A Vampire-Hunting Kit Purportedly From the 19th Century Sells for $20,000 in the U.K., Exploding Its Meager $2,400 Estimate
The hunting kit went to a collector in the U.K.
According to the auction house, the kit first belonged to Lord Hailey, a one-time administrator of British India.
“Whether through fear or fascination, it’s interesting to know a member of the highest aristocratic social order, a man with a place in the House of Lords, acquired this item,” auction house owner Charles Hanson said in a statement.
Hailey’s alleged vampire-hunting kit was equipped with all the tools one would need to survive an encounter with one of these supernatural beings. The wooden box has two decorative brass crucifixes on the lid that double as a secret locking mechanism securing the contents.
Inside are two matching pistols, a brass powder flask, Holy Water, a Bible, a wooden mallet, a stake, brass candlesticks, rosary beads, and more crucifixes. The kit also contained Metropolitan police paperwork from the era.
The anonymous buyer for Hailey’s kit—who prevailed in what the auction house described as an international bidding war attracting interest from France, the U.S., and Canada—is from the U.K.
Vampires have had a place in European folklore for centuries. The undead creatures are said to have sharp pointy fangs and survive on human blood. Vulnerable to sunlight according to myth, they can also be killed by a wooden stake and can be warded off by garlic, crosses, and other Christian artifacts, according to legend.
Supposedly, there was something of a craze for vampire killing kits in the 19th century—the idea is that they were expensive novelties for travelers headed to Eastern Europe, where vampires were said to reside. They are said to have been particularly popular in Boston.
But it was Dracula, published by Bram Stoker in 1897, that really propelled them into the wider public consciousness.
Yet vampire-hunting kits from the era have been questioned by scholars who say they’re often a mix of authentic objects and artificially aged ones.
In 2014, Jonathan Ferguson, curator of firearms at the National Museum of Arms and Armour in Leeds, England, conducted a study of known examples on the occasion of an exhibition at the British Library.
“These enigmatic objects transcend questions of authenticity,” Ferguson wrote. “They are part of the material culture of the gothic; aspects of our shared literary and cinematic passions made physical. Lacking any surviving artifact of vampirism either folkloric or fictional, fans of the gothic had created one to fill the gap.”
Essentially, Ferguson determined, these kits were compiled in response to a mid-20th-century craze for the Hammer Dracula films starring Christopher Lee, rather than Victorian folklore.
Other auction houses have admitted as much for decades. In 1994, when one kit came up at Sotheby’s, the auction house was completely honest about its dubious origins.
“I’m afraid it’s only a pastiche, a romantic curiosity,” Sotheby’s consultant Nicholas McCullough told the Associated Press. “There was never a vampire-killing kit.”
“The case itself is mid-19th century, probably English, of no particular rarity,” he added. “But presented as a vampire killing kit, it opens up whole new vistas. Everyone’s intrigued by it, from interior decorators to jokesters.”
Despite the news story debunking the kit, it fetched $12,000, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Many of the so-called vampire slaying kits that turn up at auction or in museum collections are attributed to a “Professor Ernst Blomberg” and the gunmaker “Nicholas Plomdeur.” A deep dive into the subject by Vamped turned up message board posts by a man who claimed to have invented both men to provide convincing period details for the vampire killing kits he began putting together in 1979.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.