Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vampire Kits

I get email updates from Sotheby's informing me when an auction catalog I might be interested in is available online. I recently received one for the sale of Nineteenth-Century Furniture, Sculpture, Ceramics and Works of Art Including Property Formerly from the Palacio Ferreyra, Argentina, and began browsing the catalog without expecting to find anything much of interest. But you never can tell. Right there on the first page an image caught my eye. I thought it was a writing box, complete with old pens and inkwells, but it turned out to be a kit that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's nineteenth-century incarnation would have been proud of.

To be specific it is a French vampire kit, circa 1900, whose description 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."

It's estimate of $4,000-$6,000 delineates it as slightly more valuable than the other vampire kit offered in the sale. Estimated to sell at $3,000-$5,000, this second kit is smaller and lacks the make-your-own bullet mold.

I had never heard of a vampire kit, but then my knowledge of vampires came entirely from the aforementioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I remedied my general vampire ignorance through Wikipedia, but unfortunately their vampire article doesn't mention slaying kits. A debate about them was sparked on when one man claimed to have created an "antique" vampire kit as a hoax in the 1970s and thus to have invented the entire genre. I once heard someone claim, in all seriousness, that they were the first one to write "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" instead of a religious message on a Christmas card, so I try to never underestimate the power of selective memory. But the Mercer Museum also has a vampire kit it claims was made as a hoax in the 1920s. Were these things ever made as serious safeguards against vampires? Even if the examples from the Sotheby's sale really do date to 1900, were they made at that time for true vampire believers or only as gags? Or were they made by people who didn't believe vampires really existed but who wanted to profit nevertheless from other people's fears?

Ironically these kits' lack of usefulness adds to their appeal and even to their aesthetic power. They seem quaint and nostalgic, a testament to craftsmanship and care. Antique gun sets have a similar charm, but these vampire kits go farther. Their association with the supernatural almost gives them the status of religious icons. I like to think that someone somewhere used these objects to ward off evil. And the power of that protection seems all the more beautiful for being so literally incredible.


Crazy Raven Productions said...

My husband and I found this at the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in Key West, FL. The link is to the original-sized shot so you can see all the detail we were able to capture.

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