(1) About 40 years ago, Waterton, at the request of the Society of Arts, described his method of preparing and preserving the skins of animals and birds, which was published in the ' Transactions.' The material used was simply mercury chloride (corrosive sublimate)dissolved in alcohol to saturation. This was applied with a camel-hair brush to the inside of the skin, the roots of the principal feathers, and all parts subject to decay. It was stated to give a remarkable firmness of attachment to feathers liable to come out, and so cleanly in use that the plumage of the most brilliant humming-bird was not soiled by its application. The corrosive sublimate must be very finely pounded. Highly-rectified spirits of wine may be diluted with water equal in quantity. Thus, to 1 qt. bottle of alcohol add 1 qt. bottle of water. Into this put a tablespoonful of corrosive sublimate, and nothing more is required. Birds must be steeped in this solution before they are skinned; quadrupeds after they are skinned. Insects must be steeped after they have been dissected. So must serpents. (2) To preserve skins of any kind.
First stretch them out on a board with tacks as soon as taken from the body; then cover them with wood-ashes; let them remain a fortnight, and renew the ashes every 3 days. (3) The following soap is recommended by Ward, of London: - The skins must be well scraped and divested of all fat, and well rubbed with the soap: 1 lb. yellow soap, 1 oz. lime, 1 oz. camphor, 1 oz. arsenic, 1 oz. alum; mixed together. (4) Sublimed sulphur and nitrate of potash, of each 2 dr.; black pepper, camphor, bichloride of mercury, burnt alum, and tobacco, of each 1/2 oz.; reduce to a fine powder. (5) Bichloride of mercury, 1 oz.; hydrochloric acid, 3 dr.; methylated spirit of wine, add to, 2 oz. Use it as follows: - Pour sufficient into a cup, and paint it freely on with a brush, especially about the cavities of the skull, the arms, wings, and thighs. A liberal supply of the powder (No. 4) afterwards to the same parts will ensure their keeping any length of time (that is, if you have any doul>t about their keeping). If you would prefer it, you may use the powder alone. (6) To preserve and render the skins of moles soft and pliant, soak them for 3 or 4 days in water which has had oak sapling bark boiled in it for 2 or 3 hours.
To 2 qt. water put a good double-handful or more of oak-bark, or, better still, oak-galls, and when this has got cold, put the mole-skins in, fresh flayed. They will dry soft and pliant, and perfectly cured. (7) Nothing is required to preserve mole-skins but drying. Skin them neatly, turn them inside out, hang to dry, turn them when dry, and scrape them with blunt knife.
(8) A very cheap and efficient way to preserve mole-skins is the following: - Stretch the skin well on a board, with the fur downwards, and keep it in position by nailing it with tinned tacks round the edge. Then saturate it with spirits of camphor, and rub it in; after this pour about a teaspoonful of rum on, and rub this in with common yellow soap, and leave it to dry. In 2 or 3 days it will be ready for taking off, and will be found to keep stretched, though limp through the application of the soap. They will keep thus for any length of time in a fairly dry place.
(9) Nail the fresh skin tightly and smoothly against a door, keeping the skin side out. Next proceed with a broad-bladed blunt knife to scrape away all loose pieces of flesh and fat; then rub in much chalk, and be not sparing of labour; when the chalk begins to powder and fall off, take the skin down, fill it with finely-ground alum, wrap it closely together, and keep it so in a dry place for 2 or 3 days; at the end of that time unfold it, shake out the alum, and the work is over. (10) First clean and scrape the mole-skins, then rub them over with the following mixture: - 4 lb. white curd soap, 1 lb. arsenic, 1 oz. camphor. Cut the soap into thin slices, and dissolve in 1 pint water. When melted, add the arsenic and camphor, stirring them well together; reboil until a thick paste is attained, and pour it into jars while hot. When cold, tie it up carefully with bladder, and it will keep for a considerable time - 2 years. (11) This process answers for any small skins of animals. Take the skin fresh, and immerse it in a strong solution of alum and salt. To ascertain when dressed enough, double the skin, flesh side outwards, twice, and press it firmly between your finger and thumb until the liquor is well pressed out.
If, when opened, the crease on the skin looks white in the angle, it is dressed enough. Take it out, and immerse it just a minute in warm flour and water, and wash out the flour under a stream of water. When the skin is about half dry, lay it on a flat smooth piece of board, and scrape off the flesh with a blunt-edged knife, or rub it off with pumice. Your skin will then be as mellow as a Dent's kid glove. (12) The following is Dr. Lettsom's recipe for a mixture found to answer both for animals in cases and skins in the open air. For birds it is equally good and effective: - Corrosive sublimate, 1/4 lb.; saltpetre, prepared or burnt, 1/2 lb.; alum,, burnt, 1/4 lb.; flowers of sulphur, 1/2 lb.; camphor, 1/4 lb.; black pepper, 1 lb.; tobacco, ground coarse, 1 lb. Keep in glass-stoppered bottle. Give 2 or 3 good rubbings with it. (13) Swan-skin. 6 oz. arsenic, 3 oz. corrosive sublimate, 2 oz. yellow soap, 1 oz. camphor, and 1/2 pint spirits of wine. Put all these ingredients in a saucepan, which place over a slow fire, stirring the. mixture briskly till the several parts are dissolved and form one homogeneous mass. This may be poured into a wide-mouthed bottle, and allowed to stand till quite cold, when it will be ready for use.
Of course these quantities may be increased or decreased, according to the size of the animal or bird to be operated on. If the soap and arsenic are left out, it will answer better, as they leave it greasy. To be put on with a sponge fastened on the end of a stick. Use very cautiously; mark Poison. (14) Small birds may be preserved for a considerable time by immersing them in brandy, or first runnings of the distillation of rum, but it may slightly discolour the plumage. After sufficient immersion, the feathers and limbs must be arranged as in life, and then slowly dried in an oven at moderate heat. (15) Make an incision from the breast-bone to the vent; with a small piece of wood work the skin from the flesh. When the leg is reached, cut through the knee-joint, and clear the shank as far as possible; then wind a bit of cottonwool, on which some arsenical soap has been put, round the bone; do the same with the other leg. Now divide spine from root of tail, taking care not to cut too near the tail feathers, or they will come out. Next skin the wings as far as possible and cut off. The skin will now be entirely clear of the body. The skin must be turned inside out, and the neck and skin gently pulled in opposite directions till the eyeballs are fully exposed.
The whole of the back of the head may be cut off, and the eyes and brains taken out, and their places filled with cotton wool. The whole skin should be rubbed well with arsenical soap or plain arsenic, and the neck • returned to its natural position, when, after filling the body with a little dry grass or wool, the job is done. It is very easy, and the skin of a bird is much tougher than one would suppose, though of course they vary, the nightjar being very thin, while hummingbirds are fairly tough. All the apparatus required is a sharp knife and a pair of scissors, or, for large birds, a strong pair of nippers to divide the bones. Bird-skins are sent home in barrels very roughly packed.