The animals you see displayed at Warwickshire Museum are the result of taxidermy and the majority are of species that occur in the British Isles and, in particular, Warwickshire itself. Taxidermy is the art of preparing and mounting the skins of animals and producing a lifelike effect. The popularity of this practise increased during the Victorian period and the company of Peter Spicer & Sons, based in Leamington Spa, was regarded as one of the greatest British taxidermist firms.
Chosen by Royalty
In a business spanning the 19th and 20th Century, the main person who built the reputation of the company was Peter Spicer. Inspired by his father’s ability to create realistic glass eyes, Peter went one step further and recreated natural-looking animals, many set in beautifully made cases with artful dioramas. The trademark of his work is his signature on a pebble placed somewhere in the backdrop and the high quality of his work and acute attention to detail resulted in many high profile individuals, including royalty, buying his pieces. His two sons, William and Gilbert, continued to run his business until 1959.
How did Spicer and his contemporaries do it?
The animal’s skin would be removed and then treated with preservatives such as arsenic soap. A replacement body, or mannequin, would then be sculpted to support the skin and this could be made from all kinds of material, including plaster, wood wool, wires, newspaper, etc. Afterwards the skin would be placed over the mannequin.