Taxidermy: It's Origin and Development

The word, “Taxidermy” is derived from two words in the Greek language. The first is taxis, which means removing, preserving, arrangement and derma, meaning the skin. Taxidermy means “skin art” and can be performed on all vertebrates, such as birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians.

The origin of taxidermy is not known for certain. The Ancient Egyptians were the earliest known civilization to preserve their animals. It was not a true form of taxidermy due to the fact that they never removed the skin from the animal's body; instead they injected the body oils and spices to embalm them. Over time they perfected the process to include many species, large and small. The purpose of embalming was not to have the animal look natural but rather it was to preserve their favorite pets to be buried with them in their transition into the afterlife.

Taxidermy developed as a tool, for both scientific and educational purposes, it provided man with the ability to identify and characterize species. Taxidermy was one of the first means of transforming our understanding of the natural world. A naturalist by the name of Pierre Belon wrote the first book in 1555 pertaining to taxidermy. During the middle ages, apothecaries and astrologers displayed crude examples of taxidermy, by the 1700's some of the earliest procedures for preserving mammals and birds were being developed in England, France and Germany.

The 18th century saw tannery shops spring up in towns throughout the country. These local businesses took the skins their clients brought to them, put them through a process and turned them into raw hide and leather. During the 19th century it became popular for hunters to bring their birds and animals to upholstery shops to have them turned into trophies. The upholsterer would sew the skin together and stuff it with straw, cotton and rags, thus the term “stuff “ or “stuffed animal” came to be. The proses became more refined as time went on; forms were made with wire, cotton and twine to resemble the shape of the body of the specimen. The skin was cured and then sewn on the crude form.

A number of taxidermy mounts were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in Hyde Park, London. Among the exhibits at the Exhibition was one by Hermann Ploucquet, a German taxidermist, who specialized in anthropomorphic taxidermy, the use of animals to depict human actives, the display was one of the most popular attractions. The exhibition drew some six million visitors and is considered to be the turning point for taxidermy.  The taxidermy displays at the exhibition incorporated new techniques as well as creative artistry that exceeded what was found in museums.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Taxidermy had become an art form which became more and more popular. Mounts of all kinds were found in private homes and establishments. Travelers brought home birds and mammals as souvenirs and reminders of their trip. Hunters and fishermen had their trophies mounted. The profession of taxidermy had taken hold and the demand caused taxidermy shops to spring up all over the country to grow into a thriving industry.Today taxidermy is a high art form, achieving realism never before seen. The Mountain Lion pictured here was mounted for The California State Park System