Having been a devoted birdwatcher since a very young child, and with a child like desire to see up close and have a tactile relationship with the creatures I held in such high esteem, it was only natural taxidermy would become an interest. Following a day in the presence of the renowned Norfolk Taxidermist H.R. Bennett I began a little of my own taxidermy and started collecting a few pieces.
It wasn’t until starting work as an auctioneer in Herefordshire at Brightwells (now the Fine Art team of Minster Auctions), that I became aware of the work of James Hutchings of Aberystwyth, and his sons and daughter who subsequently continued the business. The business covered the heyday of the Victorian and Edwardian period of natural history and specimen collecting starting in the 1860s and continuing until a few years into the Second World War.
The fine quality of the work and the naturalistic specimen setting for the time have assisted in making them desirable collector’s items. But what makes a valuable Hutchings taxidermy case?
The Hutchings family mounted hundreds of Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Badgers (Meles meles) and a fair number of Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea). These cases are all usually mounted in a similar manner with the only regular difference in the fox cases being the prey species which has had the misfortune to end up in vulpes’ grasp. There seem to be quite large numbers of these commoner cases reaching the market and dependant on condition they usually achieve between £300-£500.
Birds were a speciality with large Seabird Cases being notorious. These usually contained species commonly found of the west Wales Coast including Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), Common Gull (Larus canus), Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), Guillemots (Uria aalge), Manx Shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) and a wader such as a Dunlin (Calidris alpina) or Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) to finish the look. However, occasionally they were able to obtain scarcer species such as a Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auratus) or a regularly occurring species in an unusual plumage state for the area such as a fine summer plumage Red-throated Diver (Gavia arctica) that Minster Auctions offered that made £520.
Raptors were unfortunately also regularly found in Hutchings Cases despite the low populations of most species during the early 20th Century due to persecution. Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) are the best represented species as mid Wales happened to be one of the last strongholds of the species in Britain.
One species that was hanging on by a thread in remote wooded valleys in mid Wales was the Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Due to extreme rarity with only a handful of pairs surviving during the period the Hutchings were in operation they were not going to occur in many cases. On discovering a fabulous example in the attic of a house in Wales on a valuation I was quite excited. The Red Kite held it’s wings open as it balanced while feeding on a Red Grouse. The vendors kindly consigned the case and after much interest from Hutchings Collectors it finally made £4000 selling to a private collector.
Recognising cases by Hutchings of Aberystwyth is relatively straight forward. The wooden case is usually black painted with rounded corners and glass sides and front held in by moulded gilt slips. The background is usually blue painted merging into yellow and the specimen will be perched or sitting upon a rock effect base with a few rushes or pieces of vegetation surrounding it. Sometimes the case is labelled with this often being behind one of the front edges of the case, however many later cases are not labelled.
Minster Auctions are always keen to offer taxidermy by James Hutchings and other good work by other taxidermist’s from Victorian to contemporary works. We hold three specialist Natural History & Taxidermy Sales per year offering a range of Taxidermy, Lepidoptery & Entomology Collections, Natural History & Ornithological Books and Paintings. Please give Dan Webb a call on 01568 600929 to discuss your items.