Resisting the bug

The preservation of mounts is a big issue and has seen the evolution of a range of techniques over the last few centuries. Flesh, fur and feather hungry insects have proven to be a real problem for taxidermists as they try desperately to protect their beloved masterpieces, so much so they would die trying to protect them...literally. French apothecary Jean- Baptiste Becoeur had trailed an array of chemicals to preserve bird skins and one day formulated a recipe for arsenical soap unfortunately for him he didn't live long enough to recover his costs and take credit for his lethal formulation. Becoeur's soap was used in museums around the world for nearly two centuries (1777-1976) and is still regarded by some as the best preservative for use in taxidermy.

Throughout the 19th century arsenic was the most commonly used preservative for birds and small mammals, it was mixed with equal amounts of powdered chalk and boiled up with shredded white soap.

There were many hypothesis developed suggesting that Arsenic was responsible for the attenuated lifespans of many taxidermists that used to preserve skins used in mounts. A man named Charles Waterton told the tale of a man named Howe who reportedly lost sixteen of his own teeth as a consequence of using arsenical soap. Waterston remarked in his opinion "arsenical soap can never be used with any success if you wish to respire the true form and figure to a skin" (Waterton, 1838). American taxidermist William Hornaday (1892) contradicted Watertons hypothesis by asserting "Arsenical soap is by all odds the safest poison that can possibly be used. It gives off no poisonous fumes... and its presence in the mouth, nose or eyes is detected instantly". Hornday actively used this soap throughout his taxidermy career and lived to be over 80 years old.

A move away from the use of arsenic took place during the late 19th century as Borax was energetically promoted in America by Leon Pray. However Borax tends to lack the insecticidal ingredient so the use of DDT was later added to prevent the attack of moths and other keratin hungry insects.