Period: Mid / Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: The Jamaica Inn, Cornwall
Height: 14 inches
Width: 15 inches
Depth: 6 inches
The irregular preserved rabbit specimen set against a sky blue painted sky within a naturalistic setting, mounted in a glazed and ebonised rectangular display case, marked with museum label ‘WP.216 Rabbit with Tusks’, hailing from the Walter Potter Collection, Bramber Museum, West Sussex, England (see original photograph c.1871).
The condition of the specimen is good to very good, and hardly differs from its conception, the body with little hair drop, only some small loss to the hind legs, whilst the setting and glass case both remain in sound order, all consummate with age.
This unusual rabbit with tusks, the animal essentially displaying a deformation of the teeth, is a surviving piece of the Walter Potter legacy, from Potter’s sanctuary, the Bramber Museum. To the late Victorians, Bramber was a thriving entertainment centre, known for its tea gardens and in particular, for Potter's Museum. So popular were these attractions that the platform at Bramber station had to be lengthened to accommodate the long trains needed to bring the crowds at weekends.
Walter Potter was born in 1835 and began to experiment with taxidermy by the age of 15, preserving the body of a pet canary. His family ran the White Lion in Bramber and as he expanded his experiments in preservation, he was obliged to move to the stable loft. By the age of 19, Potter had produced 98 stuffed birds, which made up the first of the tableaux for which he became well known. This was "The Original Death and Burial of Cock Robin” and the tableau was an immediate success with the customers of the White Lion when it was first displayed in a summerhouse behind the inn in the summer of 1861; ten years previous to the preservation of this very rabbit. This success launched young Walter on a career preparing stuffed animals for Victorian parlours and his growing stock meant a move to new premises in 1866 and again in 1880 to the specially constructed building still in Bramber today. By then the collection was termed a 'museum' and the tableaux of small animals and birds had been joined by the likes of the two-headed lambs and four-legged chickens which fascinated later generations of children. Walter obtained a large number of animals he used in the displays from Ward's Farm in Henfield, and his growing reputation locally meant that the public brought him items of interest.
Potter died in 1918 and was buried in Bramber churchyard, but the museum continued under the direction of his daughter and grandson. Sadly, by the early 1970s the family had decided to sell the Museum, which resulted in it moving first to Arundel, then to Jamaica Inn in Cornwall in the mid 1980s. The final blow for Walter Potter's collection came with the decision by the proprietors of Jamaica Inn to auction the collection in September 2003.
This original piece of Walter Potter taxidermy is a lasting tribute to a man who had a wonderful sense of humour and a skill at preservation and represents a golden opportunity to be the next custodian of a slice of Victorian sideshow museum history.