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Unsung Hero or Evil Villain in the History of Taxidermy

Discussion in 'The Taxidermy Industry' started by PA, Mar 27, 2018.

  1. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    Some might think this title would refer to one of the contributors here who seems to draw the ire of a few others here. Actually the post is about Frank Blake Webster an important, yet almost unknown, taxidermist, supplier, museum builder and purveyor of natural history specimens. F. B. Webster should not be confused with Frederic S. Webster, though it is easy to see how this has happened in the past.

    As in many of my posts, I run across some tidbit of information which launches me “down the rabbit hole” until I find some interesting facts which I cogitate on for a while, and then find time to post a story which I hope is entertaining enough to garner appreciation for the effort. In this case, I was putting a couple temporary cases together of Galapagos finches for a talk at Duquesne University as part of the annual Darwin Day celebration at that institution. The lecture by Peter and Rosemary Grant on evolution of Finches was fascinating, and he had previously borrowed all our finches 40 years ago in preparation for his field work when it began there. I often take to time to retro-georeference specimens when they go out on loan. Two specimens we had the collection came from the Webster-Harris Expedition in 1897. It turns out that the Webster was none other than Frank Blake Webster of Hyde Park, Massachusetts, not far south of Boston. For brief details on Webster you can read the Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Blake_Webster

    I first came upon F. B. Webster 35 years ago or so when perusing volumes of the “Ornithologist and Ornithologist” and found he published 10 chapters on Practical Taxidermy as at the time I was gathering a bibliography of published papers on the subject. For example, see Chapter 5 titled “stuffing” here: https://books.google.com/books?id=aEhCAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA6-IA7&dq=ornithologist+and+oologist+%22Frank+B.Webster%22+%22Practical+taxidermy%22+Chapter+%22Jan.+1886%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwikl77Ep4jaAhUprlkKHQLyBAoQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=ornithologist%20and%20oologist%20%22Frank%20B.Webster%22%20%22Practical%20taxidermy%22%20Chapter%20%22Jan.%201886%22&f=false

    A few years later I purchased a couple Taxidermy supply company catalogues published by him, one dated 1909, two earlier undated copies, and then through a good friend, Dave Schwendeman, obtained a Xerox copy of a price list for bird skins and eggs dated 1899. Eventually I obtained the book he published “Results in Taxidermy” circa 1905. Citations in full:

    Webster, Frank Blake. 1899 ‑ Price List ‑ Bird Skins and Eggs. Frank Blake Webster Company, Hyde Park, Massachusetts. 16 pp.

    Webster, Frank Blake. 1905. Results in Taxidermy. Sarah Shaw Webster, The Marsh Press, Boston, Massachusetts. Unpaginated, 136 pp.

    Webster, Frank Blake. ca. 1908. Catalogue of Supplies for Taxidermists and Naturalists. Dealers in Everything Required by Naturalists and Natural History Specimens. Frank Blake Webster, Hyde Park, Massachusetts. 28 pp.

    Webster, Frank Blake. 1909. Supply Catalogue for 1909. Wholesale Prices of the Frank Blake Webster Company... Dealers in Everything Required by Naturalists and Natural History Specimens. Frank Blake Webster, Hyde Park, Massachusetts. 14 pp.

    Webster, Frank Blake. ca. 1922. Catalogue of Supplies for Taxidermists and Naturalists... Dealers in Everything Required by Naturalists and Natural History Specimens. Frank Blake Webster, Hyde Park, Massachusetts. 22 pp.

    I now take a break in the story to insert a few pictures of the establishment and his supply catalog. They always say, a picture is worth a thousand words – so I will put in 10,000 words to this “story” before resuming.
    Frank Blake Webster 1990.JPG Frank Blake Webster 1905.JPG FBW Polar bear hide.JPG FBW line drawing of headquarters.JPG FBW entire compound.JPG FBW Catalog - head forms.JPG FBW Catalog Dog head forms.JPG

    Webster had a museum which was photographed for his book Results in Taxidermy published 1905/6. In it he showed a number of cases
    FBW Ducks.JPG

    FBW sea birds and primates.JPG

    Aside from these ventures of education on how to perform taxidermy, selling supplies, creating a museum, owning and publishing an ornithological journal, he also started one of the first magazines devoted to taxidermy. The Taxidermist ran for 8 issues from

    The Taxidermist, devoted to what you want - how to use it - where to get it
    Editor: Frank Blake Webster. Publisher: Frank Blake Webster Co., Hyde Park, MA Publication Dates/Frequency: 8 numbers total: 1907 (2), 1908 (2), 1910, 1913, 1914, and 1923

    Recently I was made aware that these issue have been made available via scanning by Google at


    If you have any interest in the early history of taxidermy, you can gain a lot of insight into the state of the art. He mentions various taxidermists around the US and gives insight into numbers, for example they sold 8,000 deer eyes in fall of 1907, and they were one firm. (I wonder how many Tohikon sells today?) Most of the issues of the volumes were before the Lacey act, and one after it. The last issue does have a listing of North American birds for sale, but not new specimens, concentrating on those from outside the US.

    To this point, I have posted nothing negative about ole Frank, but when you begin to peruse the various issues he published, it is THIS publication (or ones like it) - the business of selling native American birds, and excesses that provided fodder to the US Government to begin to control the exploitation of natural resources in the control of migratory birds.

    Webster was spot-on in the description of cats being one of the leaders in killing migratory birds (issue 4, page3) and on the meat market being responsible for much more decimation of wild game than the taxidermists (In Issue 3 page 5 where he stated in 1902, a single dealer in the Washington D.C. area sold over 100,000 quail at prices of $3 to $5 a dozen). In the period between 1900 and 1916 The public was being turned hostile towards taxidermists – especially by what he termed the “Audubonites”, even though meat hunters and cats killed far more birds.

    BUT, from the first issue it is clear he is interested in obtaining very rare birds – offering to purchase Labrador duck and Eskimo Curlews on page 4 of the first issue. He also offered mounted birds of over 250 species – which means he had on-hand, or available specimens, of all sorts of rare or threatened birds. He also offered for sale, eggs of many species and buffalo which were quite rare at the time, despite Hornady’s efforts to save the species from extinction. He imported rare birds from other parts of the world.

    Issue 3, page 9 he questions the rarity of California Condors, only that it is difficult to obtain. Then as proof they aren’t disappearing he talks about a collector who had 70 at his disposal.

    By issue 4 he must have begun to get bad feedback, because he stated “we repeat we have no collectors on the field. Nearly all the specimens of skins and eggs that we handle are from collections that have been made. …

    In issue 6, page 2, from 1913 he states Prairie Chickens – i.e. Heath Hens are becoming scarce in sections where they were once abundant. We have seen none in the Boston markets this season.

    In issue 7 page 9 from 1914 he celebrated the taking of an Eskimo Curlew by a John Rogers (no relation). But under that story a reiteration of cats being destructive to birds. The head of the Fish and Game Commissioners estimated in Massachusetts alone, over 2,000,000 birds were killed by cats. (Probably that is why Eskimo Curlew are disappearing).

    The last issue , No 8 wasn’t until 1923. The first editorial mentions the world war and specifically the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It probably wasn’t that much longer until the business folded.
    Being based at a museum but being a hunter and sportsman, I see changes in how society is viewing collections of the past today. Visitors tell me of bringing children up to the Dioramas and asking “Is this specimen dead?” And the parent answers yes, perhaps he was a road killed animal. They go onto the next diorama and the child asks “Is this specimen dead?”, and that goes on throughout the hall. It is hard to envision how this new generation views scientific collections and exhibits. The world is changing, and most people on this forum would be more understanding of the era when Frank Blake Webster ran his taxidermy supply business and museum and sold his specimens. However, he didn’t see the disconnect in extinction as many at the time did not. The last captive Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet both died in 1914 when he was celebrating the killing of an Eskimo Curlew!

    One more tidbit about Webster to bring about the story from my very initial introduction. That regarding the expedition to the Galapagos Islands that occurred in 1897 and bankrolled by Walter Rothschild the Englishman who had accumulated the largest privately held collection in the world of all time. For example, in one fell swoop, he sold the American Museum over 250,000 birds, He had amassed over 300,000 birds in his private collection.


    Webster organized the field trip to the Galapagos to collect all sorts of birds, corals, urchins, iguanas, and specifically tortoises. While Galapagos tortoises were highly sought by collectors, Webster in his expedition and those following it, became the worlds Dealer in these large Tortoises like Lonesome George that was mounted by George Dante.

    The complete story of the hunting the Giant Tortoise, which is a fascinating one can be seen here - it was fraught with danger.


    He mentioned in his book and magazine the sale of some of his 120 tortoises that he handled over the years. He states in Issue 2, page 22 that there are now no Galapagos tortoise on Duncan Island and he was the only one selling them.

    Here is a picture from his 1905 book of his tortoises FBW Galapagos tortoises.JPG

    I have reached the limit of images, so will post this
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2018
  2. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    Part 2

    And another 1905 book he published a collection of Heath Hens image.
    FBW Heath Hens.JPG

    (see the story on Heath Hens in the Bird postings)

    I finish this story with a couple images of a cow he mounted for a customer in Maine outfitted to serve milk.
    FBW Webster Milk cow.JPG

    Children drinking milk from cow.JPG

    The cow isn't a standard mount, but Cows have been mounted by modern taxidermists. If no one has seen this image, you may recognize the taxidermists. Cow by Allis Markham and Tim Bovard.jpg

    Contribution by the Taxidermologist. March 2018.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2018
    D.Price and Bucknut like this.

  3. AliciaG

    AliciaG Museum taxidermist and exhibit preparator

    This is fascinating Steve, thanks for taking the time to put it together. This will be great coffee reading in the morning ;)
  4. joeym

    joeym Jeannette & Joey @ Dunn's Falls

    Very interesting and educational! Thanks for sharing!
  5. Brian Reinertson

    Brian Reinertson Well-Known Member

    Thank you! What a great read
  6. Museum Man

    Museum Man Well-Known Member

    the past is always more interesting than the present. thanks for another great post
  7. Chippers

    Chippers Member

    Allis Markham and Tim Bovard! Two lovely people, great taxidermists too. Thanks for the interesting read.
    allis likes this.
  8. Allie

    Allie Member

    Thanks again, Steve!
  9. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Thanks for sharing and taking the time to write this out. Great reading. Somewhere, I have a copy of Results in Taxidermy.
  10. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Conchology? "in reverence to conchology." In caption below first picture.

    No such word found in Google search.

    Study of conch shells?
  11. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

  12. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Fake News? I typed it as a google search and got nothing. Perhaps I spelled it incorrectly and didn't realize it?

    Thanks for responding... I think.