Taxidermy is notoriously difficult and expensive to repair so condition is key.
The five 'big cat' skins offered by Andrew
Smith & Son of Itchen Stoke, near Winchester, on June
12-13, were quite simply as good as they get.
Displayed on the high flint walls of the
Manor Farm auction rooms, these were the second tranche of a
Hampshire consignment of ten skins from two members of the genus
panthera (five tigers, five leopards) shot in the
late 1920s by an Indian Army officer based in the Assam
The elderly vendor, who had been able to
produce a photograph of himself as a boy in north-west India in
1924 beside two lifeless tigers, explained that his father had not
been a big-game hunter as such.
In his role as a medical officer, his quarry
had been man-eaters or the animals which had posed a threat to the
inhabitants of the village where he and his entourage were
resident. Two Mysore taxidermists - Van Ingen & Van Ingen and
Theobald Brothers - were engaged to treat and mount the ten hides,
a task completed prior to 1931 when the family and their
possessions returned to the UK.
Only one, a 9 x 6ft (2.74 x 1.83m) skin of a
man-eating tiger shot in 1927 and mounted by Van Ingen & Van
Ingen, sold at £4200, had been used in the family home. The other
nine were relegated to the attic and there they remained, shielded
from the effects of sunlight and moths, in the galvanised sea
freight trunks in which they had made their passage from India.
A dealer who had successfully bought (and
quickly sold on at a profit) the five skins offered in February
returned to buy the quintet on offer here. His client is understood
to be an interior decorator.
Regular auction-goers will be familiar with
the sums generated for the best skins carrying the magic name of
Van Ingen & Van Ingen (1900-99) - the celebrated firm who,
factory records attest, processed more than 43,000 tiger and
leopard trophies in less than a century of operation. The current
auction record for a tiger skin appears to be the 10ft 2in (3.1m)
hide mounted by the firm c.1940 which sold at Christie's South
Kensington in September 2009 for £14,500.
However, eight of the ten skins offered in
Itchen Stoke were mounted by the Theobald Brothers, the Mysore
contemporaries of Eugene Van Ingen and his sons, whose clientele
stretched a little further than international nobility and Indian
Their big-cat skins are frequently
distinctive - mounted with ears pinned back and the beast adopting
a snarling pose.
In February a large tiger skin by Theobald
Brothers had sold for £4200, a price the auctioneers speculated
might have been an auction record for this particular taxidermy
At the June sale a full-head tiger-skin rug
in exceptional condition, with a fully lined backing, fabric trade
label and the stencilled number 10661, sold at £5200 (estimate
£1000-2000). It measured 8ft by 6ft 6in (2.44 x 1.98m).
Tiger skins are less desirable when mounted
with flat heads - the example here by Van Ingen measured a massive
10ft 3in (3.1m) but sold at £1900 - while those with no head at all
are further down the price scale still. The headless example by
Theobald Brothers offered in February took £950.
The two leopard-skin rugs sold in June, both
by Theobold Brothers, commanded less spectacular prices. The
full-head mount measuring 7ft 7in x 5ft 5in (2.31 x 1.65m) took
£650 (estimate £300-500), while a flat-headed mount of similar
length but 8ft (2.44m) wide brought £420 (estimate £300-500).
Given the nature of the consignment, the
vendor has been reluctant to divulge his father's name in the
catalogue, although the name of this heavily-decorated Indian Army
medical officer may be revealed in a future sale when the
auctioneers sell the contents of a further trunk - three full
military dress uniforms untouched since the 1930s.
The buyer's premium was 18%.