Bureaucracy: Practical Taxidermy

Browne, Montagu. Practical Taxidermy: A Manual of Instruction to the Amateur in Collecting, Preserving, and Setting Up Natural History Specimens of All Kinds : to Which Is Added a Chapter Upon the Pictorial Arrangement of Museums. London [England: L. Upcott Gill, 1884. Print.


This late nineteenth century handbook for amateur collectors describes the process of decoying, trapping, skinning, preserving, and mounting animal and bird specimens for inclusion in a natural history museum. The author, Montague Browne, was the curator of the town museum in Leicester, a city in the industrial Midlands in Britain; he was also a member of the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, a Fellow of the Zoological Society, and the author of The Vertebrate Animals of Leicestershire and Rutland (1889). Practical Taxidermy offers instruction to other museum curators about the preservation and presentation of specimens, but Browne acknowledges the book is “merely an introduction to a delightful art” and does not pretend to convey the “knowledge of anatomy, form, arrangement and color” requisite to the professional taxidermist (viii). Yet even though he positions his instruction manual against the “business” of taxidermy and its “technicalities,” Browne aims to convey instructions for every step in the production of a specimen through his text and illustrations: his directions for skinning a bird, for example, include details of where to place the thumb and how to hold the skinning knife relative to skeletal structure and musculature illustrated in the engravings (93-103). Browne adopts the language and techniques of an emergent profession to train amateur enthusiasts.

The Leicester Town Museum was founded in 1835 by the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, and was presented to the town in 1849 (Hand-book 3). Town museums in nineteenth-century Britain included displays on various aspects of local history, including flora and fauna. These museums were often eclectic, as collections depended on the generosity of local supporters. In 1864, when the Hand-book to the Leicester Museum was published, displays included ethnological and antiquarian collections (including Roman and medieval remains found near Leicester) and natural history and geological specimens, including a large collection of mounted and preserved British birds and several “specimens of very large fossil Saurians, or Water Lizards, principally from the beds of limestone at Barrow-on-Saur,” a village in Leicester (Hand-book 7). The final chapter of Practical Taxidermy provides directions for setting up a natural history museum along with a fold-out illustration of the “Projected Plan of Arrangement of Vertebrates in the Zoological Room, Leicester Town Museum.” In addition to these plans, Browne surveys a number of other proposed plans of classification that, he contends, are “based on an utter disregard of the requirements of science, leaving out art altogether, and worse still, upon an utter ignorance of the first principles of zoology” (324). As this suggests, the larger goal of Browne’s practical manual of taxidermy was to raise the scientific legitimacy and artistic merit of “provincial” museums in Britain. While courting an audience of amateur collectors, Browne’s instructions for making specimens and displays trade on the bureaucratic and disciplinary structures of both zoological science and the visual arts. 

Find Practical Taxidermy in the UNT Libraries Catalog.