Get yourself ready: the vampire kit

Legends about flesh-eating and/or bloodthirsty beings have existed for millennia across cultures – the word vampire is a relatively modern one. The Wikipedia article for Vampire Folklore contains interesting references to beliefs from places as diverse as Mesopotamia, Iceland, West Africa, the Caribbean Islands, Chile, Sri Lanka or the Romani ethnic group (Gypsies). Here’s a more extensive list of vampire-like creatures.

Our contemporary vampire imaginary draws mainly on the Eastern European oral traditions. Carmen Maria Andras describes in a short paper (2015) how Transylvania entered the Western tourism imaginary being heavily influenced by Western cultural factors such as the need to project fears and “the horrible” onto safe, faraway lands.

For different reasons, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula (but not limited to it), Transylvania became a land populated by the monstrous, with Count Dracula as its most eminent dweller.

Therefore, it would not be surprising that travellers to Transylvania would buy into the vampire myth and equip themselves accordingly. Just think of yourself checking the “dangers and epidemics” section of your guidebook. Most likely, you pack and get your shots accordingly. Or avoid a place altogether.

Exhibit label reads: genuine vampire killing kit, circa 1840. Made in Boston, kits like this were sold to people sailing to Transylvania - the legendary home of vampires. BELIEVE IT OR NOT! . Behind the label there is a wooden box containing over a dozen small flasks, a crucifix, a gun and a few other objects.
“Genuine Vampire Killing Kit”, on display at Ripley’s Believe it or Not in Grand Prairie (TX) (2017). Own picture (August 2017)

Here’s an allegedly authentic vampire killing kit on sale during the 19th century, currently (2017) on display at Ripley’s Believe it or Not at Grand Prairie (TX, USA). Supposedly, travellers to Southeastern Europe, and more specifically to Transylvania, would not depart without one.

As the company’s website describes, the typical kit contains:

  • A pistol with accoutrements
  • Silver bullets
  • Cross
  • Wooden Stake
  • Professor Bloomber’s new serum
  • Garlic powder and other concoctions

Surely it would make a good birthday present for any Castlevania character. Silver bullets would come in handy for the occasional Wallachian lycanthrope.

In Ripley’s website, you may see some more pictures of other similar vampire killing kits (they actually have a collection).

But…

On a sour note, however, it would seem these kits – at least the ones we can see today – are fake. If you checked Ripley’s website, there is a comment by Anthony Hogg (16th Dec. 2011) already giving a few arguments that would make you question their authenticity. A quick online research will readily lead you to a claim by Michael de Winter who would have invented the vampire killing kit in Portobello Market (London) in the 1970s. The link provided here leads to a re-posting of his account on Les Vampires website, yet the original source (SurvivalArts) does not exist at the present moment.

I am unaware of how many of these are circulating around auction houses these days – and quite pricey, I must say. And let us also remember that Transylvania was not an integral part of the Grand Tour (which was the route taken by most young British gentlemen at the time). I could not estimate how many US citizens visited Transylvania at the time,  but common sense aims at modest numbers. So there would have been little need for the mass production of these kits in the first half of the 19th century.

<<Late 19th century painting of early 19th century scene: young couple looking at map of Italy>>
“Planning the Grand Tour” by Emil Brack (1860 – 1905). Via Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/2yGu8Hw)

As many websites, blog posts and comments around the Internet state, research about the authenticity of these kits on the side of auction houses is lacking, to say the least. Again, vampirologist Anthony Hogg offers us a thorough discussion on the lack of authenticity of these items by exposing the research (or lack thereof) sometimes museums and even journalists carry out.

There are other museums and galleries that display vampire killing quits. For example, the Firearms at the Royal Armouries (England) decided to include one in its permanent exhibition. Curator Jonathan Ferguson explains how, according to his findings, these items are fake or, beyond fake, hyperreal and thus valuable as a museum object.

And yet…

Surnateum is the online façade of a collection of magic objects from around the world that has been being put together for over a century now.  And a vampire killing kit is one of their valued possessions. What is particular about this one is that the organization claims it entered its collections in the 19th century. The curator(s) offer some lore about their artefact and even give some information about when and why the weapons were used, and the kit was assembled later. The compilation is attributed to Prof. Blomberg which, if we are to believe de Winter’s claim, is rather unlikely. Yet, it could be a misattribution or a real professor named Blomberg may have existed – Wikipedia registers a German Blomberg that lived in the 19th century.

Les Vampires website also features some allegedly real kits along with some acknowledged fake ones. The real ones would have been sold in some hotels from Central Europe and the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London of 1851. Aubrey Sherman, in her book Vampires: the myths, legends, and lore (2014),  mentions

There is, however, anecdotal evidence that vampire-killing kits became popular in England and western Europe soon after the release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897.

Supposedly made to be part of the travel equipment of tourists to eastern Europe, they were more probably purchased as souvenirs by well-off strata of society. This, though, requires further research.

Fountain of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Crystal Palace, London.
Fountain of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Crystal Palace, London. Illustrated London News, via Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/2yLkC82)

 

 

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