Firstly, apologies for my extended hiatus. I’ve tried to catch up on comments, but if I’ve missed anyone that’s been trying to reach me, please add a fresh comment below.
Now, I see that I’ve been quoted on the skepticblog re Vampire Killing Kits, which is rather flattering and also a handy coincidence as I’ve been working on a follow-up to my original article on the subject, which follows below (with a final part to follow soon afterward). Some information below actually somewhat contradicts my claim that silver bullets were “…originally associated with werewolves…”. That’s because that claim is, well, ‘BS’. Look for another piece in future on silver bullets. In the meantime, on with the vampire-slaying whackiness…
The excellent ‘Magia Posthuma‘ and ‘Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist‘ (which recently blogged re VKKs also) blogs have inspired me to revisit this subject (here’s my original article from 2007).
I thought it was time that we tried to pin these kits down with some known facts and dates.
1. In 2005 a Michael De Winter of Torquay in Britain claimed to have created the first of these kits – or at least, those bearing the infamous ‘Professor Ernst Blomberg’ label, in 1972. Whilst this is anecdotal, his name, age and location all check out and it seems unlikely to me that an old man would go online to claim to have invented such an obscure class of object. In any event, this is just one, widely-known piece of the puzzle.
2. The first printed reference to the existence of the kits is really very recent, being the October 1989 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine (itself footnoted in the 1994 ‘The Vampire Book‘) and deals with a kit belonging to collector Val Forgett (now deceased) who gives no earlier date, claiming that he found it for sale at a US gun show.
3. The only scientifically tested kit in the world is that in the possession of the Mercer museum, analysed by the world-renowned Winterthur Museum. Their results showed no constituent earlier than 1945, and the Mercer place the kit into the 1970s to ’80s.
4. Firearms do appear as vampire killers in folklore as early as 1836, but this source was not published in English until 1974 (see Folklore Forum 7(4), p260). The fictional ‘Varney the Vampire’ appeared in 1847 and was widely read, but Varney was a) not known to be a vampire by his hunters, and b) only incapacitated, reviving shortly afterward. Though Emily Gerard’s non-fiction ‘Land Beyond the Forest’ and Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ (which paraphrases Gerard) both were published in 1888 and 1897 respectively, only Dracula was to become mainstream, and then not until post-1922 (once ‘Nosferatu‘ had raised the profile of its source novel).
5. Silver bullets against vampires do not appear in print until 1928 (Montagu Summers’ ‘The Vampire: His Kith and Kin’), and on film until 1959 (Universal’s ‘Curse of the Undead’). The idea would not be well-known until the years following 1973 (1978 for the US) – the year Hammer’s ‘Satanic Rites of Dracula’ was screened.
NB Regarding my werewolf mistake – the earliest reference in print for werewolves dates from 1933. So the vamps have it!
6. Two vampire kits, the Forgett kit and this one, contain silver bullets marked with crosses. I have found two printed references for this ultra-obscure practice – a 1965 issue of Penthouse magazine (!) and issue #31 of the graphic novel ‘Tomb of Dracula’ (1975).
All of this gives us a maximum date range of 1928 to 1989. Given that awareness of guns and silver bullets against vampires would not have been common knowledge until at least the 1960s, I think we’re looking at something closer to 1989 for that first kit. It is unlikely that anyone would incorporate obscure vampire lore into an item relying upon a high recognition factor for credibility (and indeed marketability). By the early 1980s, the idea of a vampire slayer with a gun and silver ammunition would no longer come as a surprise to many, truly opening up the market to the vampire killing kit as a product.
As I’ve commented before, there’s no historical precedent for a ‘kit’ of this sort. But for me the question has always been whether any of the kits could be genuine in the sense that Ripley’s claim – novelty items sold to mid-19th century travellers to eastern Europe. This assessment appears to be a face value interpretation of the Blomberg label and the type of pistol found in each kit (invariably 1830s – 1860s). As we have seen, there are difficulties with that approach. Even Ripley’s seem to admit this with the statement:
“If I’ve got a vampire-killing kit made in 1962 — or in 2002 — it still allows me to talk about vampires,”
Given that Ripley’s possess the largest collection of these kits in existence, and are generating revenue from their exhibition to the public, it ought to be possible to have some of them analysed in the same way that the Mercer/Winterthur has. Until an authenticated example or a verified reference are found, we have no reason to believe that vampire killing kits as a category of object antedate the 1960s, and are likely even more recent.
In the next instalment, I’ll look at some of the kits, and the connections between them, in some more detail.