But it was popular enough going into the 20th century that updated kits include Colt 1911 45’s and even a Barnett Crossbow. Specimens of 18th century kits are quite plentiful, but bloggers warn people to beware of fakes. There’s a debate as to whether or not they were produced commercially, or bespoke for rich travelers journeying to the heart of Europe.
Yes, there are many who say that. But many of the items, such as the firearms, date to the 1850s; long before the Bram Stoker novel of 1897. And really, how many New Yorkers and Bostonians (where many of the kits were built) regularly go to Romania or any country near or at the Carpathian mountains?
I seriously doubt that you’d find an eighteenth century. That’d be the 1700s, and vampires didn’t really get popular in western culture until the 19th century (which is what I think you meant).
Even then, many of the ideas we have about vampires hadn’t solidified into well-known memes until Stoker published them in Dracula. He actually invented many of them. Vampires not visible in a mirror? Stoker’s invention. Vampires put off by garlic? Stoker’s idea. I don’t recall Holy Water or the Holy Wafer being used against vampires until Stoker. I think he even cane up with the idea of using the crucifix to drive the vampire back.
That all pretty much guarantees, if anything was needed, that those “vampire-killing kits” date from after 1897.
That was my thought, as well, since I knew that Stoker had codified a lot of what we now consider to be canon about vampires.
That said, when I did a little spelunking on Wikipedia about Stoker and Dracula, I found a link to a page on “Vampire literature.” There, I read this:
But, you’re likely right, the contents of those “hunting kits” are probably overly influenced by Stoker’s canon, and so, even if there were such kits in the 18th century, those probably would not have been their contents.
In Eastern Europe and the Balkans there were “tools of the trade” that professional vampire hunters used. They do not resemble these kits. One of the more common genuine folklore methods of vampire eradication involved the hunter either wrestling the vampire’s spirit (which was not visible to the naked eye) or driving the vampire’s spirit (holy images and crosses might be used for this) into a bottle that would be immediately sealed. Other methods involved rock salt and iron shavings, but only in small amounts because of the cost.
One folkloric belief that seems to have vanished from most modern depictions of fictional vampires is that if a vampire came across something like poppy seeds or rice they would have to stop and count every grain. So you could prevent a vampire from leaving its grave by sprinkling poppy seeds around the grave. Interestingly, the first photo in the OP seems to show a bottle of little seeds on the right of the case. I wonder if this is a reference to that old belief.
There wasn’t much literature to come out of the “vampire craze” in the 18th century. In that century we got The Bride of Corinth and a little other stuff. What opened the floodgates of pop vampire literature was Polidori’s The Vampyre, and that because everybody thought it was by Lord Byron. But once it was out, it lead to multiple reprintings and stage plays, and then to derivative things like Varney the Vampire.
What’s odd is that it appears that Polidori didn’t put it into print – someone else with access to Villa Diodati seems to have. Polidori felt that his contribution to the Great Horror Story Write-Off of 1816 was Ernestus Berchtold, a novel practically everyone has forgotten about. Byron didn’t want The Vampyre associated with him – he thought it was awful – so he had the fragment he’d cobbled together printed at the end of his next book. You could say that The Vampyre wasn’t so much published as that it escaped. Neither its putative author nor its real author wanted it in print, but it did, and was immensely influential. It gave us the Titled Vampire, one who could pass as human. And that changed everything, and eventually gave us Dracula and all the pop culture vampires of today. And ephemeral like Vampire Hunting Kits.