Monday, June 27, 2011

The Ancient Art of the Gaff

There truly is nothing new under the sun.

Gaffs and monstrous specimens are currently undergoing a bit of a renaissance. Some collectors enjoy the unnatural beasts because they hearken back to a time when the world was filled with uncharted territories and real mystery. Others get a kick out of the slightly sleazy atmosphere that surrounds objects that are effectively lies made real. A third group simply appreciate the artistry that goes into their creation. No matter what their motivation, they've all helped breathe new life into the art of the gaff.

What's intriguing about the current explosion in faux beasts is just how old many of the techniques are. One branch of the field draws heavily on what today is called "outlaw taxidermy", using real animal parts to create chimeras and fantastic mummified creatures. The hideous chupacabras, demon hands, and mermaids of today draw on methods that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Stretching a softened animal skin over a skeleton constructed of real bones or a carved armature produces an incredibly realistic effect, something that didn't escape the notice of our ancestors.

A good example of how old such gaffery goes back can be found in this article on the monster mummies of Japan. While the flim-flammers of the west concentrated on creating a multitude of saintly artifacts those in the east were producing an amazing variety of mummified supernatural creatures ranging from demons to kappas. It's no accident that the bizarre gaffs available today have more than a passing resemblance to the ones created hundreds of years ago.


Anonymous said...

Great article. I believe the article you cite may have been ripped off of this pink tentacle article that is dated a day earlier though:

If you're a member of that board you may wish to ask the poster and see if he would be so kind as to quote the original author(s) if such is the case.

Propnomicon said...

@ Anonymous

My thanks for pointing that out. I've changed the link to the original page.

CoastConFan said...

I remember as a kid during the early 1960s, my family drove across the South Western desert on Highway 90 (now portions of I 10) and along with inevitable Stuckies signs were cryptic advertisements for “The Thing”. Every five miles or so was a sign, even hundreds of miles before the tourist trap and then if went past, they had more signs saying that you missed it. Forty years later, as an adult, I finally did stop at the intriguing place where they had “The Thing”. Sometimes a gaff is the real thing and that’s when it gets interesting. Check out these two articles: and

Phil said...

Its strange being such a fan of Lovecraftian horrors. but dead and/or mummified things have always given me a serious case of the willies.

Probably also explains why I'm such a big zombie fan.