Thousands of animals stuffed by Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter went under the auctioneer's hammer yesterday, breaking up a collection first begun in Sussex 160 years ago.

About 10,000 items, including 6,000 stuffed animals, are being sold over two days in Cornwall, where they have been a major attraction since their removal from Sussex in the Eighties.

Stuffed exhibits including squirrels playing cards, kittens taking tea and bunnies learning their ABC, together with later additions to Potter's collection are expected to fetch between £250,000 and £2 million.

Yesterday, up to 300 people packed into the Cornish auction room.

Potter's earliest tableau The Death Of Cock Robin, expected to go for up to £7,000, was sold for £23,500.

The work, which Potter finished in 1861 after seven years of labour and contains specimens of 98 British birds, was sold to Robert Chinnery of the Victorian Taxidermy Company.

Another of his best known pieces, The Kittens' Wedding, which was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum three years ago, had been expected to fetch in excess of £8,000. In the end it went to a mystery telephone bidder for £21,150.

The Squirrels' Club, another of the most famous exhibits showing 18 red squirrels enjoying a few glasses of port and a hand of poker, was expected to go for up to £6,000.

It was sold to an anonymous bidder for £6,463.

The other major piece for sale yesterday, of a monkey on the back of a goat, went for £8,225.

A spokeswoman for Bonhams auctioneers said: "We have still a lot more to get through but the majority of items up so far have sold.

"We will be auctioning the bigger animals, including the giraffe and tiger and the famous kitten's tea party.

"This sale is proving very popular and we are pleased so many people have come from far and wide to take part."

Taxidermist Potter, born in 1835, started his spectacular collection at home in Bramber, near Steyning, in the 1850s.

By the time of his death in 1918, it was housed in a specially built village museum and had become a major Sussex tourist attraction.

It later moved to Brighton and Arundel before being bought by John Watts, who owns the Jamaica Inn in Cornwall, in 1985.

The Watts family added to the collection, of which about a third is now made up of Potter's work.

The Watts' announcement earlier this year that they were selling off the whole collection prompted a campaign by Bramber residents determined to prevent Potter's work from being split up and sold off separately.

But faced with the task of raising £2 million to buy the whole collection, they turned up at yesterday's auction hoping to pick up a few items that may yet provide them with the basis for a new Potter museum.