Posts Tagged ‘vampire killing kit’

A Yorkshire Vampire Killing Kit

June 7, 2012

Another vampire kit has surfaced, this time in the UK. Being a Daily Mail article, no effort has been made to research the subject, and the auction house appear not to know much about them either. To their credit though, they aren’t claiming it as definitively 19th century in date.

As ever, it’s not quite like any other before it, but to me appears to have been fashioned out of a ‘vanity box‘ or possibly a writing case, instead of the pistol case typical of the ‘Blomberg’ kits. It’s a nice one – how nice we shall soon see. On past performance the £2000 estimate in on the low side…

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An honest miss-stake.

May 16, 2012

Here’s a quick follow-up to the article on Vampire Killing Kits in the current issue of Fortean Times. Thanks to Darth Saber of the Replica Prop Forum for pointing out this intriguing new kit that’s somehow (so far) survived Ebay’s anti-weapons policy.

We’ve seen kits containing real antique firearms sold on Ebay before, but only where the pistol itself is listed on a different site. So whether this one stays the distance is anyone’s guess.

It’s interesting because it’s far superior to most ostensibly antique kits that we see on the ‘bay, but falls short of the mark in a few key ways. Firstly, there’s the deviation from the original Blomberg label style, typeface, and wording. You can’t beat the classic, so why even try?

Secondly, there’s the bizarrely-named bottle labelled ‘Daffy’s Eliyir’ [sic];

An oblique ‘Count Duckula’ reference? Who knows?!

Finally, and most obviously, there are the glaring spelling/typo and grammar mistakes (see how  many you can spot):

I realise Blomberg is meant to be a non-native English speaker, but really.

At least he’s consistent! (NB this odd spelling appears elsewhere…)

Now, I should point out that in common with recent auction house trends, there’s no direct claim of antiquity here. It’s simply presented as a ‘Vampire Killing Slayer Kit’, leaving the bidder to make up his own mind about its age and authenticity. Note however that it uses mostly antique components and those that aren’t have been deliberately aged. Is there intent to deceive? I leave that to the reader to decide.

A Faked Fake?

January 24, 2011

Take a look at this Ebay auction for another of those “Vampire Killing Kits” I’ve written so much about. Before I write more of the same – why does this matter? Well, like all VKKs, this one is potentially worth a lot of money. It’s currently over $1000 without the reserve having been met. Similarly presentable kits have sold for thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars at auction. On the off-chance that the buyers of these things aren’t already fully aware of the spurious origin of the VKK, I offer this post.

This is quite a nice one, though bearing in mind the known facts surrounding these kits, the unequivocal date of 1835-45 seems a little over-confident. But hey, this is Ebay.

The kit is a “Blomberg”, complete with artificially aged contents-list, bottle of “serum”, and “efficient pistol” by the usual Belgian gunsmith, sold separately on Gunbroker.com due to Ebay’s fear of anything vaguely weapon-shaped.

So far, so typical. Here’s where it gets interesting. Have a look at the pistol, specifically the gunmaker’s name engraved under the barrel:

Those of you who know their VKKs ought to spot right away that the maker of this kit has managed to misspell the name “Nicolas Plomdeur” – an actual Liege pistol-maker – as “Nicolas Plomduer”. At least one other Blomberg kit has been observed with the misspelling “Plombeur”, which at least makes linguistic, if not historical, sense. But this “Plomduer” boob is a first, to my knowledge. It’s very unlikely indeed that a renowned gunsmith would allow a pistol to be sold with such a blatant error intact – reputations rely upon quality and consistency (and all this would take is a new barrel, not scrapping of the whole gun). So, perhaps a period copy aping Plomdeur’s work? Unlikely. For one thing the engraving is not very period-appropriate. It looks fresh and unworn. It is stamped rather than hand engraved – and lightly stamped at that. Examples of the real Nicholas Plomdeur’s work survive, and none of them resemble this mark. Finally, it’s marked on the underside flat of the barrel. Why? Gunmakers usually signed their work on the lock, sometimes on the top or side flat – never the underside. The point of applying the name was pride in one’s work and an early form of “brand-awareness”. It was a mark of quality – not to be hidden from view. As the barrel appears to be a “turn-off” type, it’s possible that it’s misaligned, but if so, the threads have been re-cut and the barrel shortened – suspect in itself if the case. So someone has applied this mark in the last few years (or decades at most) in a deliberate attempt to deceive.

An example of a genuine Plomdeur pistol with engraved name (surname only in this case)

For another thing, the “Blomberg” label is also misspelled in the same way. Therefore either the kit was made with the error on both items, or a subsequent owner has made a new contents list to match the pistol (the other way around being unlikely, as the case has apparently been made or re-made to fit this pistol. The current seller admits to having fabricated the powder flask, which looks no more or less aged than any other major component. It fits the case as well as any other component. In other words, the admittedly fake piece is indistinguishable from the supposedly genuine ones. This should sound a note of caution over the whole idea of these kits. Even if there are real ones out there, you’re going to need close examination and probably scientific testing to determine whether it might be “real”.

See how many other spelling and punctuation mistakes you can spot.
Prof. Blomberg may be fictional, but he’s usually more thorough than this…


As for the complimentary copy of “The Creature Vampyre”, it’s clearly modern, and not just in terms of its “binding”. It’s also entirely fictional, and doesn’t even use the same name as the guy supposedly responsible for putting these kits together (whose name is Ernst, not Charles). Whilst it doesn’t change the nature of the kit, it certainly doesn’t help its claim to authenticity any.

All of this points, in my view, to deliberate fraud. Maybe not by the current seller, but by whomever vandalised that percussion pistol and faked the contents list. As ever with these pieces – caveat emptor.

Sacred bleu!

October 28, 2010

That unusual cruciform French vampire killing kit that I blogged about a while ago sold for 6875 Euros ($9364). That’s more than three times the original estimate! Stephanie Meyer clearly has a lot to answer for. Then again we’ve seen Blomberg type kits go for even more than that, so perhaps the level of interest in these things isn’t dependent on pop-culture resurgences. I suspect that casual interest IS, but the sort of loon* that’s prepared to drop that much money on a curio is likely to do so regardless of whether vampires are ‘in’ or not at the time of purchase. It’s all speculation really.

My old link within the article should still be valid, but for the sake of convenience:

http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5346074

This brief update might have to suffice for a Halloween post – but if I can find the time to finish something I’ve been working on about the mummies of St Michan’s in Dublin, I will.

Note to French-speaking readers – apologies for the deliberate misspelling of the title. I have a thing for pun titles.

*No offence meant. I would count myself amongst said loons if I had that sort of disposable income!

One Staked Every Minute

October 16, 2010

Whenever I think to write on another subject, another one of these flaming VKKs crops up. This time, it’s pretty poor. The ones I looked at last time are at least superficially convincing. The thing featured in this video for the US TV show ‘Auction Kings’ is really not the best I’ve seen:

http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/auction-kings-vampire-killing-kit.html

Anyway, I was amused by the seller’s assessment, which is as follows, with my comments;

The kit was ‘Made during 1800’s when some people believed vampires were real’.

All evidence points to c1900 at the absolute earliest, more likely 1970 or later. Particularly this motley collection of bits and bobs in a dodgy case.

The knife has a blade made of silver.

Edwin the Seller apparently collects antique weapons, so far be it from me to contradict him. However that blade looks like ferrous metal to me – you can even see the faint active red rust at the forte of the blade at 0:51 in the video. I have never seen a knife blade made of silver – it really doesn’t lend itself to the job. Not only does it lack strength, it can’t hold an edge.

If silver pierces the vampire’s skin, it incapacitates them.

Edwin also has an interest in vampire lore. I’m not sure how deep this goes, however – I’m sure he’s a busy businessman with lots of interests. In any case, that idea dates to circa 1998 and the movie ‘Blade’ – or possibly earlier pop culture that I can’t currently recall. Suffice to say that silver bullets for vampires first appear in 1928 as we’ve seen, and blades or silver stakes are a very recent thing.

“Is that actual holy water…? …I would think so…”

I would love to know on what basis he makes that assertion. If only water could be tested for holiness.

“The vampire craze took off in 1897 with the release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula”.

No, it didn’t.

“Vampires are hot right now…”

This is one of the only accurate statements in the whole video (and is of course why so many of these things are coming out of the woodwork) – the other being the claim that VKKs with crossbows are very rare. I’ve seen only two others (both on Spookyland’s site), the first of which amusingly has the reference to a pistol on the Blomberg label obliterated. They obviously wanted the cache of the label but couldn’t be bothered to draft their own fake label. But I digress. That example doesn’t really resemble this new kit aside from the bow. Applying the same folklore/fiction approach as I have in the past, I struggled to find a single reference for the crossbow as anti-vampire weapon pre-‘Tomb of Dracula’. This Hammer movie from 1972 may be the earliest – if so these crossbow kits are in serious peril ‘authenticity’ wise.

Based on the clip, the owner of the auction house himself has reservations, but seems to agree to accept the consignment regardless. A quick look at their current inventory suggests that this place is more of a bric-a-brac shop than an antiques dealership or auction house. If I ever get to see the actual episode of the show (showing Oct 26 in the US), I’ll be intrigued to find out what this chap’s dad, who apparently has sold “two or three” such kits in the past, makes of this one. No doubt it will turn out to be just as “legit” as the others.

Towards a Typology of Vampire Killing Kits

October 2, 2010

It seems we have a new VKK on the market – a “high-end” piece regardless of its authenticity and age.

For once we have hi-res images to work with, and it’s almost believably “19th century”, with a pistol that’s clearly hand-made. However, there is a lot of bright steel and fresh scratching on the under-side of the pistol. The red felt lining, though worn in places, is pristine in others and still suspiciously bright. In fact the dye used in its manufacture has stained the ivory on both pistol and the case.

One might expect someone familiar with working with such materials not to have made this mistake, which must have manifested soon after manufacture of the kit and marrs an otherwise attractive object. Someone turning out a modern curio, on the other hand, might not anticipate this result or have hung onto the kit long enough to see the dye bleed in this way. I also see the remains of adhesive on the inside of the lid, and have to wonder whether this kit might too once have borne a spurious “Ernst Blomberg” trade label. I’m not discounting the possibility of a very late (post-Dracula!) C19th kit,

Whatever the authenticity/age of this new kit, I thought it a good opportunity to try to make sense – if such a thing is even possible – of the some of the kits out there.

As you can see from Spooky Land’s attempt to classify and categorise VKKs, it is a daunting task, as no two kits are identical, and very few are even similar, despite the precisely-worded (“Blomberg”) label that many they share. This in itself suggests many different places and persons of origin. However, there are some parallels between kits that may be significant.

According to the seller of the new kit, there were three others like it from the same source. This we can’t confirm, but aside from its unique ivory case and accoutrements, this new kit is very similar to a pair of equally fancy kits sold by Sotheby’s in April 2007.

A very similar fourth kit with cruciform pistol was sold by Fain & Co in 1997.

Like the other three, it is also inscribed ‘I.H.S.’ (for the first three letters of Christ’s name in Greek). A fourth kindred kit is that published in Guns & Ammo magazine (1989) that I mentioned last time. There are no images of this kit anywhere else online, so far as I know (including on G&A’s own site);

It too is really nicely done, and though without “IHS” inscription, contains that unusual under-hammer cruciform pistol. To get techy for a moment, the similarity between the pistols is far from superficial. All are muzzle-loaded, featuring a combined mainspring and (under-)hammer that is ‘cocked’ into a notch on a folding trigger. When this is pulled, the tensioned spring slaps down onto a percussion cap at the breech and fires the main charge. A crude but clever way to incorporate a gun barrel into a wooden cross-shaped stock. The Fain kit lacks the combined ramrod/stake of the Forgett piece, as well as the bevelled arms of the cross/stock on the latter (probably an attempt at ergonomics)! The new (Greg Martin) gun opts for a folding knife-bayonet in lieu of a stake. The other cross-pistols also have wooden ivory-faced cruciform stocks, where this new one is solid steel with ivory cladding. Otherwise they are clearly either by the same maker, or are close copies of each other.

There is one other possible example of kit with cross-pistol at the Gatlinburg branch of Ripley’s, however the contents of the kit don’t seem to match their own caption. In any case, the pistol visible in that kit does have a similar underhammer system of ignition albeit fitted to a much more conventional mid-C19th pistol.

Where to go from here? I decided to look for parallels beyond kits with cruciform guns. I found it in the Ripley’s kit from San Francisco, which has a cross in the same style as the guns (possibly even a gun in its own right) which, like the two Sotheby’s kits and this new example, is also ivory-clad and marked ‘IHS’.

We then have yet another Ripley’s kit with what appears to be a folding plug bayonet (with silver-tipped stake attachment) for its (unusually flintlock), again marked ‘IHS’. Incidentally, despite its cheesy appearance, it is also more convincing than most kits, as the typically French case design, complete with cruciform cut-out for the bayonet, all look to be genuinely mid-C19th in date. It is essentially a cased pistol with the one specialised “anti-vampire” component, rather than the usual mish-mash in which the pistol is just one element.

There are then many more kits containing small wooden crosses faced with ivory – it is tempting to include these also, but I don’t want to over-reach myself by making such tenuous connections.

Returning to the Mercer museum’s kit – proven to be of modern manufacture, let’s not forget – we find yet another cross, lacking the IHS inscription but containing the same clipped circular religious medallion at its centre as the Forgett kit’s cross-gun. The author of the Guns & Ammo article supposed this to be St Peter, but given the analogies of impaling demonic creatures with long phallic objects, this is most likely Saint Michael.

This probably relates to the association of St. Michael with the exorcism of evil spirits in the Catholic religion. Not really something seen with the folkloric vampire, and so tempting to take as another hint that we’re dealing with the post-Dracula era.

From the Mercer kit, which has silver balls marked with crosses, we can also include this kit, now in the Victoria Police Museum in Australia.


This in turn takes us right back to the Forgett kit, as all three contain silver (possibly actually pewter) balls (i.e. bullets) with crosses cut into them. As I’ve commented before, the literary references for this practice date from the ’60s and ’70s.

The Victoria Police Museum kit is another fascinating one for which I have some more details. The pistol is a late percussion type made by Calderwood & Son of Earl Street, Dublin. This version of the name plus its obsolete form lets us date the gun to the period 1857 to 1870. No other kit contains a pistol of this size and type. In addition, its case bears an unusual inscription in a vaguely medieval script;

aski kataski
haix tetrax
damnameneus
aision

It’s a version of an old supposedly magical phrase (think ‘abracadabra’) found on the statue of Artemis at Ephesius (c500BC) – a phrase of unknown origin that was used in everyday magic and ritual in the classical world. It seems to have survived via Gnostic Christianity into the 19th century in the form found on that lid – which whatever the maker’s rationale for using it, certainly appears in Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical glossary (Theosophy being a new age religion from the 1870s onwards). It’s still in ‘use’ today with ritual ‘magicians’ of one sort or another. The inscription is in a bizarre typeface resembling none I have ever seen (answers on a postcard). It is inlaid in a style that to me suggests mid-19th century at the earliest – but shows cleaned areas in the aged/treated wood around each letter, suggesting that they are later additions. Pistol cases typically either eschewed decoration altogether, or had an escutcheon plate or decorative shape inlaid into the centre of the lid. The lining itself is not very mid-C19th as it uses cut-out forms with finger slots instead of the usual divided compartments. I think it likely that this is a re-use of an older pistol case.

What conclusions can we draw from this group of kits? Sadly, not many. Though far from being copies of each other, there are clear connections between these half-dozen or so kits that suggest a common origin. One possibility is a ‘school’ of vampire kit makers turning out multiples in order to make money. Another, just as likely, is that we are witnessing an organic string of copyists taking ideas from a kit or kits that they’ve seen and making their own version with the antique items and craft skills that they have available to them. In any case, this web of connections includes our only proven fake, casting doubt upon the others by association and to varying degrees. This doesn’t automatically make them all fakes of course.
Given that Val Forgett was a replica gunmaker by trade from 1956 onwards, it would be a neat conclusion indeed if we could say that he was the originator of the Blomberg kits. However, he was also an international dealer in antique arms and armour, and claimed in the article that he bought the kit ‘at a gun show’ in the US. This is unlikely to be the kit allegedly sold by Michael De Winter in England in 1972, as he made no mention of such an unusual pistol. Is it the product of an imitator? As with most other questions surrounding these kits, we are unlikely to ever know unless more VKKs can be scientifically tested or at least subjected to closer scrutiny by specialists outside the auction houses that do so well out of selling them.

Un kit d’extermination de vampires

September 12, 2010

<Update> – the below kit went for 6875 Euros ($9364).

Just a quick comment on the latest Vampire Killing Kit (VKK) to appear on the market, which is being offered by Christies in Paris. It’s a very unusual piece even for a VKK, departing significantly from the Blomberg pistol-case concept and indeed the traditional ad-hoc doctor’s-bag of popular fiction. It’s more of a custom travelling case. Interestingly they’ve had their head of modern art sales comment on the piece, including this knowing caveat:

“Although it is classified as a piece of furniture, the humour of this work means one might also regard it as a piece of contemporary art.”

I’d agree entirely. Contemporary. About time someone acknowledged the elephant in the room. Yet, perhaps for fear of alienating a quarter of the customer base for this kind of thing, she goes on to date it to;

“…the late 19th century, when legends about vampires were widely believed.”

…despite even the actual lot description saying;

“early twentieth century, with later additions”.

…though they don’t specify what they believe those additions to be.

This seems contradictory, as contemporary art is usually defined as post-WW2. In any case, as this is not a ‘Blomberg’ kit, with no spurious label, no firearm, and no silver bullets, this is actually a plausible enough date on the face of it. Dating of the individual components aside, there’s nothing here that wouldn’t have been familiar in western Europe post c1730 with the original reports from the east, and particularly into the 19th century with the growing number of fictional tales about vampires. The kit itself looks just about old enough for the claimed date(s), though there’s something odd about the pattern of wear on the case, which also looks somewhat bodged together – the joints at the arms of the cross for instance appear to be simply butted together.

However, I’m not sure that vampires were ‘widely believed’ by even the late 19th century, at least not in ‘western’ world, which is where every single known example of kit has been ‘found’. The closest we’ve got to a kit being owned in earnest is the example recovered by police in Australia from a Romanian immigrant – but there’s still no evidence that the kit itself had come from there. The usual interpretations of VKKs are;

1) ‘Genuine’ i.e. mid-late C19th, actually intended for killing vampires (their actual existence notwithstanding).

2) Period novelty items.

3) Modern novelty items.

4) Out-and-out fakes of (1) and (2).

I discount 1) entirely, would love to find an example of 2), and think that most if not all actually fall into categories 3) and 4).

Now, as the lady from Christies herself says, there is ‘humour’ in this piece – it’s cross-shaped, for goodness sake. Hardly practical for carrying about, nor even for brandishing the box at a vampire if caught short. The arrangement of the contents is oddly symmetrical. The whole thing is even more obviously tongue-in-cheek and stylised than the Blomberg kits. Like those, it’s likely a play on the religious war aspect of vampire literature (typified by ‘Dracula’) – the vampire as demon to be exorcised. So which is it? Late C19th and made in earnest to kill ‘real’ vampires? Or a piece of modern art? You can’t have it both ways. Unless you’re trying to sell a badly-made pine box full of trinkets for 2000 Euros, that is. It’s whatever you want it to be. If past sales are anything to go by, and with the current vamp-craze still in full swing, this is likely to realise substantially more than that. It’s enough to give one ideas…

Vampire Killing Kits 2

September 1, 2010

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.

Vampire Killing kit. No, seriously!

October 27, 2007

I was inspired to write my own thoughts on this subject by a fascinating article <these first 3 links now sadly defunct, see update below> by a “Miss Whiplash” of the excellent sceptical site MondoSkepto. This highlights a current (shortly to finish) Ebay auction of a supposedly genuine “Vampire Killing Kit”. These have begun to emerge in recent years as a dubious type of pseudohistorical artefact, as Miss W. succintly outlines in another post on the same blog. I don’t think it’s spoiling either her articles, or my post below, to say that they are without doubt or exception, total and utter bollocks. There’s little I can say that she hasn’t already said, but I offer my musings in the hope that they are of interest to any readers. I also provide below another nail for the proverbial coffin of the Ebay kit in question.

fake-kit-2.jpg

The obviously modern “vampire killing kit” now on Ebay

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the sale of these things. Clearly believers and even cynics of the paranormal might potentially fall for these obvious fakes, if they have only limited knowledge of history and experience of handling antiques and historic objects. But it’s just such a silly idea and the current Ebay piece such a bad effort, that I find it hard to raise much sympathy for any prospective buyer. That anyone might be taken in enough to drop over $1000 on it makes me sad. So, in case it isn’t immediately obvious, let’s take a look at the latest “kit”. The first thing, as Miss Whiplash points out, is that the little bottles are simply modern miniature spirits bottles with external screw-tops that give the kit a terminus post quem date of AD 1852, which of course is already later than the date offered in the auction. Screw-tops of this style were also not common until at least the 1920s. It’s not just the bottles though. For me, the overall look of the box and the implements is just… wrong. C19th artefacts and containers were hand-made, but don’t typically look as obviously rough and ready as this. The colours smack of modern acrylic paints, whilst the “stakes” look for all the world like resin or some other modelling /prop-building medium. The mallet, whilst apparently wooden, looks like no period tool I have ever seen, though obviously it could be a custom-made anomaly. As someone that regularly handles C18th-C20th books, I would place the book at the early C20th at the very latest, by style of binding and apparent wear/deterioration. Even the crisp-looking butt-hinges and hasp (which appears to be shiny stamped steel or aluminium rather than period copper alloy) are almost certainly mass-produced modern hardware store purchases. All of this is little more than educated speculation of course, but MondoSkepto’s screw-cap bottles are pretty damning, as, I would suggest is the dagger, which is a badly-aged version of this modern replica;

fake-dagger-6378_12.jpgfake-dagger.jpg

Spot the difference!

More than anything else, and what makes this even more a case of caveat emptor than the usual fake Ebay dross that can snare the unwary, is that it’s not even a fake of any authenticated type of artefact. In the folk tales of vampires, dedicated vampire hunters are conspicuous by their absence and (though I stand to be corrected Miss Whiplash!) there’s no suggestion that any dedicated equipment was even thought necessary. In cases we’d recognise as close to the modern conception of a vampire slaying, it’s nearly always the easily improvised wooden stake that’s the main tool, followed by decapitation/garlic in the mouth/incineration/whatever else. Silver bullets, as the other blog points out, are a latter-day Hollywood addition to the mythos, and were originally associated with werewolves (though silver in general was thought by some to counter anything supernatural).

For me all of this puts beyond help anyone choosing to bid on this stuff. Falling for a suitably aged modern replica of a well-documented type of antique is one thing, and requires only a lack of experience in the field. The level of belief required to splash $1000 on an unprecedented and anachronistic object pertaining to a supernatural creature that exists only in folklore and fiction, is something else. Interestingly, the Ebay kits are nothing terribly new. Six similar (if far more convincing-looking) kits have been sold by well-known international auction house Sotheby’s (alone) since 1994, including one in 2003 that sold for an astonishing $12,000. This is discussed at the urban legends section of About.com. The latest example, sold this April for $7,200, I have pictured below.

vampire-kit-sothebys-sold-for-72k-n08305-22-lr-1.jpg

A “genuinely fake” vampire killing kit?

As well as the amusingly dinky stake, perhaps for killing mini vampires, notice the corked bottle, dovetailed hardwood box, genuine ivory, period fittings, etc etc. These are either much better fakes made using actual period components, or they are a genuine if rare type of antique. Sotheby’s, as you might expect, opt for the latter, albeit couched in quite careful language. They offer, without evidence, the theory that they were conceived of in the post-Dracula craze of the early C20th and possibly marketed to travellers to Eastern Europe (hence their small size). The line between fiction, folklore, and reality was certainly being blurred for some at that time, with Spiritualism and New Age religion on the emergence. Another possibility is that they were sold and bought as novelty items, in full knowledge (or suspicion) that there was no tradition of their use and certainly no real vampires to try them out on. The difference in quality and apparent antiquity between the Sotheby’s kits and the Ebay versions are quite clear; if the current crop are outright fakes, are the legitimately sold kits really “period fakes” in turn? The problem is that with no historical reference, they could quite easily still be modern fakes – the only pitfall for any forger would be failing to make a convincingly aged label.

This gentleman would have us believe that he started the whole thing as a bit of fun back in the 1970s, and that others have organically copied him in turn and expanded the idea. Though he claims to have drafted the label common to perhaps all of these kits, referring to the fictional Professor Ernst Blomberg and the (generically-named) “Liege gunmaker” Nicholas Plomdeur, he denies having gone so far as to produce the book by Prof Blomberg referred to in the label. This seems to be an embellishment, and one which is demonstrably fake. This pamphlet is that supplied with at least one kit, but unfortunately the content is identical to an 1891 article in The Theosophist journal by an H.S. Olcott and therefore bogus. The good professor even seems to have inspired a fictional counterpart! If Mr De Winter’s really did make the prototype kit, perhaps these latest “budget” attempts on Ebay are nothing more than a continuation of this tradition; the sort of deadpan spoof to be found on the Federal Zombie and Vampire Agency website. However, in closing I’d like to point the reader to this this vampire-related site featuring none other than one of the Ebay slayer’s kits. Perhaps they are in on the joke. I hope so. The alternatives would be too depressing to contemplate.

Update: Nov 2008 – another one of these, rather better done and apparently of some age, sold recently at auction for a whopping $14,850. Nicer craftsmanship aside, all of the above still applies of course.

In other news, sad to say Mondoskepto.com as formerly linked above, appears to have vanished. Miss Whiplash – are you still there?