Stuffed birds go under the hammer

While today some might think them slightly macabre, for the Victorians they were the must-have objects to adorn their homes. And tomorrow, people interested in art of taxidermy will have the chance to buy part of an important collection of stuffed birds when it is auctioned in Diss.

While today some might think them slightly macabre, for the Victorians they were the must-have objects to adorn their homes.

And tomorrow, people interested in the art of taxidermy will have the chance to buy part of an important collection of stuffed birds when it is auctioned in Diss.

The collection of about 150 birds is the work of well-known Norwich taxidermist Thomas Edward Gunn.

It will be sold in 70 lots and includes some now-endangered species, such as the bittern.

It was given by Mr Gunn to the Marriott family from Wilby, near Eye, and forms part of the estate of former magistrate Anne Marriott, who died in April aged 76 and lived at Wilby House.

Through the generations, Miss Marriott and her family amassed a treasure trove of furniture, paintings and other unusual items, most of which are in the process of being sold by auctioneers Gaze & Son.

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The taxidermy includes everything from stone curlews, woodpeckers and falcons to exotic, brightly coloured species such as a golden oriole and purple swamphen. One of the rarer examples is a cased hoopoe, which has a guide price of £150-£200.

Saleroom manager Sharon Bambridge said that while the guide prices might seem low - the highest being £320 for the stuffed and cased bittern - the birds could easily go for much more.

She said it was possible that some of the more exotic birds may have escaped from private aviaries before being shot.

"TE Gunn was a serious taxidermist. That is the name you are looking for with taxidermy. He was a very well-known name.

"The Victorians liked to collect skulls and things . . . taxidermy was the height of fashion at that time."

Mrs Bambridge added: "One or two of the examples actually say where they were shot.

"The collection is in very good condition and there is such a wide range of birds.

"This is the most comprehensive collection we have ever handled."

Mrs Bambridge said the birds had already generated a lot of interest and collecting taxidermy was still popular.

Born in 1844, Mr Gunn worked in Norwich all his life. He had a shop in St Giles and became known as one of the best taxidermists in the area.

His was the largest taxidermy business in Norwich, with competitors including Cole of Norwich and Roberts of Norwich. He died in 1923.

His son, Frederick, retired from the business in 1941 aged 72. The firm closed its doors in 1950, ending nearly 100 years of continuous trading.

The sale at Diss auction rooms starts at 10.30am, with viewing today from 2pm to 8pm and tomorrow from 8.30am.