We know rather more about Rowland Ward (1848-1912), the youngest and most famous member of the family, than we do about his father or brother, partly through countless references to his business in magazines and newspapers, but more particularly through his autobigraphy A Naturalist's Life Study in the Art of Taxidermy. This was published in 1913, the year following his death, by his own publishing company for private circulation. It was printed in very small edition, possibly as few as fifty copies. Not only is the book therefore rare, it is also a rare kind of book, and is indeed unique in being the only autobiography of a commercial British taxidermist of this era.
Rowland Ward examining skull.
He reveals in it that his ambition whilst at school was to become a sculptor, an interest which ran in the family; there is, of course, a natural affinity between taxidermy and sculpture. It was through the latter that the first signs of his business acumen became apparent, for at school he used to supplement his pocket money by casting and modelling the heads of his contemporaries. He continued to produce sculptures in various mediums, especially bronze, throughout his career. Rowland left school at the age of fourteen, and spent most of the next ten years working under his father. He made frequent trips to the Zoological Gardens and other such places during this time in order to make sketches, or sometimes small wax models, of animals from life. He had, he tells us, natural aptitude for painting modelling, and paid particular attention to his subject's muscle formations. He modelled a bust of a famous Gorilla called 'Pongo', also a companion one of a Chimpanzee, and he was especially fond of these because they represented the begining of his lifelong association with the specialised work on monkeys and small mammals. Some of his Gorilla mounts were considered particularly good, and he found this species, so human-like in appearance, a source of endless fascination. They were, like most exotic species, often shot in those, and it used to be said that one Gorilla was enough for any man to collect, for it was too much like killing a human being.
Rowland Ward group photo.
During the time he worked with his father, he began producing things on his own account. Early on in his career, he modelled two horse heads which were seen by someone he described as 'a very wealthy man who had acquired riches during the American War'. As a result, he was commissioned to mount a series of animal heads which were to adorn the walls of the large house his customer was at that time ahing built. The capital acquired from this project enabled him to leave his father's employment, as his brother Edwin had already done, and go into business in his own right. He began, around 1872, at 27, Harley Street, trading as 'J. Rowland Ward'. He moved to 158, Picadilly after a few years, at which time his business became known as 'Ward & Co. Ltd', although he retained his Harley Street premises until his death. In 1879, the year his brother Edwin retired and a year after his father's death, he transferred his studios from 158, Picadilly to larger premises at no. 166; no. 167 also came into his possesion, perhaps at a slightly later date. In 1898, the business became, and remained, 'Rowland Ward Ltd'.
We have bought major collections from museums and private collectors.
Offer your items here.
Ayre & Co does not source modern taxidermy specimens that have been killed for the purpose of taxidermy. Our modern taxidermy is mainly roadkill and catkill as these are sadly the top two threats to British wildlife. We also get animals that have died of old age, largely from zoos and falconers.
Antique pieces for us are another matter. Although some of these old specimens were hunted, we see no harm in trading them today.
Destroying them will not bring the animal back.
Taxidermy law can be complicated. We make it our business to know the laws surrounding the trade, keeping up to date with changes in current legislation so you can buy in confidence.
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