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Historic Taxidermy Huia Birds Soar Above Expectations at Tennants Auctioneers

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In a stunning twist at the recent Natural History & Taxidermy auction held by Tennants Auctioneers on 8th September 2023, a cased pair of extinct New Zealand Taxidermy Huia Birds fetched a staggering £220,000, leaving pre-sale estimates of £15,000 – £25,000 in the dust.

Historic Taxidermy New Zealand Huia Birds
Historic Taxidermy Huia Birds

The exceptional Taxidermy Huia Birds cased specimens, dating from the late 19th century, were masterfully preserved by noted taxidermist, James E. Whiting. Hailing from Hampstead, London, Whiting was renowned for his intricate craftsmanship. This particular exhibit showcased the two adult Huias perched on a simulated tree branch, flanked by three colourful hummingbirds and set against an artfully crafted background of flora, fauna, and a painted skyline. Encased within a four-glass table display, Whiting’s full paper trade label confidently marked its provenance.

To understand the significance of this sale, one must delve into the intriguing history of the Huia bird. Already a rarity even before European settlement, the Huia’s population was majorly confined to certain mountain ranges in the south-east of the North Island. Its distinctive beak presented a clear sexual dimorphism, with females sporting a long, arched beak and males a short, stout one. Their unique appearance extended to their striking bluish-black plumage with a gleaming green iridescence and their singular tail feathers, adorned with a prominent white band.

Unfortunately, the Huia met its untimely extinction due to two main factors. The first, a result of excessive hunting, saw its skins and tail feathers prized for specimens and hat ornaments. The second was the sweeping deforestation carried out by settlers, leaving these birds homeless and pushing them further towards extinction.

The last confirmed Huia sighting was recorded in 1907, making this cased pair not only an artistic marvel but also a poignant reminder of the species’ tragic fate.

As for Whiting, the artist behind this exquisite work, records show a journey from Steeple Claydon Buckinghamshire in 1848 to his eventual recognition as a taxidermist in Hampstead by the 1890s. He continued this craft until his demise in 1930.

The auction’s surprise outcome serves as a testament to the increasing value and reverence for items preserving our natural history. The Huias, in their preserved glory, not only remind us of a lost species but also of the need for environmental mindfulness, conservation, and the artistry of taxidermy in preserving memories from a bygone era.

For more details visit Tennants

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