Saturday, January 12, 2013

Deconstructing Old Ads: The Northwestern School of Taxidermy (1906)

Breathes there a sportsman over 50 who as a boy did not ponder over the ads for the Northwestern School of Taxidermy? Was there a boy then who did not think that his room would be the envy of all who entered if it were decorated with mounts of fish, birds, game heads, etc.? I have not met him. It seems every gentleman my age to whom I speak had such a dream and sent off for the “free book” which contained countless photos of exotic mounts and was designed to bring a boy's taxidermy desires to a fever pitch. Many saved their money or pooled it with a friend and sent away for the lessons offered. The next part of their tale usually involves luckless sparrows, pigeons, or songbirds who were sacrificed to hone their taxidermy skills. Generally, that is also where their story ends as mounting small birds calls for a lot more patience and skill than most young boys can muster.

The Free Book.

Lessons 1 to 5.

To give you an idea of how long this went on, the two ads shown below are from 55 years apart. The first is from the January 1906 issue of Hunter Trader Trapper and the second is from the January 1961 issue of Outdoor Life.

After putting it off for many years, I sent off for the mail order course. This was after I received a pheasant mount from a “professional” taxidermist that was so poorly done, I knew I could do better. Over time I got reasonably good with fish and achieved a reputation as a very good bird taxidermist. Further books and instruction were responsible for most of my "improvements" but the lessons from the Northwestern School of Taxidermy is where it all started. They say never turn a hobby into a profession as it will take all the fun out of it. When my waterfowl mounts got to looking very good, local taxidermists asked me to do mounts for them. Fifty duck mounts in one season was enough to take the fun out of this hobby and I have not mounted another bird in the last 25 years.

The Northwestern School of Taxidermy went out of business around 1980 after getting into trouble for some questionable business practices and failing to update their lessons. I still find it is fun to read their ads and remember the daydreams I had as a boy thinking about how great it would be to have my room covered in mounts and turned into a true “Sportsman's Den.”

Tight Lines,
-- Bill Sonnett 

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