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Results: The James Harrison Bird Collection

23rd May 2022.

The James Harrison Collection of Birds came under the hammer at Tennants Auctioneers on 20th May, comprising over 200 lots of cased and free-mount birds dating from the late Victorian era to the middle of the 20th century, gathered by one of the last great bird collectors. Provenance certainly played a key part in helping achieve a 99% sold rate in the sale, and impressive results.

Highlights of the sale included a very rare Cased Late Victorian Passenger Pigeon, supplied to Harrison by George Bristow of St Leonards-on-Sea, that sold for £7,000 plus buyer’s premium. The now extinct passenger pigeon was once endemic to North America, migrating in vast flocks across the continent. Deforestation and widespread hunting for meat saw the species decline rapidly during the 19th century, with the last wild bird though to have been shot in 1901 and the last captive bird, Martha, dying at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Further highlights included a Mid-20th Century Little Spotted Kiwi (sold for £3,500), a circa 1930s Golden Eagle by Ernst Flükiger of Interlaken, Switzerland (sold for £2,800), and a group of three Ancient Egyptian Mummified Falcons (sold for £2,800).  Also selling well above estimate A Late Victorian Cased Pair of Snowy Owls, made circa 1844-1917 by James Gardner of London, naturalists to the Royal Family (sold for £2,400), a Late Victorian Cased Osprey dated 1896 (sold for £1,900), and a Cased Hobby from the early 20th Century (sold for £1,800).

James Maurice Harrison (1892-1971), an ornithologist and doctor from Kent, assembled large numbers of specimens for ornithological study to document moult patterns, geographical distribution, and colour variation between individuals and species. After his interest was sparked at an early age, as a teenager Harrison learned the art of taxidermy. Later a keen wildfowler, he shot and prepared many specimens in the collection, supplementing his own collecting with purchases from auctions and other well-known ornithological collections. Harrison carried out all his activities with the utmost respect for wildlife. An extraordinary collection was developed, carefully stored at his family home and surgery Bowerwood House in Sevenoaks, all displayed in taxonomic groups.

From 1918 Harrison began publishing his findings, and would travel widely, frequently visiting Greece, Israel, North Africa and Lapland. He was elected Chairman of the British Ornithologists Club in 1946 and Vice President of the British Ornithologists union in 1952. He was a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and a Fellow of the Linnean Society, Vice President of the Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, and also Vice President of the Kent Naturalist Trust. He established the Harrison Zoological Museum Trust, further developed by his two sons to become an influential catalyst in the development of wildlife-based education and conservation projects around the world. He was also an early pioneer in developing principles of adapting disused gravel pits into nature reserves.

The sale achieved a total hammer price of £82,800 for the 216 lots with a 99% sold rate.

All auction entries are sold strictly in accordance with CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) regulations, and any necessary licences or Pre-sale approvals are obtained from Animal Health, Bristol.


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