January 9, 2014

Our Fish's Tale: The One That Did Not Get Away

Back in September, we made a brief mention of the cased taxidermy fish we brought home from a local auction.

It looks creepy, I get it. Well, it's become quite an icon in our house, and we realized we hadn't really shared the full story here on the blog before. It's interesting and funny to us (and maybe only us), so here goes...

Anyway, we'd come across this particular auction as a bit of a fluke (not the flounder, a real fluke). Mary had bookmarked it to check out, thinking it was an estate sale. When we realized it was an auction, we almost left since neither of us are familiar with auction sale formats, but decided to stay and just watch a while from the sidelines. I secretly have always wanted to be in an auction and flash up a number, having the auctioneer point at me and say: SOLD! To the man in the blue sweater.

Before the auction began, everyone was able to walk around and check out everything for sale. One of the first things I laid eyes on was the cased fish. I immediately was drawn to it and pointed it out to Mary. She gave me the "yeah, it's cool" while she kept walking kind of thing, ha. Neither us of knows anything about antique taxidermy, but we remembered learning that taxidermy fish are one of the more popular vintage/antique items on the market today from a recent episode of American Pickers, so it was funny to see one up close and personal.

We kept walking around and we also set eyes on a set of cast iron tractor seat bar stools we both loved and thought might be fun to try to bid on.

Once the actual auction got going, we realized that it was pretty easy to participate if you're able to focus on the items you want and listen clearly through all the fast talking of the auctioneer. We had Basil with us but decided we wanted to hang around to place a bid on the bar stools (which we thought might take about 4 hours for them to come up), so Mary left to take him to doggie daycare for the day while I stayed behind in case the stools came up for bid.

When Mary arrived back, not 30 minutes later, I had to give her the bad news that we didn't win the bar stools. They went for over $200 a piece, which was a fair price, but just not something we were ready to pounce on at the time. In the same breath, I told her that something else came up for bid that we did end up winning — yep, you guessed it — the fish. While Mary wasn't thrilled about missing out on the stools, she said she was more disappointed that she didn't get to watch me partake in the bidding action.

We hung out for another hour and ended up bringing home another piece of furniture, and while we were standing around, a woman came up to us, asking if we were the ones who won the taxidermy fish. When we replied yes, she told us it was her father's estate up for auction and that she was excited to see this piece going to a new home. While she didn't have much background to give us, she said he had been an antique dealer, traveling all over the world at times and had distinct memories of the cased fish sitting in the front room at her dad's house — it had been one of his favorite pieces she said.

We carefully packed up our auction finds and brought them home. I hopped on the computer straight away to see if I could find any information on the cased fish. It turned out to be a John Cooper & Sons taxidermy fish caught by Charles Napier at Taplow on September 26th, 1915. It was a barbel fish weighing in at 6 pounds 8 ounces (a little golf clap for Charles on this fine catch). John Cooper was evidently one of the best and widely known British taxidermists of his time and the lake dioramas along with the bow front (rounded) glass cases are what make these taxidermy fish so valuable.

I emailed a collector in the UK we'd found online with a pic of our fish to see if he could give any further background or information on our find. By the time we woke up the next morning, he'd written me back to confirm it was truly the work of John Cooper & Sons and offered to buy it from me for a much larger sum than we'd purchased it for (over 20 times the purchase price). My favorite part of the email reply was how the collector remarked "at least someone was having some fun back in 1915," meaning not everyone was off fighting in the war. He also wanted to know the history on how the fish came to the states since they are cased in the UK, information I couldn't provide but would also be fascinated to know — maybe it was a combination of boat and train back then. It was kind of crazy to have heard back so quickly, but the best part was how Mary admitted I'd scored the find of the weekend.

So given the backstory on our fish, you can now see why it's become a bit of an icon in our house. We tell the story to everyone who sees it and still aren't sure whether or not we'll keep it. I'm not sure we would have gone into all the details and story about the fish here on the blog, BUT, while watching the season premiere of one of our favorite shows, Downton Abbey, Sunday night, the following appeared on our screen:

See the cased taxidermy fish in Mr. Carson's office?? How crazy is that? Was Charles Napier a fishing buddy Mr. Carson?

We laughed in disbelief, then paused to rewind and watch again. Seeing it on Downton has now only added to it's mystique and story in our book. We kept imagining how the set designers for the show must have done thorough research to what was period for the time, and these John Cooper & Sons cased fish must have fit the bill for the aristocratic families of the era.

So that's the saga of our taxidermy fish, and yes, it still gives off a bit of a creepster vibe just hanging out in our front parlor. We love how discovering unique and quirky finds ends up giving us an education and peek into the history of things we would have never thought twice about. It's not for everyone, but we sure do get a kick out of it.

Do you have one of those rare or funny finds that always makes for a good story in your home? Or are you also the type that once you learn about something new-to-you, that thing all of a sudden seems to pop up everywhere and you never noticed it before?


  1. Replies
    1. Well that was another story but I thought I won it at $60.00 but indeed up winning it at $70.00. Those auctioneers talk fast!

  2. What a great story...and a nice looking carp!

  3. What an *awesome* story! I have to ask, were you bitten by the auction bug? I love them because you truly never know what you might find, but it's always entertaining. And you two are in such a great area for auctions.

    I love paper, and years ago bought a little packet of letters (tied with ribbon - how could I resist?) that turned out to be a female diplomat's travels from the 1930s. For $5. My sister and I used to go often, but decided to back off a bit when she bought a case of cat food for $2. She doesn't have a cat, but told me, "it was such a good deal!" :)

    FYI, I'm in love with Downton Abbey, and that fish would look great in my living room!

    1. Thank you and yes we would like to participate in more auctions this year. A great first experience and we should not have been intimidated. So easy!

  4. so cool! {and only a little creepy}
    such a fun story & i love how he looks there on the radiator.

  5. The 'golf clap' comment cracked me up, but after the gentle build up of the rarity and price of this item I am completely alarmed this is atop your radiator! Will the heat not mess with the preservation?! And... I vote keep it!

    1. No fears on the radiator it is not operational! Although we have radiators throughout the house we do not use those to heat the house. I am leaning towards keeping it also!

    2. Phew! In which case, I also think it looks very nice in that spot.


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