Saturday, October 18, 2014

Vampire Killing for Fun and, Mostly, Profit.

It was just a matter of time before the market was flooded with craptastic vampire hunting kits.

The large sums fetched at auction in the past have proven to be an irresistible lure to a variety of "artists" and their enablers in the antiques trade.  Sadly, the level of craftsmanship is absolutely appalling, particularly given the prices their sponsors are projecting.

Lets take a look at one of the current offerings from Sterling Associates of Closter, New Jersey.  This particular piece has a starting bid of $5000 and is described as:

19th Century European Vampire hunting kit in wood coffin box . Complete with hand carved wood stakes, holy water, garlic and much more. Length: 61 1/2", Height: 14 3/4", Depth: 26"
19th Century?  Really?  Given the total lack of provenance for the piece that's an impressive claim.  Even more so when one discovers that Sterling Associates has, somehow, been able to uncover a hidden stash of vampire killing kits.  How else can we explain the steady stream of such items they've been presenting at auction?

What's that you say?  Perhaps I'm being cynical?  You may have a point, my friend.  After all, just look at the craftsmanship of this kit.  Note the smoothly planed wood, the expert joinery, the rich, buttery finish.  It truly is a beautiful antique.

Now lets take a look inside and SWEET FANCY FREAKIN' MOSES.  What the hell is this?  What happened to the fantastic craftsmanship?  It's almost as if  some hack took a well done period box and took a big, steaming crap inside of it. 

Wait, it's worse than that.  They not only filled it with crap, but they went out of their way to actually ruin the interior of that wonderful box we saw up above.  Just take a look at the horrific "aging treatment" on display.  Randomly placed gouges.  Identical, repetitive tool marks (almost certainly the flat of a screwdriver and an awl point).  Flame aging the wood with, apparently, an industrial plasma torch. 

And the ax?  Nothing says "cool vampire killing tool" like tiger stripes.  Or a half-assed attempt at flame aging.  Take your pick.

Looks like interior of the lid was lucky enough to escape with only a quick pass of the blowtorch.  Unfortunately, the master craftsman who did the joinery for the exterior of the box appears to have thrown up his hands and just given up when he did the interior work.  After poking some random pieces of softwood with an awl be nailed it all together with...upholstery tacks.

And what are these...things?  Wooden stabbing knives?  With a vanishingly thin blade that would  snap if  you poked it against skin?

Somebody took a torch to Jesus.  Say what you will about the Romans, but they had some craftsmanship.  When they nailed someone to the cross they used real iron spikes, not stamped brass decorative tacks sourced from China. 

Take a good, long look at this picture.  Somebody saw a gorgeous, vintage wooden box and said to themselves "I really need to ruin this thing by gouging the hell out of it".  To make it even more egregious, they thought it would be a good idea to do all this hackery to the interior of the box. 

And what's up with the letter opener?

"I know!  I'll brutally gouge and flame age this piece of wood and then I'll glue a random map of Transylvania to it!  Spooky, spooky!"  Also, brass stuff. 

Take one glass apothecary jar.  Seal it with wax.  Watch with dismay as the seal breaks.  Every.  Single.  Time.

There's a reason glass on glass stoppers were sealed with resin products like pitch or shellac. 

Vampire Killing Kit ProTip:  Just because you buy upholstery tacks in 100 piece lots doesn't mean you have to use every single one of them.

I have no experience killing actual vampires, but I would think you would want your stakes to be easy to use.  Grab mallet...tap, tap...dead vampire.  Making the head of the mallet as narrow as physically possible would, I think, complicate the process.  As would adding a carved lion finial from a restoration hardware store to the top of the stake.

This kit is a terrible piece of work, and I don't say that lightly.  If  you go back through the archives you'll find this is the first time I've ragged on the quality of a prop.*   Given the over reliance on flame aging, the hack weathering treatment, and the geographic area involved I have a pretty good idea of who did it.  They, and their sponsors in the antiques and auction community, should be ashamed that this is being offered up for sale.

* Other than criticism of my own stuff.   I'll show work that sucks because there's something to be gained by pointing out why it's bad.  I know I'm a hack, and hopefully others can learn from my mistakes.


Luffy said...

The aging is terrible.

Propnomicon said...

@ Brian O'Connell

It's as if someone heard that flame aging and induced wear existed, but had no understanding of what they actually entailed.

I know this whole issue is a first world problem, but it's *so* bad it offends my sensibilities. How can an antiques dealer offer something up with visible charring from a bad aging job?

CoastConFan said...

I’ve been on record numerous times here on Propnomicon about these kits and their authenticity (they aren’t) although there are some clever ones out there (this isn’t one of them).

Looking at this one, the primary problem is one of consistency. Why is the outside so nice yet the inside looks like it has lain in a wet, moldy, worm-eaten basement for two centuries and the outside escaped any damage? The interior appointments are mismatched, amateurish, and absurd. Clearly no attempt was made in authenticity or consistence. Propnomicon has covered the low points quite well in his post.

On the good side, I like the rosette upholstery tacks used throughout. It’s a shame they ruined a perfectly good chest to make this folly.

For those of you who have an interest, my post about the origins of so-called “vampire hunting kits” distills most of the information I’ve turned up on the subject:

rygD said...

Maybe, when the slim mallet on lion-headed stakes and thin bladed spatula things didn't work, the owner decided to burn the vampire, and after running around it slumped over into the box, causing the interior to be charred.

Phil said...

Yes, if you're going to do aging at least put some logical thought behind it. Its not like its that hard to learn wood aging techniques on the internet. Unless you're intentionally trying to evoke a sensation of disgust or horror, at least try to make your finish attractive.

What's sad is, with a bit more care and thought, this could have been a nice piece.

I won't pretend that my efforts are much better, but I'm an amateur, and wouldn't dream of trying to sell one of my pieces for thousands of dollars.

damanoid said...

Comes complete with an affidavit explaining that a very tiny vampire climbed into the case, spilled holy water on itself from a poorly sealed vial, and burst into flame, thereby charring the interior.

(The affidavit is really yellow and wrinkly and smells like coffee grounds.)

Phil said...

More thoughts:

I think if it had been me, I would have gone with vinegar and steel wool to age the wood, then used dark stain and paint to age the interior. Heck, even shoe polish might have down the job. Also a ball cutting tip in a Dremel and sandpaper to rough up the edges.
I also would have cut way back on the surface gouging, and used a variety of implements.
Then I would have just tossed in a handful of dirt, swished it around and called it a day.

Also, if I can't make things like the stakes look professionally crafter, I just wouldn't have bothered. I think I would have played up the primitive, handmade aspect, using plain nails and simple, improvised tools. Then given it the backstory of having been the property of a poor, backwoods farmer who set himself up as a vampire killer due to the inactions of local authorities.

Propnomicon said...

@ CoastConFan

You're right that the tacks aren't terrible in and of themselves. It's an interesting pattern that isn't very common. That said, there's just too damn many of them. A decorative touch here and there is great, but nailing them to every available space is over the top.

Luffy said...

Its complete nonsense, isn't it? I agree with CoastConFan: the contrast is terrible. IF it was damaged, wouldn't the outside be damaged first (even though the outside is beautiful)? I'm only glad they didn't make the outside look crappy too.

Some of the stylistic touches are nice but don't make sense - i.e., the lion-headed tips.

Anonymous said...

Welp, I'm officially mad. Especially about that map. I mean, come on, that tiny thing isn't helping anyone! And they even put a tack on it! This isn't a kit, it's a tragedy.

Phil said...

I'm just wish I could get my hands on some of those bits and bottles that this person wasted.

Alysson Rowan said...

A truly dreadful piece of charlatanism that has abused an otherwise nice box.

It would almost have been better to have wrapped the separate pieces in old sacking, left the interior as original, and called it an ad hoc vampire killing kit as Phil suggested.

The tacks are tacky - hand-forged nail-heads are easy to simulate using modern nails. The aging is amateur and little thought seems to have gone into the placement of various parts - too much separation between the brackets makes the whole thing look sparse and underpopulated.

The starting price is simply an insult.

Tóbal said...

I totally agree with your opinion about this prop.
The most terrible thing for me is that this is trying to be sold as a genuine antique set and this is a total scam.It is like the bad ones you could find in ebay from time to time...
I love this kind of props (I started to collect some era items to try to make my own ) , and when they are made with care , with antique items , are absolutely amazing.

The Mad Hatter said...

To me the issue is not the extremely poor nature of the execution. Poor execution is completely ok, as it it the first step to a good execution. The issue is that someone is charging $5000