Human hair is above all things best calculated for making models of some kinds of dark-coloured snakes. I have observed in Farrer’s shop in Regent-street, where they work up hair into all sorts of devices, several very good models of snakes. Black, white, and brown hair being intermixed, give exactly the appearance of the common viper. One hair snake, in particular, has its marks perfectly correct, whether by design or accident I know not, but there it is, a model of a viper, only unfortunately it has the ideal head fashioned by an unobservant artist. A shop close by presents some beautiful bronze models of snakes coiled up, which, being heavy, are intended for paper-weights. These are no ideal snakes ; they are, I am certain, casts from the original ; and I have heard that lizards are put into plaster of Paris alive and left to die there. When dead the plaster is put into a furnace, and the body of the lizard being consumed is shaken out in the form of powder, through a hole made for the purpose ; the metal is then poured in, assuming, of course, the accurate shape of the lizard. I have in my possession a sprig of common English prickly furze made in this way, and also an electro-plated hollow model of a toad. I am certain, from marks in the model, that the metal was deposited on the actual body of the toad, and also that in this case the toad was dead before operated on.
Silversmiths are not always very careful about their models. I once saw on the top of an enormous silver dish, intended for a haunch of venison, two deer modelled in silver. I was sorry to see how these deer had been imagined by the artist : their legs looked dropsical, and their bodies like the bodies of cows, clumsy, and devoid of that grace peculiar to the deer tribe. As an offset to these, I have seen in Mr. Elkington’s window a beautiful bit of presentation plate, made by an artist who took the animal itself as a model. It is a palm-tree under which stands a giraffe. The limbs and shape of the animal are perfect, and he has hit off the great peculiarity of the giraffe, the long black prehensile tongue which the animal uses to pull down the leaves into his mouth; even the tongue itself is a perfect model of nature. Quaere. Were giraffes ever used as beasts of burden ? I have seen an ancient picture in the palace of the Luxembourg, where a giraffe is represented being led by a man, and upon its back is a package fastened with ropes. I have also seen a pretty idea ; viz., the model of the merrythought bone of a bird made in gold with a pin attached to it so as to form a brooch. In Mr. Hancock’s shop, too, is a capital group in silver, of the death of a fox. It was made as a testimonial to Lord Forrester by the members of the Belvoir Hunt ; it represents an incident that really took place. A fox had given the hounds a remarkably long run, and at last escaped into a tree. The whipper-in got up the tree, and succeeded in driving the fox down, not, however, to be killed, for he made his escape after a second severe gallop. The horsemen, horses, and hounds are all perfect ; so also is the fox, who is up in a tree concealing himself behind a branch. The head, with the expression peculiar to a fox, has been hit off exactly by the artist.
Lastly, in the city—a very proper place for it—I have seen a capital silver soup tureen in the shape of a turtle. The great sprawling silver turtle is placed on the table, his carapace, or upper shell is lifted off, and his body is found to contain soup fit for Jove himself.
Source: Curiosities Of Natural History - Francis T. Buckland M.A. - 1860