Alfred Minall in his Tring workshop in Albert Street in 1890, before the Museum opened.

Alfred Minall in his Tring workshop in Albert Street in 1890, before the Museum opened.

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Taxidermy at Tring: how Walter Rothschild procured specimens for the Museum

Walter Rothschild acquired animals from all over the world to study and display at his museum. Sometimes dead animals from London Zoo were sent to taxidermists who sold them to Walter, but he also used professional collectors, accepted donations from the public and traded with other collectors and museums.

Initially Rothschild employed Alfred Minall as the Museum's taxidermist. As the collection grew, Walter also employed external taxidermists to help.

Rothschild wanted the best possible specimens for the Museum, so he worked hard to form positive relationships with taxidermists. He wanted each specimen on display to be the best example of its species, with as lifelike an appearance as possible. Walter even upgraded specimens if he had the opportunity. He did this with a giraffe in 1902 after claiming the previous one was 'a ghastly production'.

Taxidermists were an important part of Rothschild's network. There were over 150 different taxidermists in London between 1840 and 1960, so to stand out many observed animals and learnt their anatomy to produce the most lifelike specimen. Not only did they prepare specimens for display in the Museum, but they also bought surplus animals from Walter and helped him to secure further examples for his collection.

One taxidermist, Doggett, kept live animals for Rothschild. Bills from the 1890s show that Doggett was paid a daily rate for the care of birds such as kiwis and collared lories. These birds were kept so that the skin could be prepped quickly for optimum results. Doggett also recorded details of their habits and behaviour for Rothschild, adding to the knowledge of new species which later entered scientific publications and was used to improve display signage. 

Which taxidermists' work can you see in the Museum?

Taxidermists labelled their work as a way of promoting their craft and attracting new business. Even today, if you look carefully at specimens, you can sometimes see the makers' names.

Look out for these names:

  • Rowland Ward
  • Brazenor Brothers
  • Edward Gerrard and Sons

Find out more about Walter Rothschild and the taxidermists who prepared specimens for the Museum in the free display in the Rothschild Room. The display is open from 7 February 2022. Book your free Museum entry ticket