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HOME TAXIDERMY FOR PLEASURE AND PROFIT
A Guide for those who wish to prepare and mount animals, birds, fish, reptiles, etc., for home, den, or office decoration
ALBERT B. FARNHAM, Taxidermist
Published by A. R. Harding, Publisher Columbus, Ohio
Copyright, 1944 By A. R. Harding Pub. Co.
INTRODUCTORY 13 I. HISTORY OF THE ART 17 II. OUTFIT—TOOLS AND MATERIALS 21 III. PRESERVATIVE PREPARATIONS, FORMULA, ETC. 38 IV. PANELS, SHIELDS AND NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL MOUNTS 48 V. FIELD WORK, COLLECTING 59 VI. SKINNING AND PRESERVING SKINS 64 VII. MAKING SCIENTIFIC SKINS 77 VIII. PREPARING DRY AND WET SKINS FOR MOUNTING 84 IX. MOUNTING SMALL AND MEDIUM BIRDS 87 X. MOUNTING LARGE BIRDS 98 XI. TANNING, CLEANING, AND POISONING SKINS 102 XII. MAKING ANIMAL FUR RUGS 110 XIII. FUR ROBES AND HOW TO MAKE THEM 123 XIV. MOUNTING ENTIRE SMALL ANIMALS 131 XV. MOUNTING LARGE ANIMALS 141 XVI. MOUNTING HEADS OF SMALL ANIMALS, BIRDS AND FISH 151 XVII. MOUNTING HEADS OF LARGE GAME 155 XVIII. MOUNTING HORNS AND ANTLERS 165 XIX. MOUNTING FEET AND HOOFS 173 XX. MOUNTING FISH 178 XXI. MOUNTING FISH—BAUMGARTEL METHOD 185 XXII. MOUNTING REPTILES, FROGS AND TOADS 203 XXIII. SKULLS AND SKELETONS 206 XXIV. SPORTSMEN'S TROPHIES 211 XXV. ODDS AND ENDS, TAXIDERMY NOVELTIES 216 XXVI. GROUPS AND GROUPING 221 XXVII. ANIMAL ANATOMY 224 XXVIII. CASTING AND MODELLING 227 XXIX. MARKET TROPHY HUNTING 233 XXX. COLLECTING AND MOUNTING FOR SALE 238 XXXI. PRICES FOR WORK 241
List of Illustrations
"Whoo? Said Wise Old Owl" Frontispiece A Specimen of the Early Day 18 Work Table, Supplies, Tools, Etc. 22 Home Made Tools 24 Taxidermists Tools 27 Taxidermists Tools—Scalpels, Scissors, Stuffers 28 Egg Drill and Other Tools 29 Glass Eyes for Animals, Birds, Fish 31 Sizes of Glass Eyes 33 Sizes of Glass Eyes (Style 1) 34 Shields—Various Kinds and Sizes 49 Shields, Foot and Hall Rack 50 Gun Rack, Fish and Game Panels, Hall Rack 51 Some Shields and Panels 52 Home Made Shield 54 Small Bird 55 Marbles Shot Gun and Rifle Combined 60 The "Stop Thief" or Choke Trap 61 Outline of Muskrat 65 Skinning Small Animal for Mounting 66 Skinning Large Animal for Mounting 69 Skinning Bird—Breast Cut 70 Hooded Merganser 71 Opening Cut on Bird 73 Scientific Skins, Small Animals and Birds 80 Foot Skinned Out 86 Clinching Leg Wires in Artificial Bird Body 88 Wire Loop for Bird Body 89 Wiring Leg of Bird 90 Bird Wired 92 Bird Wound With Thread 95 Pose or Position of Certain Birds 96 Natural Standing Position of Small Bird 97 Fluttering Position of Small Birds 97 A Bird of Prey—Limb Position 98 Spreading Tail of Large Birds 99 Eagle—Wings Braced up to Dry 100 Fleshing Knife 102 Bench Beam 103 Adjustable Beam 103 Paper Head Forms—Fox 111 Paper Head Form—Dog Closed Mouth 112 Foundation for Tow and Excelsior 113 Sewing up Bullet Hole 114 Pinked Lining, Briar Stitched 118 Sewing Trimming on Rug 118 Coyote Rug, Open Mouth 121 Coon Skin Marked to Cut for Robe 125 Strong Hide (Cattle) Laprobe 126 Eight Skin Coyote Laprobe 127 Patagonian Robe of Guanaco Skins 129 Muskrat Legs Wrapped Ready to Clay 132 Wiring for Small Animals 133 Opossum Mounted in Walking Position 137 Cat Sitting and Watching 139 Frame for Bear Manikin 143 Bolting Leg Rods to Stand 145 Fastening Rods to Back Board 149 Wild Cat Head Mounted on Shield 151 Fox Head on Neck Standard 152 Leopard Head, Artificial 153 Hawk Head 153 Sheep Head 155 Skinning Horned Heads 156 Horned Heads—Antelope, Deer 157 Deer Skull on Standard 158 Neck Board 159 Paper Head and Ear Forms 161 Finished Head—Author's Work 162 Elk and Deer Head Paper Forms 163 Bolting Shed Antlers to Block 168 Shed Elk Antlers to be Mounted 169 A Good Shield Pattern 171 Deer Antlers, Elk Feet, Bison Horns 172 Wooden Crook for Deer Foot 173 Skinned Deer Foot 174 Deer Foot Ink Well 174 Deer Foot Thermometer 175 Deer Foot Hat Rack 176 Moose Foot Jewel Case 177 Plaster Mould of Fish—Upper Half 179 Medallion Fish 182 Grayling—Results of First Fish Mounting 188 Eye of Lake Trout 191 Fish in Mould 191 Fish in Mould—End View 192 Fish in Mould—Side View 192 Fish—Incisions to be Made 193 Fish—Inside Board 196 Fish—Sewing up the Skin 198 Home Made Panel for Fish 201 Fish Head Mounted—Side View 201 Fish Head Mounted—Front View 202 Wiring System for Frog 204 Skulls—Wolf, Lynx, Otter, Mink 207 Flying Duck 212 Timber Wolf Rug, Full Head 213 Deer Head Hall Rack 214 Foot Muff Trimmed 218 Monkey Card Receiver 219 Squirrels—Grey, Red, Flying, Ground 222 Water Fowl Head 226 Three Piece Mould of Head 229 Making Mould for Half Head 231 Deer Foot Ink Well and Pen Rack 233 Mountain Lion or Puma Hide 234 Spring Lamb? Coon Head 236 Book Case Ornaments—Crow, Alligator, Owl 239
This volume of the Pleasure and Profit Library is offered to the hunter, trapper, fisher, vacationist and out of doors people in general. In the study and practice of taxidermy for several years I have failed to find any work written primarily for these every day nature lovers, though they probably handle a greater number of interesting specimens of animal life than all other classes of people.
In view of this fact the following directions and suggestions for preserving various animal forms as objects of use and ornament have been prepared. As a treatise for the scientist or museum preparator it is not intended, there are many books on the art expressly for them, but we hope it may fill a place of its own, acting as a not too dry and technical introduction to the art preservative for those who find life all too short for the many things which are to be done.
Thoroughness, patience, and some love for nature, are qualities highly desirable in this art. Work prepared by one possessing these qualities need not be ashamed and practice will bring skill and perfection of technic.
As a handicraft in which the workman has not been displaced or made secondary by a machine taxidermy is noticeable also, and for many reasons is worthy of its corner in the home work-shop.
In this work also the ladies can take a very effective hand, and numbers have done so; for there is no doubt that a woman's taste and lightness of touch enables her in some branches of taxidermy to far exceed the average man. Especially in the manipulation of frail skins and delicate feathers, in bird taxidermy, is this so.
I have endeavored to give preference to short cuts and time-saving methods where possible in the following matter, and especially hints on saving interesting and valuable specimens temporarily until sufficient leisure is had to do justice to their further preservation. In this connection I have given prominence to the liquid preservative for entire specimens and the methods for preserving skins of birds and animals in a damp and relaxed state ready for mounting at the operator's pleasure.
I would urge the beginner especially, to mount all his specimens as far as possible. Dry scientific skins have their value, perhaps, to the museum or closet naturalist whose chief delight is in multiplying species, but a well mounted skin is a pleasure to all who may see it. Making it a rule to utilize thus all specimens which come to hand would also deter much thoughtless killing in the ranks of the country's already depleted wild life.
Make this a rule and you will avoid friction and show yourself truly a conservationist with the best. In a number of states there are legal restrictions in the way of a license tax imposed on the professional taxidermist. Detailed information of these are found in Game, Fur and Fish Laws of the various states and Canadian provinces. Fur and game animals and birds killed legally during open season may be preserved by the taker for private possession without hindrance anywhere, I think. More explicit details may be had on application to your state fish and game commissioner or warden.
[Signature: Albert B. Farnham.]
Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit
It is very evident that this art—Taxidermy, preservation or care of skins—had its origin far back before the dawn of written history. There existed then as now the desire to preserve the trophy of the hunter's prowess and skill and the unusual in natural objects.
As far back as five centuries B. C. in the record of the African explorations of Hanno the Carthaginian, an account is given of the discovery of what was evidently the gorilla and the subsequent preservation of their skins, which were, on the return of the voyagers, hung in the temple of Astarte, where they remained until the taking of Carthage in the year 146 B. C.
This, of course, was not the art as we know it now, but shows the beginnings of what might be called the museum idea. The art of embalming as practiced by the ancient Egyptians was, however, effective, not for the purpose of having the specimens look natural, or for exhibition, but to satisfy the superstition of the times, and though a preservative art, hardly to be classed with taxidermy.
In the tombs of that period are found besides the mummies of human beings, countless others of dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, sheep and oxen. There have been a number of efforts made to substitute some form of embalming for present day taxidermy but without much success, for though the body of the specimen may be preserved from decay without removing it from the skin, the subsequent shrinkage and distortion spoil any effect which may have been achieved.
The first attempt at stuffing and mounting birds was said to have been made in Amsterdam in the beginning of the 16th century. The oldest museum specimen in existence, as far as I know, is a rhinoceros in the Royal Museum of Vertebrates in Florence, Italy, said to have been originally mounted in the 16th century.
Probably on account of the necessary knowledge of preservative chemicals, the art seems to have been in the hands of chemists and astrologers, chiefly, during the middle ages, and stuffed animals such as bats, crocodiles, frogs, snakes, lizards, owls, etc., figure in literary descriptions of their abodes. Then as now also, the dining halls of the nobles and wealthy were decorated with heads and horns procured in the hunt.
The first publications on the art seem to have been made in France, in which country and Germany, many still used methods and formulas originated. Though the first volume of instruction in taxidermy was published in the United States as late as 1865, it has been left for the study and ingenuity of American taxidermists to accomplish what is probably work of as high a standard as any in the world.
The Ward establishment at Rochester has turned out many well trained taxidermists, the large museums of the United States are filled with some of the best work of the kind in existence, besides many persons who have engaged in it for commercial purposes or to gratify private tastes. Many of these have made public their methods and modes in various publications. Among these are the works of Batty, Hornaday, Shofeldt, Davie, Rowley, Maynard, Reed and others, all of which are invaluable books of reference for the home taxidermist.
It is to be regretted that the once flourishing Society of American Taxidermists has not been perpetuated, numbering, as it did, among its membership the best artists in their line in this country.
There is no royal road to success in this, more than any other of the arts and sciences, though I believe the ambitious beginner will find the way smoother; better materials are to be had, more helpful publications to be consulted and the lessening supply of wild life tends to make a more appreciative public than ever before.
OUTFIT—TOOLS AND MATERIALS.
The extent and variety of work undertaken will determine the necessary working space and the assortment of tools needful. Other things being equal, the most complete assortment of tools and supplies makes possible the production of the best work in the minimum time. The equipment of the beginner need be but small and inexpensive, however, increasing the same as he discovers what is most necessary and desirable, in an increasing field of work. Wonderful pieces of taxidermy have been done with a pocket knife, pliers, needle and thread, some wire, tow and arsenic.
If no other room offers, much may be achieved (with the permission of the lady of the house) in a corner of a dining room or kitchen. A room or part of one well lighted, by north window or sky-light preferably, makes the best location for the work table. This table may be of the common unpainted kitchen variety for all small work. It is well to make the top double by hinging on two leaves, which when extended will make it twice its usual width. When so extended and supported by swinging brackets it is specially adapted to sewing on rugs and robes. Such tables usually have one or two shallow drawers which are most useful to hold small tools. A shelf should be fitted between the legs, six or eight inches from the floor, forming a handy place for boxes of materials, books, etc.
If large work is in prospect a table should be built of the usual heighth, two or three feet wide, and six long. The legs of stout scantlings should be fitted with casters, making it easy to remove it to the center of the room where it can be approached on all sides, as will often be necessary. The double top, drawers, and shelf should be a part of the larger table also. Usually the table is kept in front of the window with tool racks and shelves for small articles each side of the same where they can easily be reached.
For preparing and mounting all small and medium size specimens I would advise the following list of tools. They will enable the worker to care for any of our native birds, quadrupeds up to the coyote, and any of our game heads, fur rugs, etc.
1 small skinning knife 1 medium skinning knife 1 larger skinning knife 1 pair scissors, fine points 1 pair shears, heavy, short 2 pairs flat nose pliers, large and small. 1 pair side or end cutters
1 pair fine forceps, 5 or 6 inch 2 flat files, large and small 1 adjustable tool handle, assorted tools, awls. 2 pinking irons, 3/4 and 1-1/2 inch Needles, assortment of cloth and glovers Oilstone
If it is capable of taking and holding a good edge the small blade of a pocket knife is equal to a surgeon's scalpel and a sharp shoe or paring knife, ground to the proper shape, is a nice medium size for skinning or trimming skins. A hunting or butcher knife is sufficient for the largest size. A few carpenter's tools are necessary and a complete set does not come amiss if much large work is attempted.
We must have:
Handsaw Hatchet Hammer Bit brace Assortment, drills and bits, 1/2 in. and less. Drawshave Screwdriver Small grindstone or corundum wheel Chisels, two or three sizes 1 wood rasp 1 cabinet rasp 1 chopping block, made of a section of hardwood log
If large animals are to be mounted we will need in addition some iron working tools, such as
Set of taps and dies 1/4 to 1 in. Monkey wrench Hack saw Tanner's knives, 1 or more
A combination vise and anvil will be needed in any case as well as some miscellaneous tools:
Fur comb, coarse and fine combined Paint, wax, and varnish brushes Foot rule Tape measure Putty knife Pointing trowel Skin scraper
and some stuffing and modelling tools which you can make yourself. The list of materials seems like a long one, but many are inexpensive and others are used only in some small amounts, so the aggregate cost is small.
Excelsior Fine tow Cotton bat or wadding Plaster paris Corn meal Gasoline Potter's or modelling clay Set tube oil colors Glass eyes, assorted Soft wire, assorted Pins Cord Spool cotton, coarse and fine, black and white Wax, varnish, glue, paste Papier mache, or paper for same An assortment of nails, tacks, brads, screws, screw eyes and staples
A packing box or two will furnish some lumber for temporary stands and interior frame work. The permanent mounts are treated of elsewhere.
In ordering glass eyes it is often best to get them in the clear glass iris with black pupil so they may be given any color desired by painting the backs with tube colors, afterward protecting the paint with varnish. In this way a small stock will answer for many varieties. The plain black eye which is the least expensive can be used for many of the smaller birds and mammals, but should never be when the iris of the eye has any distinct tint. Do not make the mistake of ordering an assortment of "off" sizes and colors, that is those which are seldom called for. Aim to have those on hand for which you will have the most frequent use, the exceptions can be quickly had by parcel post. There is more demand for eyes of some shade of yellow or brown than any other colors, probably.
All birds have the round pupil. Elongated pupils are suitable for horned game and the cat tribe, irregular pupils fish, and the veined iris for dogs, wolves and foxes. Suitable sizes for some species of birds are as follows:
Number 3 to 5 Sparrows generally. Number 5 to 7 Robin, blue jay, flicker. Number 7 to 9 The smaller hawks and herons, nearly all the ducks. Number 10 to 12 The smaller owls, the wild goose. Number 12 to 14 The larger hawks and herons. Number 15 Screech owl, eagles. Number 17 Barred owl. Number 19 or 20 Snowy owl and great horned owl.
Size of eyes for quadrupeds:
Number 7 or 8 Mink, skunk, red squirrel. Number 10 to 12 Gray and fox squirrel, wood chuck, raccoon and opossum. Number 12 to 14 Rabbit, small dogs, house cat. Number 15 to 17 Jack rabbit, fox, medium size dogs, wild cat, black bear. Number 18 Large dog, wolf, lynx, and grizzly bear. Number 20 to 22 Puma, jaguar, small deer. Number 23 to 24 Large deer, tiger. Number 25 to 27 Moose, elk, caribou, horse, cow, lion.
Of wire the following sizes are suitable for birds:
Number 6 Pelican. Number 7 Wild turkey, swan. Number 8 Eagles. Number 9 Loon, goose, large herons. Number 10 Seagull, large ducks, hawks, owls, and fish hawk. Number 11 or 12 Medium size ducks, herons, and similar. Number 13 or 14 Small ducks and grouse. Number 15 Small herons, and medium owls. Number 16 Doves, small owls. Number 17 or 18 Bob white, jay, robin, snipe. Number 19 Blackbird, waxwing, oriole. Number 20 Bluebird, cardinal. Number 21 to 24 Warblers, wrens, titmouse, finches. Number 26 North American humming bird.
Number 7 Wild cat. Number 8 Foxes. Number 10 Raccoon, wood chuck. Number 11 Skunk, opossum. Number 12 or 13 Muskrat, rabbit. Number 14 or 15 Mink, large squirrels. Number 17 or 18 Weasel, bull frog, and small squirrels.
These sizes are approximate, varying with size of the individual specimen and the required attitude wanted. For instance, a bird mounted with wings spread would be better for a large size wire than if in a resting position. An animal crouched does not require as heavy supports as one upright or in action. It is best to give the specimen the benefit of the doubt, as nothing is more disastrous than to have an otherwise well mounted subject sag down and spoil the entire effect from lack of sufficient mechanical support. The best wire for this purpose is annealed, galvanized iron. Larger animals require Norway iron rod in the following sizes:
1/4 in. Coyote, setter dog. 5/16 in. Wolf, puma. 3/8 in. Medium deer. 1/2 in. Caribou and large deer. 3/4 in. Moose, elk.
A large earthen jar or two will hold sufficient skin pickle for small animals. For large animals or great numbers of small ones a tank or barrel. Keep such jars or barrels covered to prevent evaporation. With dry arsenic and alum, arsenical solution, formaldehyde for an emergency and plenty of salt, even a beginner should be able to save almost anything that falls into his clutches.
There are numbers of reliable dealers in tools and supplies for the taxidermist and a perusal of their catalogs will be helpful, among the number being James P. Babbitt, 192 Hodges Ave., Taunton, Mass. Ready to use head forms, pinked rug and robe trimming, artificial tongues and ear forms, and even paper head and neck forms for the mounting of large game heads are some of the time and labor saving supplies they list. If you cannot attain to these, emergency supplies can be had of the dealer in hardware and dry goods, and one who cares for the art will rise superior to the material at his hand. What you "stuff 'em with" is of small consequence provided you use brains in the job. I have seen an elk head stuffed with old clothes with the bottoms of pop bottles for eyes, but would advise some other filling if possible.
PRESERVATIVE PREPARATIONS, FORMULAS, ETC.
Probably arsenic in some form has been, and will continue to be the leading taxidermic preservative, or rather, insect deterrent. Many people are shy of handling this, but with reasonable care the use of arsenic is perfectly safe. Always keep poisons well labeled and out of the way of children. Nine children out of ten would never think of sampling them, but the tenth might prove the fatal exception.
There is far less danger to the operator in handling the needful amount of poisons than in endeavoring to save some rare but over-ripe subject. In many years' use of arsenic, dry, in wet solution, and in soap, I have received nothing more serious than an occasional sore finger.
The shape in which I have found it most satisfactory for poisoning hair and feathers of mounted specimens and the interior of furred skins I will give as
Commercial arsenic 1 lb. Bicarbonate of soda 1/2 lb. Water 5 pts.
Boil until arsenic and soda have dissolved, stirring frequently. Use a vessel at least twice as large as necessary to contain the quantity used as it foams up while boiling. When cold put in a large bottle or jar marked Poison, of course. For poisoning finished specimens, mounted heads, etc., take one part of this solution to two parts water and spray the entire surface with this in an atomizer or larger sprayer. It should be tested before using by dipping a black feather in it and if a gray or white deposit is left on drying, it should be diluted still further until this is prevented.
To poison the inside of skins we make Arsenical Paste: Arsenical Solution (full strength), whiting sufficient to produce the consistency of cream. This should be mixed in a wide mouthed bottle or small pan and applied with a common paint brush. Do not apply to a perfectly dry skin, like tanned hide for a robe or rug, but dampen the inside first with clear water, then paint over with the paste and it will strike through to the fur side and be taken up around the fur roots by capillary action. This tends to put a damper on the activities of the moth, whose favorite grazing ground is at the hair roots just outside the skin.
The paste is equally good on skins of birds, except, perhaps the smaller ones, when freshly skinned, and some of the smaller mammals. The mixture of whiting makes it easy to see when the surface has already been treated, unless the skin is dressed white, in which case dry ochre may be used in place of whiting.
For poisoning the skins of the smaller furred animals and all but the larger birds:
Powdered white arsenic Powdered alum
Mix equal parts by measure and apply to inside of the fresh skin with a soft brush or pad of cotton. If during the skinning and cleaning the skin has dried so the powder will not stick, moisten the inside of the skin with water before applying. Some taxidermists prefer to use in place of the paste some form of Arsenical Soap. This may be purchased from the supply dealer or made at home at quite a reduction. Personally I dislike the greasy, sticky feel of it; it is apt to cling around the finger nails and scratches, making them sore.
However, the following is the best formula for a time honored preservative:
HORNADAY'S ARSENICAL SOAP.
White bar soap 1 lb. Powdered arsenic 1 lb. Camphor gum 2-1/2 oz. Subcarbonate of potash 3 oz. Alcohol (wood or grain) 4 oz.
Slice the soap and melt slowly with a little water. When melted stir in the potash and arsenic. Boil to the consistency of molasses and pour into a jar to harden. Add the camphor already dissolved in the alcohol and stir occasionally while cooling. Mix with water and apply with a paint brush to flesh side of skins.
In case one is timid about using any of the arsenical preparations I would advise them to try
BROWNE'S NON-POISONOUS PRESERVATIVE SOAP.
Whiting 24 oz. White soap 8 oz. Chloride lime 1/2 oz. Tincture camphor 1 oz. Water 1 pt.
Shave the soap thin and boil it with the whiting and water till dissolved. Then remove from the fire and stir in the chloride, adding the tincture camphor later when cold, as much of the strength of the latter would be lost were the mixture hot.
Keep in closed jars or bottles, and if too thick, thin down with water or alcohol. Apply like arsenical soap or paste. This is highly recommended by English writers. For a non-poisonous powder I would advise equal parts of powdered alum and insect powder in place of the arsenic and alum.
SOLUTION FOR THE PRESERVATION OF SMALL SPECIMENS ENTIRE.
Formaldehyde (40% strength) 1 part Water 9 parts
Mix thoroughly and put in glass or earthen jars or large mouthed bottles.
While most of the heads and skins of big game are preserved until they can reach the taxidermist, many of the smaller specimens become a total loss. Lack of time and knowledge are the chief causes of this loss of valuable souvenirs of days out of doors and interesting natural objects. Probably the easiest and least expensive method of temporarily preserving entire the smaller animals, birds, fish and reptiles is by immersion in the above preparation.
I would not advise its use on animals larger than a small fox or cat, and to insure an immediate penetration of the flesh the abdominal viscera should be removed from the larger specimens. The amount of solution used should be about ten times the volume of the subject, and it had best be replaced with fresh liquid after two or three days. I think this will work equally well on birds, reptiles and mammals.
On removal from the solution they may be skinned and mounted as fresh specimens. On removing from the solution, rinse in water containing a little ammonia to neutralize the irritating odor of the formaldehyde. Do not stand over the solution while mixing as the fumes of the formic acid affect the eyes. The condensed form in which this chemical can be carried and its cheapness (30c. per lb.), make it desirable as a temporary preservative. The saying, "It never rains but it pours," applies to the taxidermist and a sudden rush of subjects may often be saved by using the foregoing preparation. Other work may be under way, or for other reasons it may be desirable to keep a specimen in the flesh a short time before mounting.
Alcohol (94% strength) Equal parts Water
If alcohol is less than 94% use less water. Use same as formaldehyde solution. This is said to be superior to the formaldehyde solution, though more expensive and harder to carry about on account of its greater bulk before mixing.
Specimens kept long in any liquid are apt to lose their colors. This fading will be reduced to a minimum if kept in the dark.
In order to do any satisfactory work on quadrupeds the taxidermist makes use of a bath or pickle of some sort for keeping skins in a wet state. This pickle sets the hair and in a measure tans the skin, reducing its liability to shrinkage and rendering it less desirable pasturage for insects.
All furred skins of any size should be immersed in this for a time before mounting, and may be kept in it for months or years without injury. If you have time to skin an animal properly the skin may be dropped in the pickle jar and in a day, week, or month be better fit for final mounting than at first.
For the first few days it is necessary to move it about every day so all parts may be exposed to the action of the pickle. The form of pickle which I have found most helpful is:
Water 1 gal. Salt 1 qt. Sulphuric acid (measure) 1 oz.
Bring to boiling point to dissolve the salt. Allow to cool before stirring in the acid. When cold is ready for use.
When keeping skins in a wet state a long time I would prefer to use:
SALT AND ALUM PICKLE.
Water 1 gal. Salt 1 qt. Alum 1 pt.
Boil to dissolve salt and alum; use like preceding.
If skins are to be kept some time they should, after a preliminary pickling, be put in new, fresh pickle and it should be occasionally tested with a salinometer and kept up to the original strength. Dirty and greasy pickle should be thrown away, but if clean and of low strength it can be brought up by adding new pickle of extra strength. It will do no hurt if more salt, even a saturated solution, is made of either of the foregoing.
While the salt and alum or acid pickle will keep our animal skins safely and in a relaxed condition ready for further preparation at any time, it will not answer for bird skins. For this we have a solution for keeping bird skins soft:
Glycerine 2 parts Carbolic acid 1 part
After skinning the bird and applying some arsenical solution to the inside, brush this solution liberally over the entire inside of the skin. Pay special attention to the bones, wing and leg, skull and root of the tail. If necessary the skin may be packed flat for shipment. One treatment will keep all but the larger skins soft for several months. The feet, of course, will become hard and dry and must be relaxed as usual before mounting.
Every taxidermist needs to be more or less of a modeler, and one of the most useful materials is:
Wet wood pulp 10 oz. Glue (hot) or LePage's (measure) 3 oz. Plaster paris, dry 20 oz.
This formula may be varied at the convenience of the operator. Work the glue into the pulp and knead the plaster into the mass. The more glue the slower it sets and a few drops of glycerine will keep it soft several days. Made with little or no glue it hardens quickly.
If the paper pulp is not at hand it may be made by tearing old newspapers or sheathing paper small and boiling and pounding till a pulp results. This composition is much in use in Europe in the making of many familiar toys and similar objects.
For modeling open mouths, finishing mounted specimens, making artificial rocks, stumps and boughs, it is very desirable.
WAX FOR OPEN MOUTHS.
Beeswax 1 part Paraffin wax 1 part
Melt and color with tube oil colors. To color dip up a spoonful of melted wax, squeeze some tube color in and stir until stiff. Place the spoon in the hot wax and stir till evenly mixed. Do not try to put the color directly in the hot wax as it will not mix evenly so.
Wax should be melted in a water bath, like a glue pot, as excessive heat will darken it. Cakes of wax of suitable colors may be had of the supply dealers and are most economical when no great amount of work is done. The same parties supply the paper pulp previously mentioned.
PANELS, SHIELDS AND NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL MOUNTS.
The preparation of a suitable setting for almost any mounted specimen will add greatly to its attractiveness. If you know where it is to be placed it is not difficult to make it suit its surrounding. For instance, a head of big game for hanging in a dining or ball room is suitably mounted on a polished and carved hardwood shield. While this would hardly match its surroundings on the wall of a log camp, a rustic panel of natural wood with the bark on would perfectly suit the latter place.
Heads, horns, and antlers are usually mounted on what are called shields. Fish and trophies of dead game birds and small game on panels. Single specimens are placed on severely plain wooden bases (museum style) or on those simulating branches, rocks, stumps or earth. These are artificial, but those built up in part at least with natural objects are most pleasing.
As we can not produce the best patterns of shields without special machines we must patronize either the supply dealers or the wood working mill for such. If convenient to a mill equipped with jigsaw and moulder they can be made up after your own patterns.
Some of the sizes most used are approximately as follows for mounted heads:
For moose, elk, caribou. 20x30 inches.
For deer, goat or sheep. 12x18 or 16x21.
For fox or lynx. 8x10 inches.
For bear or wolf. 12x15
For birds, small fur-bearers and fish. 6x8 in.
Oval panels for mounting fish. 9x22 15x40
For dead game. 10x15 14x24 17x25
For mounting horns of elk and moose the size for deer heads will answer nicely, while deer antlers are suitable with a shield of the fox head size.
In order to draw a symmetrical pattern for the woodworker, take a piece of stiff paper of the right length and width, fold it down the middle, draw one half to suit and cut out with shears. The style of moulding called Ogee is to be preferred. A simple diamond, heart, or oval shape can be made at home with beveled or rounded edges, or if your tools include a turning saw (which is most useful for a variety of purposes) you may try a more pretentious shield. To achieve this, make your pattern as just described and after marking it on a piece of wood from 3/8 to 7/8 inch thick, cut out with the turning saw. It should be held in the vise for this operation. Place this cut out shield (1) on a piece of board of similar thickness but somewhat larger and with a pair of compasses mark out another 1/2 in. or so larger all around. (2) Also mark the same distance inside the edge.
With a wood worker's gauge or something similar make a mark around them both near the lower sides. Now with draw shave and rasp work the edges off both Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1 on a bevel, No. 2 rounded. There should be a number of holes drilled and countersunk in No. 2, from the back, and when the two parts of the shield are properly adjusted they should be drawn closely together with screws too short to penetrate the face of the shield.
If the adjustment is perfect the screws are to be drawn and the surfaces which come in contact coated well with glue, then drawn closely together and laid aside until thoroughly dry, when it should be well sandpapered before varnishing.
All shields and panels should be carefully sandpapered, filled and varnished, and polished if you wish. Don't make the shield or panel so ornate that the specimen will seem but an incidental, thrown in for good measure, so to speak.
Rustic panels can be made by sawing the end from a log on a slant, and planing smooth the oval. If this is heavily varnished on the front and back and the bark left on it is a very suitable mount for small heads, fish and birds. Artificial branches and trees for mounting birds should be avoided if possible; they are made by wrapping tow around wires, coating with glue and covering with moss or papier mache and painting. The result I consider unnatural and inartistic.
I would advise to use natural branches as far as possible; sufficient labor will be required to make necessary joining and changes look as near like nature as you can. Rock work is usually made of a wooden framework covered with cloth, wire or paper and finished with a coating of glue and crushed stone or sand. One of the most useful materials in this work is the rough cork bark so much used by florists. It is light, comes in desirable shapes, can be nailed, sawed or coated with glue or paint. For constructing stumps for mounted birds of prey and rustic stands for small and medium fur animals it has no equal. Some taxidermists produce rock work of an obscure geological period by covering screen wire forms with a mixture of flour, baking powder and plaster of paris and water. This is put in an oven and baked hard, the weird result being painted to the artist's taste.
Water worn roots such as are found along the shore, twisted laurel branches, limbs of gum, oak and sassafras, all work up well in this and should be stored up to dry against a day of need. Out door people have a good eye for such things, but they are hard to find when you look for them, so gather them on your rambles. Papier mache is also a good modeling material for stumps, limbs and rock, being light, and readily taking coats of glue or paint. The expert can copy nature closely with it.
Some leaves and grasses can be pressed, dried and colored their natural shades with oil paints. The dealers supply a great variety of artificial foliage, some of which may be used to advantage, in case work especially. Dried mosses and lichens of various sorts may be used in this. Some of these powdered and glued on papier mache or cork bark stumps and limbs produce a very pleasing effect.
Snow scenes are frequently attempted but are not always a success. The peculiar fluffy and glittering appearance is rather difficult to reproduce. Torn or ground up white blotting paper mixed with a little ground mica has been used for this purpose. Glass icicles are listed by dealers and are quite natural in appearance, but the simulation of water is difficult and often disappointing.
It is often desirable to mount small specimens, of birds especially, in cases of some kind which will protect them from dust, dirt and rough handling and at the same time display them to advantage. The oldest and at the same time the least suitable contrivance for this is the well known bell glass or globe. It is difficult to find a safe place for this in the average house and it is not at all adapted to many specimens.
A plain wall case with glass front and a painted or decorated background will give the necessary protection with the least expense. For small bird groups, and singles and pairs of game birds, the oval convex glasses probably present the finest appearance. The backgrounds for these may be either plush or wood panels or hand painted, and any style of picture framing may be used. These are made in several sizes, listing at $2.00 to $8.00 each without backgrounds or frames. This cost has probably prevented their more common use.
There is on the market a papier mache background also adapted to any picture frame, called the "concave dust proof case." This has the flat face glass of the old style wall case, but with the square corners and much of the weight eliminated. Any of these styles of wall cases may be placed on shelves as well as hung on the wall like pictures, at once preventing breakage and becoming valuable decorations.
Special cases are often built (as in museums) for large and valuable mounted specimens. Of these the top and at least three sides should be of glass. The preparing and placing of the accessories in some large museum cases have required an unbelievable amount of time and expense to attain the desired natural appearance of the mounting.
FIELD WORK, COLLECTING.
While it is unlikely that many readers of this book will undertake the collection of natural history specimens in any great numbers or as a special business, a few words on the subject may not be amiss.
It is well to bear in mind that the better the condition of the specimen when it first comes to hand, the greater will be our chances of success in properly preserving it. A small bird shot with a rifle is not worth bothering with unless excessively rare, and a fur bearer which the dogs have been allowed to maul and chew is very difficult to put in satisfactory condition.
One rule of the collector in the field is to shoot each specimen with the smallest possible charge of shot and powder which will kill it. I speak of shooting, as probably three-fourths of the objects mounted by the average taxidermist have been killed with fire arms.
Of late years a number of collector's guns have been put out by the arms makers, though any good small bore shotgun will answer for collecting all of our small and medium sized American birds and mammals. Some of these guns of about .44 cal. are exceedingly accurate and reliable performers.
In one case this small bore shotgun has been combined with a rifle, and the light weight and portability of this little arm makes it about the last word in guns for collecting all small specimens.
It as well as other single guns of the same bore, is built to use a round ball in the shot barrel, making them capable of stopping deer or bear at short ranges. However, choosing a gun is like choosing a wife, every one has their own tastes.
I would advise the would-be collector to load his own shotgun shells, at least those for small birds and animals, as it is almost impossible to get factory loaded shells but what are charged too heavily.
For the collection of animals for taxidermic purposes the use of traps will probably yield some of the best as well as the more rare and unusual varieties. Such styles of traps as least injure the appearance of the finished specimen are preferred.
The old-fashioned snare, dead-fall and box trap are as good as any in this respect. The wire spring or choke traps of Stop Thief style are ahead of the common steel trap in this respect, but like the homemade traps cannot be used in so many various situations.
Water animals taken in steel traps may usually be quickly drowned. If set on land they should be tended often to prevent suffering and usually mutilation of the trapped game. Full information on this subject will be found in Science of Trapping and other books on special animals by same publisher.
The naturalist uses more small traps than large ones in most cases; many, many more specimens being taken in No. 1's than in bear traps. Several styles of mouse and rat traps are useful in collecting the smaller mammals, such as mice, rats and ground squirrels of various species.
Fish are to be collected any way you can get 'em, (legally at least). Many varieties of these are to be bought at the large markets and many rare and hideous specimens are discarded by market fishermen when culling their catches. A few years ago before much restriction was imposed on the sale of game it was possible to purchase many desirable things at the markets of Washington, D. C. Not only bear and deer, but elk, ptarmigan, arctic hares, sage and prairie grouse, fox squirrels, pileated woodpeckers and many other odds and ends were offered for sale as well as all the usual land and water game.
However you take your specimens or how badly damaged they may be when they reach your hands it behooves you to see that no further damage befalls them.
Specimens when shot should have all possible blood and dirt brushed or washed from feathers or fur and all shot holes, as well as mouth and nostrils plugged with a wisp of cotton to prevent further soiling. An awl, or piece of wire will be useful for this. Blood should be removed from white fur or feathers as soon as possible or it will be stained more or less. Small birds should be dropped head first into a paper cone, and laid in a basket or box if possible, the common hunting coat pocket is apt to break delicate feathers, though if the bird is well wrapped it may do.
Fur bearers will stand more rough usage and may be tied together by heads or feet or packed in game bag or pocket. Fish should be wrapped in paper to protect the scales.
It goes without saying that specimens which it is planned to preserve should be kept cool if possible until work can be started on them. Some varieties spoil more quickly than others; fish eating birds need quick attention; most birds of the hawk and owl family keep well, as do the pheasants, grouse, etc. Frozen animals keep perfectly in that state but spoil quickly after thawing.
Keep away from blow flies. Specimens are often sent to the taxidermists in apparent good order and when received are entirely ruined by fly maggots; the eggs being deposited before packing and shipping.
SKINNING AND PRESERVING SKINS.
With a suitable specimen at hand it is for us to decide if we shall mount it or preserve it as a skin temporarily or indefinitely. To illustrate we will presume that we have a muskrat just from the trap which is to be mounted at once.
Before skinning it is best to get some measurements to guide us in the later work. In this case where the skin is to be mounted immediately a simple outline is sufficient, as we will have the body in the flesh and all the leg bones, etc., to guide us in rebuilding the creature.
To get such outline, lay the animal on its side on a piece of blank paper, put the feet and legs in some natural position, fasten them in place with a few pins and mark around the entire animal with a pencil. The eye, hip and shoulder joints, and base of skull may be indicated on this outline sheet. Our muskrat is a trapped and drowned one so we will not have to replace the shot hole plugs with fresh ones, as would be best if it had been killed with the gun. Also it has been dead long enough for the rigor mortis to prevent the free flow of blood and body juices which bother the operator if it has been killed but an hour or less.
Laying the animal on its back, make the opening cut by pushing the knife point through the skin at the juncture of neck and chest. Run the blade down between skin and flesh, separating the skin in a long clean cut to the root of the tail. Open the tail also along the under side from the tip to within an inch or so of its base. Slit open the sole of each foot from the middle toe to the heel and further if necessary so the leg skin may be turned down over the foot.
Beginning at this central cut, skin back each side until the shoulder and hip joints are encountered. Bending the limb will show the exact joint where the muscles are cut apart and the legs severed from the body. Cut off the tail near its base, leaving it in the skin for the present. Loosen the skin from back and shoulders and turn it wrong side out over the head. Skin down until the ears are reached, cutting them off close down to the head and continue on to the eyes. Work carefully around these and cut close to the skull to avoid hacking the eyelids. Cut through the nose cartilage, and when the lips are reached cut them away close to the gums, leaving both their inner and outer skin on the pelt. Cutting them off at the edge of the hair is a frequent cause of trouble as they are full and fleshy and should be split, pared down on the inside and when mounted, filled out to their natural shape to perfect the anatomy.
Now the skin of each leg may be turned wrong side out down to the toes and all flesh and muscle cut away from the leg bones with knife and scissors. The tail also is to be removed from its skin and the ears turned wrong side out to their tips. In skinning no flesh of any consequence should be left adhering to the skin and it should never be pulled off by main strength, but rather separated by the knife or fingers, pushing the flesh away from the skin rather than the reverse. The skull should now be cleaned as the leg bones were and if a number of specimens are being prepared at the same time the heads may be put in a kettle and boiled a short time, when on trying with a fork or awl the flesh becomes tender and may be rapidly removed with a knife.
The brain may be removed with a hooked wire, the skull well rinsed inside and out and given a good coat of arsenical paste or other preservative. The next step is determined by what you intend doing with the skin. If it is to be kept for purposes of study without mounting it should be made up as a scientific skin. If to be mounted at once or in the near future it should be put in the jar of salt and acid or alum. It can of course be mounted at once without this bath but I believe it is well worth any extra work it entails.
Some young furred animals and others with very delicate skins do not work up well from the bath and had best be mounted without it, being handled more as bird skins are.
In skinning the larger quadrupeds we make two additional cuts, from the right to the central line and out to the left fore foot and a similar cut connecting the hind feet. These opening cuts are on the back and inside of the legs, you will understand.
With most large subjects another cut from the shoulders up the back of the neck is necessary. On animals having horns or antlers this is terminated in a Y or T shape, reaching the base of the antlers. After loosening the skin around the antlers the head is removed through this incision. As it is hardly possible to make an outline sketch of a large animal, as full a set of measurements as possible is useful in all cases.
The bones of the legs will be in the way attached to the skin and the two upper bones of each leg may be detached and if lack of space or transportation make it necessary, thrown away, though if the bones of one hind leg and one front leg are preserved artificial duplicates may be carved.
In skinning birds, after fresh cotton plugs have been put in place the feathers are parted and the opening incision made through the skin only from the middle of the breast to the root of the tail. Separate the skin and flesh on each side until the knee is reached, push this up until the knife or scissors can be passed under it and the leg severed at the joint. A little corn meal sprinkled on the exposed flesh and the operator's fingers will prevent the feathers adhering and becoming soiled as the work proceeds.
Cut off the flesh in which the tail quills are rooted leaving it on the skin with one or two of the last vertebrae. Use care in this or you will cut the skin above the tail too. The body may now be hung up by a cord tied to the stump of one of the legs and both hands used in separating and turning the skin back until the wings are reached. The skin is loosened around these and they may be severed at the elbow joint unless the bird is to be mounted with wings spread, when it will be best to unjoint at the shoulder and preserve the entire wing bones.
With the wings detached we skin on to the base of the skull. In some of the ducks, and other water birds, woodpeckers and owls the neck is so slender and the skull so large that it is necessary to cut the neck off here and making a cut down the back of the head and neck continue the skinning of the head through it. Do not cut or tear the membrane of the ears but pull it out with the forceps and work down over the eyes, cutting the membrane connecting the skin but not the lids or eyeball itself. The liquid contents of the eye are particularly sticky and difficult to remove from feathers.
Continue skinning to the base of the bill, scoop the eyes from their sockets and cut loose the forward part of the skull from the neck. This is usually accomplished with four snips of the scissors much easier to practice than to describe.
Make one cut on each side of the head, through the small bone connecting the base of the lower jaw with the skull, another through the roof of the mouth at the base of the upper mandible and between the jaws of the lower, and the last through the skull behind the eyes and parallel with the roof of the mouth. This will free the skull of the neck and most of its flesh and muscle.
In most cases the head should be returned to the skin as soon as possible to avoid its drying out of shape and giving the feathers a wrong set. After cleaning and poisoning the skull and filling the eye sockets with cotton this reversing is undertaken. If working on a small bird the learner is apt to come to grief here, as only by careful and patient work without the application of some force is the returning process accomplished successfully.
The wings and legs may now be skinned down to the first joint and all flesh and muscle removed from the bones. This is done expeditiously by snipping off the end of the leg bone and stripping it down with adhering flesh to the ankle joint where it (the flesh) is cut off.
The wings are skinned to the first joint, stripping the wing primary feathers from their fastening on the bone with the thumb nail, clipping off the large bone near the end and detaching the small bone with all flesh and muscle adhering. If this is clipped off at the wrist joint the entire wing is cleaned. This method applies to all small and medium birds not wanted with spread wings.
In case wing spread is wanted the primary feathers are not disturbed but that part of the wing is cleaned from a slit in the under side of the wing. All but the smallest birds should have the tip joint of the wing slit open on the under side and some form of preservative worked in the opening. Specimens the size of a crow and larger should have a cut made in the bottom of the foot and the tendons of the lower leg drawn out with an awl, and in the case of very large birds it may be necessary to soak the unfeathered part of the legs and feet in a pan of strong pickle for 24 hours, to prevent decay and damage from insects. Our bird is now entirely ready for the application of such preservatives as we may be using.
The main principle in the preserving of skins may be stated thus: All skins must be removed and cleaned of flesh so the preservative may be applied to every part of the inner surface, where it will act directly on the roots of the hair or feathers.
The preservative applied, we must decide on the next step, whether it is to be mounted at once, in a short time, or laid away indefinitely as a scientific skin.
If we have to lay it away until tomorrow, put a little cotton inside to prevent the inner surface sticking together, wrap in a damp cloth and unless the weather is very hot it will be all right.
If very hot or it is necessary to lay it aside for some days, the inner side should be well coated with the carbolic and glycerine mixture. As a scientific skin it should be made up at once, tagged with a full set of measurements taken before skinning and laid aside to dry. These measurements are not needed if we mount it at once, as the skinned body is at hand for comparison, but the sex, date, locality and collector's name should be attached to the completed specimen.
Alligators and the lizard family are skinned like the other four-footed species, as are snakes and fish, with the exception they have no limb bones to be cleaned and preserved. Fish are better opened along one side than the central line of the body.
Reptile skins if not put in the pickle jar had better be packed in salt after poisoning as when entirely dry they are practically ruined. Skins of fish are best kept in either a saturated solution of salt (water with salt added until no more will dissolve), alcohol or formaldehyde solution. Whatever method is used the delicate colors will vanish and unless you can have a fresh specimen at hand when mounting it you should make the best color record you are able. This is true to some extent at least of all coverings of fur, feathers, or scales, and the stronger the light the more damage. I have seen a mounted mink placed in direct sunshine, bleached to a drab and the yellow feathers on a 'flicker faded almost white.
In order to preserve turtles, after killing with chloroform preferably, it is necessary in the case of the box or land turtles to cut a square opening in the under shell through which the body may be removed and the legs and neck skinned.
The water species can have the lower shell detached from the upper at the side and after cutting the skin around the rear two-thirds this shell is turned over to the front and the skinning and cleaning proceeded with.
If not mounted at once make into a dry skin after poisoning or small turtles may be put in alcohol.
MAKING SCIENTIFIC SKINS.
Probably most bird skins which are not mounted at once are kept in the form of "scientific skins." In other words they are skinned, poisoned and without wiring, given the shape of the dead bird. Their plumage, size, etc., may be examined, they are easily packed or shipped and, if properly made, may be mounted at any time but at the expenditure of considerably more work than a freshly taken skin requires.
The instructions on skinning leaves us with the skin wrong side out with the exception of possibly the head. The leg and wing bone, cleaned of flesh, should be well poisoned as well as the skin and after wrapping with pieces of cotton bat to their approximate size, returned to their places. It is well when doing this to under rather than over fill.
Connect the bones of the wings with a bit of thread or cord. After filling out around the eyes and upper throat, wind a small stick or piece of wire with cotton to a size a little smaller than the natural neck and push it into the opening at the back of skull.
The body can be filled out now with raw cotton, tow, or any similar substance not of animal origin. Fine excelsior is about right for large birds. The edges of the opening cut may be drawn together by a few coarse stitches. After the feet have been tied together it is time to adjust all the feathers become well rumpled in handling.
Our fingers, forceps and a setting needle made of a large needle or part of a hat pin in a wooden handle will accomplish this. Stained or dirty plumage should be cleaned before the skin is filled out, by first sponging with tepid water, then with gasoline or benzine and drying with plaster of paris or corn meal. Never apply this without the gasoline first or you will have trouble indeed.
Now the skin is ready for its label, which should supply the following information:
1. Length in inches from tip of tail to end of tail.
2. Distance between the tips of outstretched wings.
3. Length of wing from the first joint.
4. Color of eyes, feet, bill, etc.
5. Date, locality, collector.
6. The sex.
The first three items are often combined, in the case of a bluebird for instance, 7-12-4, the order being understood.
Unless the plumage plainly indicates the sex this should be assured by examination of the skinned body. By making an opening in the side of this near the back bone the inside surface of the small of the back is exposed. In the case of the male there will be visible two rounded bodies, varying in size with the season and species, and in the female a flattened mass of spheres.
After labeling and fastening the bill together with a pin or thread the skin should be slipped inside a paper tube to dry. Water birds with long slender necks should have the head bent around beside the body and the long legs of waders are bent at the ankle and left resting on the body; this to prevent breakage.
Duck, geese and any fat birds need the inside of the skins well scraped, sponged with gasoline, partly filled with plaster paris and left for several hours so all grease may be absorbed. This grease should be removed prior to applying the preservative as it will prevent any effectual penetration by the latter.
After cleaning either the inside or out of a skin with plaster it will be necessary to gently beat it with a whisk broom or something similar to dislodge the particles of plaster. A current of air (from a bicycle pump, for instance) will remove the dust from the feathers when dry.
Fewest dry scientific skins are made up from the quadrupeds, but in case the matter of transportation prevents wet preservation or they are wanted dry the all around taxidermist must practice at making them up also. Like the bird skin they should be thoroughly rid of flesh and fat after skinning but do not require such finical handling. Rinsing in water with a little washing powder or soda added will remove blood stains and some grease but the benzine bath with the drying after, as recommended in the chapter on tanning, etc., will be needed in case of very fat specimens.
All small animals are made up about the same as birds, wrapping the leg bones in tow, oakum or cotton and filling out the body with the same material. The skull cleaned and poisoned had best be put in the centre of the body with the filling, when it can be found at any time by ripping a few of the stitches.
The skin of the head is filled out with the same material and the tail may either be bent up under the body or drawn together by a few stitches around a wrapped wire extending into the body half its length. Of course the operator will see that the entire inner surface of the skin is treated liberally with some preservative, arsenical paste preferably, before the filling process.
After stitching up the opening cut the skin is laid on a board, back up and the legs neatly disposed, the front feet beside the head and the hind ones drawn back beside the tail. The feet are fastened with a pin each and after smoothing down the fur with a small metal fur comb the skin is laid aside in an airy, shady place until fully dry.
With each scientific skin a record should be made of the following details:
1. Length, end of nose to root of tail.
2. Length of tail from root to end of bone.
3. Height at shoulders.
4. Color of eyes, lips, feet, etc.
5. Name of species, sex, locality, date, and collector's name.
These may be noted down on a corner of the outline sheet, which is numbered and filed away; the skin tagged with a duplicate number is put in the pickle jar or made up as a dried skin, whichever is desired, or the full information may be put on a tag attached to the skin. Many collectors simply number all specimens and preserve all information in their note books. The foregoing details are sufficient for animals less than bear and deer in size.
The larger animals should have as many as possible of the following additional measurements:
Distance hip joint to shoulder joint. Circumference of forearm. " " neck. " " body. Back of leg. Weight if possible.
Skins of large animals, a bear for instance, may have a slight wrapping of tow or excelsior on the leg bones to prevent their coming in contact with the skin and the whole skin laid to dry on a scaffold of poles or something similar. When nearly dry fold up with the legs inside in a square shaped package. This can be tied up with heavy cord or even sewed up in burlap to prevent damaging the skin in transit. Fish and reptiles are not a success as dry skins.
PREPARING DRY AND WET SKINS FOR MOUNTING.
Let us assume that we have a dry skin each of a small bird and a furred animal which has been properly made up sometime in the past and which it is necessary to mount. Taking the bird skin first, the usual way is to first wrap the unfeathered parts of legs in some strips of cotton cloth saturated with water containing a few drops of carbolic acid until they begin to relax or lose their stiffness somewhat.
Then the filling may be removed from the whole interior of the skin and be replaced with pieces of cotton, dampened as before, and the whole skin wrapped in a cloth or shut in a close box until with some scraping and manipulation it becomes as pliable as when first removed. Any little lumps of dried muscle should be broken up and the edges of the opening cut, scraped and stretched out as they are very apt to wrinkle and curl up, thus reducing the size of the skin considerably.
The eye sockets are to be filled with balls of wet cotton to render the lids and surrounding skin soft. The roots of quills and tufts of large feathers will need loosening as some flesh is necessarily left around them.
The small animal skin may be treated the same way but the most thorough and expeditious method of relaxing skins of both animals and birds (except the smallest of the latter) is to plunge them into water, clear in cool weather, slightly carbolized in warm, until they are pretty well relaxed. Then go after the inner side with scraper until any lumps of fat, muscle and the inner skin are well scratched up. Soak in benzine or gasoline and clean with hot meal, sand, sawdust or plaster as directed for tanning. Remember that bird skins must be handled carefully, so do not be too strenuous in beating and shaking them.
Of course if any skin has been laid away with quantities of fat adhering it will need very gingerly handling to save it, in fact unless very rare such skins are not worth trying to save as they have little durability however treated. The largest polar bear skin I ever saw was ruined by lying "in the grease" too long before dressing. Bird skins preserved with the glycerine carbolic preparation require relaxing the legs and a cleaning and dampening up of the inside of the skins.
Furred skins from the pickle need a good scraping on their inner surface, thorough rinsing in soda solution to neutralize the acid and remove all salt, then the benzine bath and cleaning. Don't forget to rinse salted or pickled skins else beads of moisture will form on the specimen in damp weather and crystals of salt in dry.
Occasionally an extra rare skin will drop to pieces through age or other infirmities when being prepared for mounting. The only hope for it then is to glue and pin it piecemeal on a manikin covered with some preparation which gives it a firm surface. While an expert will achieve fair results in such work the amateur could hardly expect success.
MOUNTING SMALL AND MEDIUM BIRDS.
A word of advice to the beginner as to the variety of specimen to use in first trials. Don't begin on too small a bird until somewhat adept; unpracticed fingers bungle sadly over tiny feathered bodies. A first subject should be at least as large as a bob white to give room to work, and of some variety in which the feathers are firmly embedded.
Snow birds, cardinals, and some others have very thin delicate skins, the pigeons shed their feathers on little or no provocation. Blackbirds and jays are very good to practice on but the very best would be a coot, sometimes called crow duck or mudhen. It is of fair size, closely covered with feathers which will fall in place readily after skinning and wiring even at the hands of a beginner.
Many, in fact most, birds have numerous bare patches which the adjacent feathered tracts cover perfectly while in the flesh, but which a too generous filling will exhibit in all their nakedness. I had not discovered this until some of my first attempts at mounting birds nonplussed me by showing numerous patches of bare skin in spite of the fact that but a few feathers had become loosened in the handling.
We will assume that a suitable specimen is at hand, freshly killed and properly skinned as per the directions already given. All bones remaining with the skin, lower leg, wing, skull, etc., have been stripped of flesh and any shreds remaining poisoned, as has the entire inner surface of skin. With the skinned body at hand cut three wires of suitable size, one a little more than twice the length of the body and neck, for the body wire, the other two about twice the length of the legs may be a size larger as it is important that the leg wires furnish adequate support.
Form the body wire into a loop which is the outline of the body laid on one side with the surplus end projecting along the line of the neck. This loop should not be quite as large as the body, however, to allow for a thin layer of filling material over it. Wad up a handful of coarse tow, push it inside the body loop and wind with coarse thread, drawing in by pressure and winding and building out with flakes of tow to a rough shape of the skinned body. The neck also is built up the same way, making it fully as thick as the original but no longer ever.
If the wire projects more than a couple of inches from this artificial neck, cut it off at that length and with a flat file or emery wheel give it a sharp triangular point. The leg wires, too, should be pointed similarly. All wire should be smooth, straight, and free from kinks to work well. Coming in coils it will require straightening, the larger sizes with mallet or hammer and No. 18 and smaller by fastening one end in the vise and giving the other a sharp tug with a pair of pliers. It will be felt to stretch slightly and become quite straight.
Next insert the pointed end of a leg wire in the bottom of the foot and pass it up along the back of the bone between it and the skin. A considerable knack is necessary to do this successfully and some force must be used. Passing the heel joint is difficult but having done this and emerged inside the skin continue to pass it until it is a little longer than the leg bone beside it.
Turn the skin of leg inside out and wrapping tow around both bone and wire build up a duplicate of the leg from thigh to heel, wrapping snugly with thread. Treat the other leg the same.
With forceps fill the skull back of mouth with tow cut in short pieces. A quantity of this may be chopped on the block with the hatchet and kept on hand in a box. Never fill any part of a mounted bird with cotton unless it may be the sockets as it is impossible to force a sharpened wire or pin through it.
The parts of the wing bones remaining should be wrapped with tow as the legs are, only they hardly need any wiring inside unless the bird is to be with wings spread. Fasten the ends of the wing bones together by a stout cord or thread so they are separated the distance between the shoulders, measuring across the back of body. Now insert the neck wire in the back of skull forcing it out through the crown until the artificial neck is brought snugly against the opening at the base of the skull.
Bend the pointed end over to get it out of the way and adjust the skin of the neck. Draw the skin of breast over the body keeping the bird on its back. If the body has been properly made it will fill the skin rather loosely. If too large it can be removed and made smaller before proceeding.
The operator will note that in all small and medium birds the thigh and the upper wing, next the shoulder are not built up and wired with the rest of the limbs but are filled out later from inside the skin, as in all ordinary positions they show but little externally, the elbow and knee joints nestling close to the body among the feathers.
So when fastening the legs to the body let the wires enter where the knee would lie and push the wire through obliquely, upward and forward, pushing and drawing them through the artificial and natural leg until the lower ends approach the feet. Grasping the sharpened ends of the leg wires at the middle of the length projecting from the body, with round nose pliers bend them over in a hair pin shape.
Work this loop back through the body pulling back through the leg and clinch the points over into the body again. If the body was firmly made as it should be, this fixes the legs permanently to it, yet they may be bent readily at the joints to suit various attitudes.
Adjust the skin now and fill out at shoulders, thighs, and base of tail with some chopped tow. The breast also may need some filling. Sew up the skin beginning at the breast and finishing at the base of tail, lacing it together with the ball cover stitch.
The pose of the finished specimen you have probably decided on before now so it only remains to put it in the desired attitude. This sounds easy, like sculpture, "just knock off what stone you don't need and there is the statue," but it may try your soul at length to obtain the desired effect. Good pictures are a great help here, as of course a living duplicate would be if you had it.
Before setting it on its feet, coax the wings into place as you hold the bird in your hand and pin them to the body through the elbow and outer joint of the wing, using several pins 2 to 4 in. long or pieces of sharpened wire the same size. This will hold the wings out of the way and they may be changed and fitted perfectly later.
Mounted birds are usually put on temporary stands of rough boards or limbs and when fully dried out transferred to a permanent mount which can be prepared in the meantime of the exact size and variety wished for. On these temporary stands the leg wires are only twisted together so they can be easily removed. Place the feet in natural positions of standing, walking or running and arrange the toes correctly. They had best have some pins driven in beside the toes to secure them till dry, as badly shaped feet will spoil the effect of an otherwise fine piece of work, indicating a careless workman.
If on a bough or stump the feet should grasp it as if the bird really means to stay on it. Two or three wires like those used on the wings hold the tail in place by being driven through the base of it into the body for half their length.
Fix the head looking down rather than up and to one side rather than straight ahead. If you have the proper glass eyes at hand they can be set now, if not, later will do but the lids are relaxed just now to receive them. Fill the back of the sockets with tow or cotton and with a little spoon-shaped modeling tool give this and the inner surface of the lids a good coating of soft clay. The eyes, cut from the wire stem on which most of them come, are pressed into this and the skin worked into place with the point of a big needle or a small awl.
Now give the plumage a general going over, re-pin the wings if necessary, and wind down any obstreperous feathers with thread. A number of pins or wires thrust in the middle of back and breast will help this operation.
Starting at the head wind back to the tail, lacing the thread from pin to pin, not binding tightly with any one thread but producing a smooth surface by holding it down at a multiplicity of points. There are a number of so-called systems for winding birds but the same taxidermist seldom winds two alike as the needs of the case are sure to differ. To spread the tails of small birds, spread the feathers as desired and pin them between two strips of light cardboard. When dry they will retain their position. If all arranged properly set the bird away to dry; two weeks will be sufficient for this.
Any colors on bill or feet and legs should be renewed with oil colors as they fade almost entirely; if of a dark or neutral color originally, a coating of transparent varnish will do. There is a variety of beetle which delights in dining on such hard parts of mounted birds if not protected by paint or varnish.
Place the bird on its final mount and fasten the leg wires in grooves cut in the under side of same so they are flush with surface. The ends may be turned over and driven in again or held fast by small staples. If on the under side of a limb or branch a pinch of moss or lichen glued on will cover this fastening.
Cut away the binding threads and with cutting pliers cut off all projecting pins and wires, leaving what part of them is covered by the feathers. Brush any clay from the eyes and if the lids have shrunken away from them as they do usually, coat a bit of black thread with glue and with a setting needle place between the lids and glass eyes.
If the eyes were not on hand when first mounted the lids should have been relaxed and the eyes set as soon as procured.
Small birds may be mounted in fluttering attitudes by pinning the wings with a bunch of cotton beneath them, but if an attitude with wings fully spread is called for they must be treated in a manner similar to the legs, inserting the wire under the skin near the tip of the wing and running it along the under side of the wing bones to the body through which it is thrust and clinched as the leg wires were.
Birds mounted with spread wings cannot be so readily wound to smooth the plumage and require to be braced with strips of stiff paper and sometimes extra wires, which are removed when dry.
MOUNTING LARGE BIRDS.
The same principles employed in the manipulation of smaller species apply to this class with but a few variations. On account of their size and weight the artificial bodies need to be especially firm in order to afford a secure anchorage for the wing and leg wires. Also these supports should be fastened to the bones in several places with stout cord or small wire, as wrapping with the tow and thread used on small birds is hardly sufficient.
What I would class as being large birds are the larger hawks, owls, herons, eagles, geese, etc. The several varieties of the ostrich are known as colossal birds and are skinned and preserved much as the large quadrupeds by mounting the prepared skin on a manikin, built in the pose of the finished specimen and supported by heavy iron rods.
In mounting eagles or similar birds with wings spread, which seems to be a popular attitude, use the largest wires possible as anything less than that will, on account of their size and wide extent, tend to a drooping, back-boneless appearance entirely out of keeping.
It goes without saying that large birds do not require the delicate handling of small ones, but by way of compensation considerable force is needed.
The combs and wattles of domestic and wild fowls cannot by any common process be prevented from shriveling and discoloring while drying, but when dry they may be restored by careful modeling in colored wax. This is applied warm with a brush and given its final finish with hot metal modeling tools. For museum work and other high grade work such heads are cast entire in wax in such a way that all feathers and hair are attached in their precise places.
Large water fowl are often mounted as flying, and suspended by a very fine wire. A sharpened wire with a ring turned in one end, thrust into the middle of the back and clinched in the body, forms a secure point of suspension.
As it is not usually practicable to case many specimens of large birds, give them an extra thorough poisoning and when entirely finished spray with either corrosive sublimate or arsenical solution.
In making bodies for large birds it is well to use excelsior for the main bulk of the body, merely covering the outside with a thin layer of tow. This is not only more economical but makes a lighter specimen than one filled with tow entirely. Excelsior or wood wool is to be had in varying degrees of fineness of upholstery dealers.
In the case of a bird which has been wired and sewn up seeming to require further filling out, it can be accomplished in most cases by making an incision under each wing and introducing some flakes of tow with a wire stuffing tool. If the bird is mounted with closed wings this slit need not even be sewed up as the folded wing covers it completely.
TANNING, CLEANING AND POISONING SKINS.
I have used the following method for some years successfully on skins up to and including the deer in size. Most larger skins need thinning with a special tool, though an experienced hand can manage to thin a heavy hide with a common draw knife.
An empty lard tub, a half barrel or a large earthenware jar to hold the tan liquor, a fleshing knife and a fleshing beam are necessary to begin with at least. Any smith can make a knife of an old, large file or rasp by working both sides to a blunt edge and drawing the upper end out in a tang for another handle. A piece of old scythe blade with cloth wrapped around the ends will do, or a dull draw knife, either. One blade filed into fine teeth will be useful in removing the inner or muscular skin.
A slab or plank 6 or 7 feet long, with one end tapered and half rounded, on 2 or 4 legs of such length as to bring the end against the workman's chest, makes a beam.
A short piece of plank rounded off and bolted to the top of the table or work bench will do for small skins.
Make up the quantity of tanning liquor you wish by the following formula, also given in Chapter III:
Water 1 gallon Salt 1 quart
Bring to the boiling point to readily dissolve the salt, and add
Sulphuric acid 1 fluid ounce
Allow it to cool before putting in the skins. Handle the undiluted acid with care. Use common coarse salt and the commercial acid. Skins not wanted at once may be left in this pickle for months without injury.
About a gallon of pickle to a fox size skin is the correct amount, but it may be used several times before losing its strength.
After the skin is removed from the carcass any blood and dirt is washed from the fur, the flesh side well salted, rolled up and left 12 to 48 hours. Then thoroughly beam or scrape down the inside of the skin, removing all flesh, fat and muscles. Skins already dry may be placed either in clear water or tan liquor until they soften up. It takes longer to soften in the tan, but if put in water it must be watched or the hair will start, especially in warm weather.
A very hard, dry skin must be soaked and scraped alternately until thoroughly relaxed. When well softened, treat same as a fresh skin. If very fat or greasy, soak the skin in benzine an hour, wring out well, hang up till the benzine is about evaporated, then place in the tan. If not very fat the skin need not be put in the benzine first, but go in the tan at once after being scraped. I use common stove gasoline for benzine; it is as good for the purpose of cleaning and deodorizing, and cheaper. It must never be used in the vicinity of fire or a lighted lamp, as its evaporation produces a very explosive gas. For this reason I do the cleaning and beating of furs out of doors if practicable. Gasoline wrung out of skins may be saved and, after allowing to settle, used again and again. It will not do for the final cleaning of white furs, but for removing grease before tanning, it is as good as any. Stir the skins about in the tan frequently that all parts may come in contact with the solution.
Light skins like the fox will tan in 24 to 48 hours; heavier ones in proportional time. When on pulling or stretching the flesh side, it whitens, it is tanned. On taking from the tan, rinse the skin well in lukewarm water containing a handful of washing soda to the bucketful. Wring out with the hands and soak again in benzine for half an hour. Wring out of this and clean the fur at once as follows:
Fill a shallow box part full of clean sand or corn meal which has been heated in a pot or pan over the fire or in an oven. Work the skin about in this until the fur is filled with the meal; then shake or beat it out. Repeat the working in meal and beating until the fur is clean and bright. Never put a damp skin into the meal without the gasoline bath first, or you will have the time of your life getting the meal out. Regular fur dressers use very fine saw dust, but meal is to be had anywhere. Plaster of paris will do, but it is most too fine. This treatment with gasoline or benzine removes the grease and animal odors so apt to cling to Indian or home-dressed skins. After cleaning, allow the skin to partly dry in the air and shade; then soften it by stretching, pulling and rubbing in every part. There is no way to accomplish this without work. A pad made of old bags, pieces of blanket, etc., put on the beam, the skin placed on that and stretched in all directions with the blunt edge of the fleshing knife is as good as any way. Keep up the stretching until the skin is quite dry. If any part should dry out too fast for the operator (that is, before it gets stretched) it can be dampened with water on the flesh side and then treated like the rest. If it is wanted extra soft the skin may be thinned down with sandpaper. If the dressed skin is wanted to lie flat as for a rug, it can be moistened on the flesh side; then stretched out and tacked fur side up on a board, the table top or the floor until dry. If this should cause it to harden or stiffen too much break it again without stretching too much.
Another very good tanning solution is the following:
Salt 1 quart Oxalic acid (pulverized) 4 ounces Water 2 gallons
Dissolve well and immerse the skins, treating them as already directed, rinsing in clear water only. It is also best to allow a little more time for tanning in this solution.
While on the subject of dressing skins a few words in regard to cleaning furs will be in order. White furs especially that have become soiled and matted from use need cleaning frequently and are brought to the furrier or taxidermist for that purpose.
A good washing in gasoline will usually remove the dirt, then dry out as in dressing furs. Furriers often use powdered magnesia for this purpose but almost any finely divided white powder will do about as well. A long siege of beating, shaking and brushing will be necessary to get the drying powder all out of the fur so it will not sift out on the garments when wearing.
If the piece to be cleaned is large (like a coat or cloak) the lining should be removed before cleaning. Neck pieces and small furs are cleaned with linings, wadding, etc., intact. If the fur is so matted that beating does not fluff it out, it must be combed, using a metal fur comb to break up the tangles.
Charges for this work are based on the time used, though at least 75c. or $1.00 each is charged for the small pieces.
As chemicals exposed to the changes of atmosphere are likely to lose strength in time, the owners of mounted heads generally take the precaution of having them poisoned against moth at varying intervals.
Personally I think once in three years is sufficient but some prefer to be on the safe side where valuable heads are concerned and have them treated yearly.
Large heads like buffalo, moose, and elk may be poisoned as they hang, thus obviating any subsequent handling which would be to the detriment of both specimen and operator.
Heads the size of deer and smaller are readily removed and replaced.
First dust the head well and comb the hair or pelt to detect the presence of moth. If loose hairs reveal this the head should be removed to the open air, unscrewed from the shield and saturated with gasoline, which will kill both the moth and its eggs, after which poison against a repetition of the offense.
Pin an old cloth or newspapers about the neck to protect the shield and wall and spray the entire skin of the head with the diluted arsenical solution as recommended in Chapter III. Seedsmen sell a sprayer for use on plants which is about the most convenient size, though the larger size used in the vegetable garden or even a toilet atomizer will distribute the solution.
After it has dried wipe off the eyes and nose with a damp cloth and handle as little as possible.
The common tariff on such work is for treating a single head not less than $1.00. Two to four at one place, 75c. each, and over four, 50c. This for poisoning only. Extra charges for killing moth. Such work should be done in spring or early summer in the Central States in order to be effective.
MAKING ANIMAL FUR RUGS.
Probably the first use (after clothing) made of skins was as rugs or coverings for the ground or couches, and in this shape they are still to be found in our most elegantly furnished homes. One of the few survivals of primitive tastes.
The skins of some few animals such as Polar and Grizzly Bears, Tiger, Jaguar, Lion, Puma, Leopards and Ocelots are used for little else, though some of the spotted cats are used for eccentric looking coats and fur sets. Other smaller skins such as wolf, fox, 'coon, wild cat, etc. are much in favor as rugs as well as for garment furs.
In skinning an animal for use as a rug it is as well to skin and stretch it open, cut under side of body from chin to the end of tail and from each foot down to the central line. A large animal like bear or leopard looks well with the paws preserved and they should be skinned down to the last joint, leaving the claws attached to the skin. Smaller skins may have the paws preserved, though the effect is hardly worth the trouble and the smaller paws are easily crushed on the floor by a chance step.
After skinning, using care to detach it from the head without mutilating the ears, eyes and lips, stretch flat on an inside wall, door, or table top. Stretch evenly with tacks or small nails close together to avoid drawing out in points and of the approximate shape of the finished rug. That is, with the front feet well forward and hind feet pointing back, not spread as wide as possible.
If you are intending to dress the skin it may be begun at once after skinning, as per the chapter on tanning, etc., or after fleshing it may be put in the pickle jar against a leisure day. Otherwise stretch and dry for transportation or to send to the tanner.
As regards the mounting of heads for rugs, they may be done in three styles, called half or mask head, full head closed mouth, and full head open mouth. The first, as the name indicates, consists of the skin of the upper part of the head without that of the lower jaw mounted over an artificial form or "skull." The closed mouth (See dog) has the lower jaw mounted in addition, but without any teeth used, and the open mouth mounting requires a set of suitable teeth with the interior of the mouth, tongue and lips fully modeled and finished either with colored wax or by painting.
These artificial head forms or skulls both with and without teeth and masks, are to be had in all varieties and several sizes each of dealers in taxidermists' supplies so cheaply that I would advise the novice to procure them if possible. In many cases it is necessary for the professional to make use of skulls with artificial teeth as the natural skulls are often thrown away by the collector. In the case of any large skin intended for a rug the roughly cleaned skull should accompany same. In ordering from dealers it is only necessary to give name of animal and the measure of skin from center of nose to inner corner of eye, and outer corner of eye to ear.
The beginner would do well to try mounting a rug with half head first and the more difficult open mouth later. A very fair mask form can be made by laying the skinned head down on a piece of thin board and marking around it with pencil, then cutting out to the outline. With a bunch of fine excelsior or coarse tow and a spool of thread a half-head form can be roughly blocked out by winding, using the board as a base. Then with modelling clay and chopped tow the anatomy is perfected, pressing down here with the fingers, and building up elsewhere. With the skinned head to refer to as the form is modeled a good job can be done. However, if a number of skins of the same species are to be prepared it is best to make a mould in which unlimited paper forms may be cast. Particulars in this work are given in Chapter on Casting and Modelling.