’s marvellous imagination and a demonstration of his innovative taxidermy skills, created by shaving the faces of two red howler monkeys and manipulating their wet skin together to give the hybrid a more human-like appearance.

(Source: ridiculouslyinteresting.wordpress.com)

In 1861 Walter Potter exhibited his first large scale taxidermied tableau illustrating the well known children’s poem, “The Burial of Cock Robin.” Until his death in 1918, Potter created numerous scenes from everyday domestic life – a cricket match, a tea and croquet party, a wedding, a schoolroom – using taxidermied guinea pigs, rabbits, kittens, squirrels, and other small birds and animals, all of which were on display in Potter’s Museum along with more naturalistic pieces of taxidermy and other items of curiosity.

Image 4 Source.

(Source: ravishingbeasts.com)

Taxidermy “unicorn”:
A collection of bizarre stuffed animals including a unicorn, flying cat, yeti, and other curious creatures purportedly discovered by a Victorian adventurer are to be sold at auction. They were billed in the 19th century as having been brought to the UK by fictional adventurer Professor Copperthwaite.

Taxidermy “unicorn”:

A collection of bizarre stuffed animals including a unicorn, flying cat, yeti, and other curious creatures purportedly discovered by a Victorian adventurer are to be sold at auction. They were billed in the 19th century as having been brought to the UK by fictional adventurer Professor Copperthwaite.

Duck/Monkey Hybrid - Nineteenth Century Taxidermy or further evidence that the Victorians were absolutely off their rockers! 

Duck/Monkey Hybrid - Nineteenth Century Taxidermy or further evidence that the Victorians were absolutely off their rockers! 

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