The item pictured above was just sold at auction for $14,850. It purports to be an “authentic vampire killing kit” circa 1800. The kit contains everything you would expect the well-armed vamp hunter to use: garlic, holy water, mirrors, stakes, crucifixes, and a gun to fire silver bullets. Such kits have an interesting history. This web page, the Spookyland Archive features a gallery of others that have been sold in recent years and some intelligent speculations about their provenance.
Most of the kits were allegedly made by someone named Dr. Bromberg and they all have similar contents and “instructions” written by the good doctor. Fun stuff.
Unfortunately the $14,000 item is almost certainly a fake. Strong evidence suggests that the vast majority of these “antiques” are fraudulent, manufactured after 1972 from antique pieces. The kindest interpretation is that some of the kits may date back as far as the early 20th Century and were mocked up to take advantage of the popularity of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, but even these claims appear dubious on examination.
So why would anyone pay $14,000 for a fake? Belief is a marvelous thing…
Even without the considerable evidence presented in the Spookyland Archive that these “antiques” are the product of conmen, a little knowledge of the evolution of vampire lore would tell anyone that the existence of such a kit is unlikely at best. Bram Stoker pretty much invented vampires as we know them today, taking a historical figure from Romania and adding bits of folklore from Eastern Europe, stories of vampire bats from Central America, and a healthy dose of his own imagination. You will find people who will disagree with this. Some of them also believe vampires are “real,” but evidence for both assertions is slim. Stoker’s creation has been further codified by movies, later books, and the legions of people who play games like Vampire, the Masquerade.
The truth is that a real 19th Century kit probably wouldn’t contain all the items these do. Stoker emphasized the religious trappings — the crucifex and holy water — and the silver bullets owe more to Hollywood than to any literary source, which makes even the notion that these kits were produced in the early 20th Century suspect. (In folklore, the use of silver bullets probably dates to the story of the Beast of Gévaudan,basis for my horror film pick below, Brotherhood of the Wolf, but as a literary device, they are pretty much non-existent until after the horror film boom of the 30s).
On a related note, Angela’s story, “Understudy” in the Lust at First Bite anthology is a fanciful exploration of the vampire image as it has evolved through the years. She had fun playing with the myths and I hope her readers will too.