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Preserving animal skins has been practiced for a long time. Embalmed animals have been found with Egyptian mummies. Although embalming incorporates the use of lifelike poses, it is not considered taxidermy. In the Middle Ages, crude examples of taxidermy were displayed by astrologers and apothecaries. The earliest methods of preservation of birds for natural history cabinets were published in 1748 by Reaumur in France. Techniques for mounting were described in 1752 by M. B. Stollas. There were several pioneers of taxidermy in France, Germany, Denmark and England around this time. For a while, clay was used to shape some of the soft parts, but this made specimens heavy.
By the 19th century, almost every town had a tannery business. In the 19th century, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops, where the upholsterers would actually sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton. The term “stuffing” or a “stuffed animal” evolved from this crude form of taxidermy. Professional taxidermists prefer the term “mounting” to “stuffing”. More sophisticated cotton-wrapped wire bodies supporting sewn-on cured skins soon followed. In France, Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle from 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the museum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.
Dufresne’s methods spread to England in the early 19th century, where updated and non-toxic methods of preservation were developed by some of the leading naturalists of the day, including Rowland Ward and Montague Brown. Ward established one of the earliest taxidermy firms, Rowland Ward Ltd. of Piccadilly. However, the art of taxidermy remained relatively undeveloped, and the specimens that were created remained stiff and unconvincing.
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