Friday, 19 October 2012

A stake in vampire killing kits

At the 7:29 mark, we see a bunch of people getting ripped-off during an auction—inadvertently, it would seem, but the auctioneers. It's taken from the season 1, episode 1 edition of Auction kings (26 October 2010).

If you can't be arsed watching the clip, a vampire killing kit winds up being sold to a telephone bidder for US$12,000—far higher than the US$7,500 asking price.

A seller named 'Edwin'—who repeatedly emphasises that he's keen to make a down payment on his house—had presented a supposedly antique vampire killing kit to Paul Brown.

Brown is clearly impressed by the kit, but drafts his father, Bob, in to take another look. Much to my amazement, Bob gives it the seal of approval—but tellingly recounts a story commonly associated with such kits (10:13). Indeed, it's even been established that he's sold 'two or three of these kits' before (2:55). 

He's also familiar with the exorbitant prices they sell for, likely on account of their pseudohistory; namely, that they were manufactured in Europe during the 19th century for use by travellers against the undead. 

Bob does little more than glance it over; a common practice when such kits are 'examined'. The stories seem proof enough, even though no auction house or museum—including Ripley's—has actually verified the associated tales.

Thankfully, not everyone falls for this routine. In the 24 October 2011 episode of Pawn stars, 'Rick or treat', a seller tries to palm one off for US$9,000. Thankfully, Rick Harrison immediately sees through it. 'There's some stuff that doesn't make sense to me . . .' (3:11); the kit utilises vampire lore associated with Stoker's novel, Dracula (1897), for instance, a mirror—that looks remarkably clean for something well-over 100 years old.

Stoker invented the vampires-don't-have-a-reflection-in-mirrors trope, which automatically pushes the kit's date further up the 19th century. Harrison also takes issue with the 'obsolete' gun included in the kit, recognising that it's something that's been retroactively added to the kit. I'm glad that some dealers don't take these things hook, line and sinker.

Unfortunately, 'antique vampire killing kits' are a thriving trade. I call it the Blomberg Effect: what likely started as a few novelty kits manufactured in the 1970s, soon turned into a 'trade' as media coverage revealed the kits selling for ludicrous prices. The rest, onward, are cash-ins—like this US$4,995 example by Tracy L. Conway.

'Antique' vampire killing kits are fake. They're generally cobbled from actual antique components—be it firearms, Bibles or prayer books, or the kit box, itself—and other items which are artificiality aged. They often come associated with a backstory—their main claim to 'authenticity' is that they were manufactured in the 19th century as a traveller's item for journeys in Europe. Occasionally the name 'Ernst Blomberg' or 'Nicolas Pomdeur' will be mentioned.

The weapons and wards in the kits, however, are often post-Stoker allusions to vampire lore. Remember, Stoker's Dracula was fiction, not a chronicle of vampire lore. He was at liberty to make stuff up. Auction houses and museums aren't.

Caveat emptor!

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