Saturday, July 23, 2016

Vintage Burglar's Tools

Cornell University has digitized a huge number of journals and magazines from the late 1800s. One of the more interesting articles to be found in the collection is this look at professional burglary tools from the May, 1874 issue of "Manufacturer and Builder".  It's a fascinating look at just how technically proficient a skilled thief could be.

From a propmaking perspective at least a few of these tools should be included in any vintage vampire hunting kit.  The genre-defining kit carried by Van Helsing was filled with this kind of stuff.

"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."
 "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."

Part of Stoker's genius is that he realized the hammer and stakes were just one small part of what a vampire hunter would need.  Getting access to the monster, by breaking into a crypt and then a sealed coffin, required careful planning and the appropriate tools.


CoastConFan said...

Another way to view this is to look at it from the view of RPG CoC characters. A professional thief would be a big help in a party. Consider one such as Raffles the Amateur Cracksman, who was also an aristocratic bon vivant or one ever more skilled character such as Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin. Note that these fictional characters are available for free download for inspiration. Or even the skills of a Yegg if you need a safe peeled.

Consider the gentleman cracksman

For a list of fictional types

I’m glad you mentioned that Van Helsing’s kit was pretty much made up on the spot, using local acquired material. The most important part of vampire hunting is first of all knowing you are dealing with a vampire and getting a qualified specialist. A vampires real strengths lies in secrecy and disbelief, the second is in terror. Once a vampire is found out, it’s just a matter of time having a pro search it out.

Joseph Hallam said...

Oh Propnomicon... Why do you inspire me so when I have so little money. I've got a great idea for a somewhat modern interpretation of a vampire killing kit centered around an army tool bag I can get for cheap. I think people focus way too much on boxes and chests. Far too cumbersome. As you've rightly pointed out these things are supposed to be carried around dank, dark crypts but most the examples that show up look ridiculously ornamental. I think these kits should really resemble a builder's tool bag. Practical, portable and easy to lug around. Now I just need to get a stake, hammer and maybe some holy water...

Anonymous said...

Here are some pre-electric / non-electric soldering irons:

I wonder what Stoker was envisioning.

Joseph Hallam said...

I wanted to find out exactly what a hammer used to break up coal would look like and found some vintage mining hammers but a good alternative that might be somewhat cheaper than an actual antique might be a geologist's hammer. They seem to have a good shape to them that would come in handy fighting the blood-thirsty undead.

CoastConFan said...

@ Joseph Hallam
A two pound octagonal hammer would be pretty good overall. The handles tend to be a little longer and heavier, allowing it to be used for a variety of fairly heavy work, while still being reasonably light to carry with other tools in a bag. The head is heavy enough for pounding in tools as well as stakes, while not too heavy to carry about as would a mini sledge. A light eight ounce head such as found in ball peens and claw hammers aren’t really up to the heavy work of bashing masonry or coal, or pounding in pry bars or stakes as the two pounder with its slightly extended handle.

A heavy framing hammer would also work pretty well and it has a reassuring war hammer-like single spike on the other end if you expect some close-quarter melee work with minions. It is something found easily at a good hardware store for an expedition or may turn up at a work site during a game. All of these hammers can be found at flea markets and generally when older, have that nice patinated look for props, along with being much cheaper than going to an antique store. All of these hammers haven’t changed form in a long time, so for Victorian, 20s or modern scenarios they work out well as long as you avoid ultra modern handle materials. Plus these are props you can use. I have a crusty old two pounder in my truck that’s probably 50 years old – paid five bucks at a flea market – and use it for chores around the house. “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” AKA Maslow’s Hammer

And remember, “Don’t force it, get a bigger hammer.”

Joseph Hallam said...

Thanks for the tips. I'm thinking Facebook selling groups will be good to check out as well. At least over here (Finland) there is a lot of stuff on offer and at really good prices.