The ornate velvet-covered box may look like a treasure chest. But open it, and instead of gems and jewels, you’ll find the ingredients to fight off a bloodsucking monster: a pistol, three crucifixes, rosary beads, some shark’s teeth and a 19th-century Bible.
At least that’s the lore, according to Hansons Auctioneers of Derbyshire, England, which will be taking bids on a vampire-slaying kit Tuesday.
“The task of killing a vampire was extremely serious, and historical accounts suggested the need for particular methods and tools,” the auction house owner, Charles Hanson, said in a statement. “Items of religious significance, such as crucifixes and Bibles, were said to repel these monsters, hence their strong presence in the kit we have found.”
The kit will go under the hammer with an estimate of 2,000 to 3,000 pounds, or around $2,500 to $3,770.
The owner, who wished to remain anonymous, has had it for three years and told Hansons that the box, its history unknown, was purchased at a large antiques fair as a conversation piece.
And therein lies the value of the kit, despite it being “almost surely a fake,” said Robert Smart, an English professor and dean of the college of arts and sciences at Quinnipiac University.
“The continued, intense interest — 3,000 pounds’ worth of interest — is an indication of the cultural value that it has,” said Smart, who has studied and taught courses about vampire lore for decades. “It may not have that kind of historical value, but it certainly has cultural value.”
The lockable, silk-lined box also contains an oval enamel painting of the Resurrection of Christ; a carved ivory wolf in robes carrying rosary beads; a cobalt blue glass vial with a white metal lid and unknown contents; three clear and aqua glass bottles; two sets of pliers; and a pocketknife with a mother-of-pearl handle and HM silver blade.
The kit, Smart said, is a “mixture of five or six different traditions that you never would have seen in a real one — and there were some real ones.”
Among the items that seemed out of place? The pocketknife, because “you would need something bigger to cut off the heads of vampires,” he said; and the ivory wolf in robes — “I’ve never seen that.”
More typical standard kit items would include silver bullets, herbs and holy water, he said.
Martha Kuchar, an English professor at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, also said she was skeptical of the kit’s authenticity: “The best way to destroy a vampire once and for all is to burn it on a pyre built of special wood (aspen or hawthorn is best) until all that’s left is ashes.”
But experts agreed the kit’s authenticity was beside the point.
Jeff Podoshen, a marketing professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a leading expert on dark tourism, said that while there were some “true believers” in vampires, items like the vampire-slaying kit were popular with fans of author Bram Stoker, who wrote the horror classic “Dracula” in 1897.
“Akin to the desire to have unique and morbid showpieces like mummies in 19th century Britain, having something like a vampire kit is a good conversation starter in the home,” he said in an email this past week.
According to Jim Spencer, an associate director at Hansons, the auction house does not know if the kit was actually intended to be used to ward off creatures of the night. He said the components of the box span in age from about 100 to 120 years.
The container itself is believed to be from around 1780, according to Spencer. The New Testament Bible in the kit was published in Cambridge, England, in 1842. Some of the bottles are from the late Victorian era; others are Edwardian.
“Could it have been put together in around 1910 or 1920 by someone who seriously thought that they might need to deter a bloodthirsty vampire?” Spencer said. “Or was it put together in 1910, 1920, as a curiosity, a bit of fun, a talking point for when you’re puffing your cigars after a meal?”
It could even be a mid-20th-century theatrical prop, he said.
“Nobody knows, really,” he said. “I suppose its mystery is part of its charm.”
A vampire-slaying kit was first described in detail in “Dracula,” said Smart, who noted that such a kit was only briefly mentioned in an earlier vampire story, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” published decades earlier in 1872.Cory Amsler, vice president of collections and interpretation at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, said that while he’d seen a few of these kits over the years, he did not believe any of them to be historically accurate.
The museum acquired its own vampire-slaying kit in the 1980s as a donation, he said. Years later, when it was sent for testing, it was discovered that the paper labels had optical brighteners that were not available until the 20th century and that the “silver” bullets were actually made of pewter.
Amsler said such kits did not appear in original vampire folklore. Starting with “Dracula,” the idea has been reinforced by popular culture, he said, “from ‘Nosferatu’ in the early 20th century right through ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’”
The box may have been “the property of a woman who put it together based on her reading of the various novels and stories about vampires during the 19th century,” Jodie Kreider, a visiting professor of history at the University of Denver, said in an email.
“If this was an ‘authentic’ kit, it wouldn’t be in velvet and silk!” Kreider wrote. “Especially in England!”
Linda Eaton of the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Delaware, which exhibited the Mercer Museum’s vampire-slaying kit during its “Treasures on Trial” show, said it’s common for people who make kits to collect “all of these relevant odds and ends” that are genuinely old and put them together.
“It’s very hard to make convincing things that look old,” she said.
Rik Alexander, executive operations officer at Hansons, said the boxes that originated in the 1800s were “serious kits in that period, as superstition and fear was a part of everyday life,” but this was not one of those.
“Although our kit has an early Bible and the box is earlier, it appears to have been assembled around the Edwardian period in England,” he said. “By this point, the ‘Dracula’ novel was inspiring people.”He added, “Let’s hope we get an original one day.”