This is a short warning guide about the purchase of Victorian taxidermy items on ebay. After purchasing an old stuffed squirrel, someone mentioned to me it may have been preserved using poisonous chemicals. I was worried so I contacted the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill London, near to where I live, who have a huge collection of Victorian stuffed animals. The news was not good, these old specimens are more than likely to have arsenic inside them, used as part of the process of taxidermy. Over the years the skins of the animals/birds dry up and split causing the possible escape of arsenic powder from inside the specimen. I was advised to only handle the item with gloves and if it was dusty only brush it outside wearing a face mask- too late for me I had already handled and brushed the item in my living room! I was advised to keep the item contained in a glass dome and it should be ok. Needless to say the item I purchased was not in a glass case so I will probably have to consider disposing of it. I do not blame the seller as they were probably unaware of the issues surrounding old taxidery items. I decided to write this guide simply to make others, both buyers and sellers, aware of this problem. Oh and mercury was also sometimes used as well, and that gives off vapours so another thing to consider! Hope this helps, any anxieties, ring your local museum, they should be able to advise you.
Dangers of victorian taxidery specimens
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23 November 2009
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