As the source text for much of the modern conception of vampires it holds a unique place in both popular culture and the history of horror. The myriad re-interpretations of the story by artists of every stripe demonstrates its powerful influence. The novel continues to shape the public consciousness well over a century after its 1897 publication, if only to serve as a counterpoint to the increasingly sympathetic portrayal of the undead that, not coincidentally, started in the 1960s and 70s.
What makes "Dracula" of particular interest to hobbyist propmakers, beyond it's historical importance, is that it's filled with mentions of specific items and documents that are relatively easy to reproduce. Stoker's epistolary approach includes dozens of excerpted letters and diary entries, not to mention cutting edge technologies like telegrams, recordable wax cylinders, and typewriters. Add in secondary documents inferred from the text, like maps, train tickets, legal contracts, and official paper, and you have an almost inexhaustible vein of material to mine.
Outside of the paper props the story's most iconic item is probably Dr. Abraham Van Helsing's vampire hunting kit. Despite claims that such kits were available before the publication of "Dracula" I remain unconvinced that such was the case. There doesn't seem to be any reference to their existence in period, a shocking oversight given the Victorian love of novelty and letter writing. To my knowledge not a single Blomberg-style kit purported to date before Stoker's story has ever been authenticated. Worse, those that have been examined have all been determined to be post-WW II forgeries. Individual items and the cases themselves may be dated to the mid-19th century or earlier, but the actual kits are, at best, an entertaining collection of disparate items assembled by talented artists.
Given that all the extant examples are to one degree or another based on Van Helsing's I was surprised to learn that no one seems to have reproduced the original. What makes that even more intriguing is that Stoker provided a relatively detailed description of what it contained, and even how it evolved as the character became aware of the nature of the problem confronting him.
Van Helsing first appears at the request of his old friend and student Dr. John Seward. Lucy Westenra has taken ill with a mysterious disease that baffles Seward, and Van Helsing is called in to diagnose what's slowly killing her. We don't discover any details of his kit here, but some of the contents of his doctor's bag mentioned in Chapter 10 will have an influence on the first version:
"When I described Lucy's symptoms, the same as before, but infinitely more marked, he looked very grave, but said nothing. He took with him a bag in which were many instruments and drugs, "the ghastly paraphernalia of our beneficial trade," as he once called, in one of his lectures, the equipment of a professor of the healing craft."
"Van Helsing took some things from his bag and laid them on a little table out of sight. Then he mixed a narcotic, and coming over to the bed, said cheerily, "Now, little miss, here is your medicine. Drink it off, like a good child."
"As he spoke, he was dipping into his bag, and producing the instruments of transfusion."
Sadly, Van Helsing's efforts are for naught and his patient eventually succumbs to Dracula's depredations. Despite Lucy's death he's still determined to "cure" her, since he now knows she was, and is, suffering from vampirism. Here's where we discover just what's inside the first iteration of his vampire hunting kit.
From Dracula, Chapter 15 :
"Then he fumbled in his bag, and taking out a matchbox and a piece of candle, proceeded to make a light."
"Another search in his bag, and he took out a turnscrew."
"He only said, "You shall see,"and again fumbling in his bag took out a tiny fret saw. Striking the turnscrew through the lead with a swift downward stab, which made me wince, he made a small hole, which was, however, big enough to admit the point of the saw."
"He then lit a dark lantern and pointed to a coffin."
"Van Helsing raised his lantern and drew the slide."
"As for Arthur, he seemed under a spell, moving his hands from his face, he opened wide his arms. She was leaping for them, when Van Helsing sprang forward and held between them his little golden crucifix."
"Van Helsing, instead of his little black bag, had with him a long leather one,something like a cricketing bag. It was manifestly of fair weight."
"First he took out a soldering iron and some plumbing solder, and then small oil lamp, which gave out, when lit in a corner of the tomb, gas which burned at a fierce heat with a blue flame, then his operating knives, which he placed to hand, and last a round wooden stake, some two and a half or three inches thick and about three feet long. One end of it was hardened by charring in the fire, and was sharpened to a fine point. With this stake came a heavy hammer, such as in households is used in the coal cellar for breaking the lumps."
"Van Helsing opened his missal and began to read, and Quincey and I followed as well as we could."
"The Professor and I sawed the top off the stake, leaving the point of it in the body. Then we cut off the head and filled the mouth with garlic. We soldered up the leaden coffin, screwed on the coffin lid, and gathering up our belongings, came away."
"He took his screwdriver and again took off the lid of the coffin."
"First he took from his bag a mass of what looked like thin, wafer-like biscuit, which was carefully rolled up in a white napkin. Next he took out a double handful of some whitish stuff, like dough or putty. He crumbled the wafer up fine and worked it into the mass between his hands. This he then took, and rolling it into thin strips, began to lay them into the crevices between the door and its setting in the tomb. I was somewhat puzzled at this, and being close, asked him what it was that he was doing. Arthur and Quincey drew near also, as they too were curious.
He answered, "I am closing the tomb so that the Un-Dead may not enter."
"And is that stuff you have there going to do it?"
"What is that which you are using?" This time the question was by Arthur. Van Helsing reverently lifted his hat as he answered.
"The Host. I brought it from Amsterdam. I have an Indulgence."
With all the references to Van Helsing's original kit brought together we can now start the process of reproducing it. As much as I'd like to put this together in a matter of days the realities of both time and budget mean finishing the project is going to be a lengthy process. In the next installment we'll work on finding period examples of the items in question and tackle the issue of using originals or reproductions.