11.21.2008

Trade of the tools

Last week, a vampire-killing kit dated to the turn of the 19th century was sold at an estate sale for the sum of $14,850. I expect this price represents an excellent deal, as the savvy vampire hunter always waits until after the Halloween rush to snap up occult supplies at steep discounts. It's like 75%-off chocolate hearts on February 15th, or the free Christmas trees you can pick up on street corners all January long.

The well-appointed kit contains "stakes, mirrors, a gun with silver bullets, crosses, a Bible, holy water, candles and even garlic, all housed in a American walnut case with a carved cross on top."





This is not the first such antique vampire-hunting kit to turn up on the market in recent years. Boing Boing has recorded for posterity another vampire-slaying kit, purportedly from 19th century Romania, that was sold on eBay in 2006. From the auction description:

The knife is 13.1 inches long with a metal handle. It's made of heavy metal and can be easily thrown - it will always hit the target with the sharp tip. Has a gothic theme and detailing of fangs.

The metal box contains one syringe and it can be used to inject liquid garlic or secret serums into vampires. It has a small cross on it made of silver . The syringe can sustain temperatures up to 200 Celsius degrees. The cross is very old, with one beautiful black stone and is on a very old metal chain .

The metal teeth plier ( 7.5 inches ) was used in the past to remove the vampire's teeth. There is also a special tool called Dentol ( 5.5 inches ) used in the past to remove the vampire's teeth.






Then there's Professor Ernst Blomberg. This is the dedicated footsoldier in the War on the Undead whose name appears on many of the antique vampire-hunting kits that occupy prized spots in private collections and museum exhibits, and have lately been turning up at various auction houses and on eBay. Here is one of his creations that was reportedly originally sold at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, and more recently at Sotheby's, where it fetched $12,000 in an auction conducted on October 30th (that is, the day before Halloween) in 2003.

From the original description:

This box contains the items considered necessary for the protection of persons who travel into certain little known countries in Easter Europe where the populace are plagued with a peculiar manifestation of evil, known as Vampires... Professor Ernst Blomberg respectfully requests that the purchaser of this kit carefully studies his book. Should evil manifestations become apparent, he is then equiped to deal with them efficiently... Professor Blomberg wishes to announce his grateful thanks to that well known gunmaker of Liege, Nicholas Plombeur, whose help in compiling of the special items, the silver bullets,etc., has been most efficient. The items enclosed are as follows...

1. An efficient pistol with its usual accoutrements
2. A quantity of bullets of the finest silver
3. Powdered flowers of garlic (one phial)
4. Flour of Brimstone (one phial)
5. Wooden stake (Oak)
6. Ivory crucifix
7. Holy Water (one phial)
8. Professer Blomberg's New Serum






Here's another of Blomberg's kits that also sold for $12,000 to a Seattle man in a 1997 auction.





This one was donated in 1989 to the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where it currently resides. The attached description is nearly identical to the other Blomberg kits:

This box contains the items considered necessary, for the protection of persons who travel into certain little known countries of Eastern Europe, where the populace are plagued with a particular manifestation of evil known as Vampires. Professor Ernst Blomberg respectfully requests that the purchaser of this kit, carefully studies his book in order, should evil manifestations become apparent, he is equipped o deal with them efficiently. Professor Blomberg wishes to announce his grateful thanks to that well known gunmaker of Liége, Nicholas Plomdeur whose help in the compiling of the special items, the silver bullets &c., has been most efficient. The times enclosed are as follows.

(1) An efficient pistol with its usual accoutrements.
(2) Silver bullets.
(3) An ivory crucifix.
(4) Powdered flowers of gaelie.
(5) A wooden stake.
(6) Professor Blomberg’s new serum.






The Surnateum Museum of Supernatural History is home to another Blomberg kit. From the museum's description:

Vampire Killing Kit, second half of the 19th century
The pistol dates from the 18th century and was brought back from the expedition.
Brought back from an expedition to Russia and Mongolia in September 2001

The Vampire Killing Kit was sold by Professor Ernst Blomberg in the second half of the 19th century. The kit was made by Nicolas Plomdeur, a well-known gunmaker from Liège.

This particular box, which has been in the Surnateum's collection since the late 19th century, has recently been reunited with the accompanying pistol (made in Spain in the late 18th century, originally a flintlock but later converted to a percussion cap in the first half of the 19th century); the gun was lost under circumstances described below. Manufactured in two separate stages, it contains all of the accessories used to maintain the pistol, as well as a large bottle of holy water, small bottles which once contained Professor Blomberg's anti-vampire serum and garlic juice to impregnate the silver bullets, a small bottle of sulphur powder, whose odour could drive off vampires. A crucifix made of wood and copper, various blessed medals, a small bottle of salts, a copy of the 1819 book entitled
Histoire des Fantômes et des Démons by Gabrielle de P. (see the Library).







Here's another.








And another. This one was sold through Stevens Auction Company and said to come from New Orleans.





Lina's Lookbook features two vampire-slaying kits that were up for sale from Sotheby's last year. There is no mention of Professor Blomberg in connection with these, but the description of the larger of the two, a French kit dated to about 1900, reads:

the box in solid mahogany, the hinged lid with a copper cross to the front, opening to a compartmentalized interior comprised of an ivory inlaid crucifix-shaped gun bearing the date 1591, lead bullets, a small glass bottle, a small power keg, a metal bullet mold, and a mahogany stake, with original paper label stating an attribution to Nicolas Plomdeur.






Of course, there is no Professor Ernst Blomberg, and these are not actually antiques. Michael de Winter, the creator of the original Blomberg kit, confesses.

My story starts in or around 1970 when I was employed in the printing industry. My hobby was buying, selling and refurbishing antique guns. I sold mainly at the famous Portobello Market in London. My usual stock of guns for sale was only 10-20 at any one time and these tended to be of superior quality. I had a number of regular clients who arrived every week to see if I had any new stock. One of my regulars wanted a fine flintlock pistol and asked me to take in part exchange a Belgian percussion pocket pistol. I grudgingly agreed and allowed him £15.00 off the price of the flintlock.

So, here it is, a poor quality pocket pistol in mediocre condition! What to do with it? That was my question. Having an extremely fertile imagination and being an avid reader, I was inspired. It occurred to me that I could produce something unique that would be a great advertising gimmick and would attract people to my stall. The Vampire Killing Kit was on its way.


De Winter cobbled together and sold the first vampire-killing kit, along with its note attributing the contents to the fictitious personages of Professor Ernst Blomberg and Nicholas Plomdeur, the Gunmaker of Liège, as a novelty item for £1000. The rest, he claims, are imitators — counterfeits of a forgery!

Then again, perhaps he isn't to believed, either. The Mercer Museum figures that its fake Blomberg kit dates to the 1920's, which would neatly preclude de Winter as the originator. Lies upon lies.

If these purported antiques, hoaxes, copies and forgeries auctioning in the tens of thousands baffle and bewilder you, perhaps it's time to turn to genuine, 100% authentic works of art. Alex CF is an assemblage artist who creates detailed, absorbing "cryptozoological scientific art" in the form of handsome boxed kits and framed collections. Among his many horror, antique, and steampunk-themed pieces are a number of fascinating vampire-related items, including, yes, a fully-stocked slaying kit.

This is the Vampiric Anatomical Biological Research Reliquary. An excerpt from the description and partial list of contents:

Called upon to look into the supposed intervention of demonic possession of a small child, bled to death whilst sleeping, an unnamed cleric found evidence of an all together more natural cause of death. A bite, where the murderer had drained the body of all fluid. Baffled by this hideous mystery the cleric took it upon himself to understand this unknown species. His travel altar became his reliquary of artifacts, a place to house the evidence he found whilst on his travels. Throughout Europe he traveled, tracing the roots of a dynasty unseen by man.

• The partial skull fragment of a Homo Wampyrus, housed within a glass display dome
• Optical apparatus: Multi armed magnifying lense device, with extendable mirror and vice amateur for examination of blood and bone fragments
• Foetal Homo Wampyrus
• Blood samples taken from 7 newly infected humans
• Slide comparison of human and vampiric blood
• Test tubes, spare tube
• Tissue sample
• Silver nitrate and its properties
• Glass specimen jars with garlic, various roots/samples
• Dried plant samples, for suppressing vampiric strain
• A dissecting kit within a metal tin
• A candle holder/spair candles wrapped in paper and string
• The teeth and blood from an ancient aristrocratic vampire, housed within a glass/brass box
• Extensive notes and anatomical studies, spair examination tools, scissors/scalpels etc.
• A small moleskine notebook, containing various notes/diagrams
• An envelope holding a collection of daguerreotypes (early photographs)
• A bible, a large crucifix, and a book of psalms, mere relics of his past belief
• A map, with needles and thread plotting his first journey to find the roots of the species
• A picture of Lady Bathory







This is the mysterious Vampire Legacy Box. No notes are provided on this intriguing item.





Finally, to round out this roundup: the French 19th Century Vampyr Hunting Case.

Early 19th century french vampyr hunting kit - family line unknown.







At least with these fine pieces, you know what you're getting. Caveat occisor.


Additional sources: quixoticals, Gizmodo, Curious Expeditions, Urban Legends

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Stone Bryson:

Excellent collection here - enjoyed the blog immensely.

22:10  
Blogger Shay:

too cool. Love your blog!

22:17  
Blogger Princess Haiku:

Hi Bluetea,
I stopped for a visit and now I'm looking over my shoulder. A perfect post for the season.

01:43  
Blogger bluewyvern:

Stone Bryson, Shay: Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed.

Haiku: And here I thought I was done with the macabre stuff after October. November was going to be for pretty things!

01:56  
Blogger Melissa:

Nice! I'm totally making Curran a vampire-hunting kit for Christmas.

12:42  
Blogger Christie:

This is great, everything I wanted to know and more!

14:43  
Anonymous Maktaaq:

Btw, I never wrote how much I liked this post! What a great collection of vampire hunting kits you gathered!

How long did it take to find all of these?

00:49  
Blogger bluewyvern:

Maktaaq: I thought this post might catch your eye. :)

Starting out familiar only with the most recent sale, and the artwork of Alex CF, I went looking for more info on vampire-hunting kits, and turned all this up. I researched and composed this post in a single session of somewhere around five hours. It grew as I kept finding more and more leads, and was quite the learning experience.

If I'd spent a little more time, I probably could have come to a conclusion, too, which I realize is still lacking. Here's one: inspired by a pop-culture fad of "Stokermania", someone in the early 20th century began creating the kits and selling them along with the invented story about Blomberg and Plomdeur, and other imitators soon jumped in, copying the name and flooding the market with kits in a variety of materials and styles. These lurked around in private collections until internet auctions really brought them to the fore. I don't think there ever was such a thing as an antique nineteenth-century vampire kit. (Dracula was published in 1897.) They were essentially merchandise inspired by Stoker, never supernatural paraphernalia. Michael de Winter was just vying for attention when he claimed to have originated the style in the 70's. Anyone who ever bought one believing they were getting anything other than an intriguing piece of early-to-mid 20th-century merchandise/assemblage art was cheated. If, however, buyers value 20th-century artboxes at tens of thousands of dollars, then it was money well spent.

Surprisingly, I haven't found anyone who has really reached such a conclusion regarding these kits, so for five hours of research, I could be reaching -- but it's what seems most likely based on what I've seen so far. I can only explain the lackluster effort of respectable auction houses like Sotheby's to do anything other than repeat the dubious attributions with an acknowledgment that they were "uncertain" by observing that the practice has resulted in sale prices in the tens of thousands, and everyone seems happy.

10:39  
Blogger xenmate:

wow

13:34  
Blogger Maryam in Marrakesh:

This is totally fascinating and I really want and need my own kit. The Marrakech vampires are very lethal and this kit could put me in reasonably good stead. To the kit I would need to add a long blue woolen djellabah or Moroccan robe to be worn with yellow leather babouches or outdoor slippers. Marrakech vampires are terribly frightened of yellow - it reminds them of the desert sun.

10:12  
Blogger bluewyvern:

Maryam: it sounds like you are poised to exploit an entirely new market. Traditional kit makers entirely ignore the needs of non-Eastern European vampire slayers.

11:07  
Anonymous Anonymous:

thank you for your kind words regarding my work. I find the whole history of these cases fascinating, and i am often amazed that people fall for these parlor tricks, the piece that sold for $14 thousand is obviously fake. I feel sorry for that guy. i could have made him several for that price!
alexcf

07:11  
Blogger bluewyvern:

Alex: I think it's the fresh garlic bulbs that really give it away.

And I think your work is absolutely amazing. Great stuff.

23:22  
Blogger bluewyvern:

I've just come across this, which made me chuckle.

http://www.threadless.com/product/1541/Vampires_Beware

01:29  
Blogger bluewyvern:

More to file under "I wish I'd found this when I was writing the post":

"Regarding Ernst Blomberg", an excellent article that does a good job of synthesizing all the available information on Blomberg and vampire-killing kits.

Found, along with several other potentially interesting links, on a lengthy post about vampire kits on the blog Lanternativa.

02:46  

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