Explaining the unexplainable…

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, reveals how he aims to explain the unexplainable in his How to Kill a Vampire seminar.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, holding the Vampire Slaying Kit

Here at the Royal Armouries, we have a Self Defence gallery, detailing the ways in which civilians have protected themselves, and been protected, by arms and armour. Knives, guns, swords, even walking sticks, have all been weapons of choice. This Halloween, we’re going to tackle a new area of self defence, against a threat that most of us no longer believe in, but a lot of us remain fascinated by…Vampires.

Vampires are everywhere; even zombies haven’t quite managed to topple them from their position as our favourite fictional monsters. Movies, books, and games have all given us varied and often contradictory ways in which to defend ourselves from their fangs and claws, but what about people that really believed in vampires? What about the ones that still do? What did they use to ‘slay’ the vampires they thought were a genuine threat to their communities? Who did the slaying? Was there any basis to their fears? We will answer all of these questions, as well as giving you an insight into the vampire killing kits that vampire fans may already have heard something about…

Five years ago, someone gave me a link to an eBay auction for a supposedly 19th century ‘vampire killing kit’. It wasn’t very convincing –  one of the giveaways being a rather cheesy, stainless steel fantasy dagger, which as a student of arms & armour stuck out to me like the proverbial sore thumb. Like many people, I wondered whether there might be a ‘real’ kit out there somewhere, so I set out to find it, initially online, and then out in the real world.

The more I looked, the more I realised that whilst the truth remains fixed, ‘real’ can be a flexible term. Some kits appeared old, but how old? Could some have been made for people that really believed, or still believe, in the supernatural? At least one is owned by someone who claims to be a real-life vampire slayer! But how many of the kits are lighthearted pieces of fun, or more troublingly, were made to deceive unwary buyers? I had aired my initial thoughts on a blog, but wanting to make a more scholarly study of the kits, presented a paper last year at the ‘Exploring the Extraordinary’ conference in York. I believe that I now have the answers to all of these questions and more, and look forward to sharing them in this talk. The evidence points to a more recent, but no less interesting, origin and still leaves room for an air of mystery to these fascinating objects. I wrote about this in a Fortean Times article earlier this year, but since then we at the Royal Armouries have acquired our own vampire kit – the only one in a UK public museum. You will also have the chance to get your hands on the real thing.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, Royal Armouries Leeds

How to Kill a Vampire takes place on Tuesday, 30 October, doors at 6.30pm. For further information, and to book tickets, visit our website.

Count Factula…

Ahead of the How to Kill A Vampire seminar hosted by Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, we are sharing what you never knew, thought you knew and wished you didn’t know about Vampires!

Vampire Slaying Kit purchased by Royal Armouries

Unusual Slaying Techniques
If myths are to be believed, a clove of garlic, a stake through the heart or a strong Christian belief and cross in hand would be the weapons of choice to fend off a vampire. However, one way you may not have heard of is to throw seeds (usually mustard) outside the door or place a fishing net outside a window. Vampires are compelled to count the seeds or the holes in the net, delaying them until the sun comes up.

Never invite a vampire in
Thresholds have historically held significant symbolic value, and a vampire cannot cross a threshold unless invited. The connection between threshold and vampires seems to be a concept of allowance. Once a commitment is made to allow evil, evil can re-enter at any time.

Not even the fruit bowl is safe!
Certain regions in the Balkans believed that fruit, such as pumpkins or watermelons, would become vampires if they were left out longer than 10 days or not consumed by Christmas. A drop of blood on a fruit’s skin is a sign that it is about to turn into a vampire.

Vampires on screen
By the end of the twentieth century, over 300 motion pictures were made about vampires, and over 100 of them featured Dracula. Over 1,000 vampire novels were published, most within the past 25 years.

Dracula Disease
Vampires are said to have pale skin, not have a reflection in mirrors, and grow fangs. Doctors believe there may be a medical explanation for the proliferation of vampire stories in Eastern Europe. Porphyria (also known as porphyric haemophilia or Dracula disease), a hereditary blood disease, was once widespread among the aristocracy. Patients were sensitive to light, developed brownish teeth, and had skin lesions. They were often told to drink blood from other people to replenish their own.

Come along to the How to Kill a Vampire seminar to delve deeper into the history of slaying vampires in both folklore and fiction, and discover the real story behind the mysterious vampire killing kits. Get up close to the kit and join in a discussion with Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms at Royal Armouries in Leeds, who has a particular interest in the mythology of arms and armour as well as popular culture and the supernatural.

With Halloween just around the corner, what better way to prepare than with a crash course in protection from the undead…just in case!

How to Kill a Vampire
The Bury Theatre, Royal Armouries Leeds
Tuesday 30 October, 7pm

For more information and to book tickets visit our website here.

Facts courtesy of www.facts.randomhistory.com

Fake Spotting – Top Tips

Fakers and forgers have always sought to deceive collectors with cleverly constructed copies, but would you be able to tell the difference? Standard thickness plates and screw threads, and spots of metal and scratches from electric or gas welders and evidence of the use of grinding tools are all obvious signs of modern methods. If the clues are more difficult to spot, scientific analysis through x-rays and microscopes can help to reveal the underlying composition of an object.

Duck's Foot Pistol

Duck's Foot Pistol

Here are our top tips on how to spot a fake:

1. Does it work?

Do visors lift as they are supposed to, do hinges open and close, do gun mechanisms operate? Often, logic and common sense are lost in the fabrication of fakes!

2. Does it use the correct materials?

Bronze is often a good indicator; old bronze is yellower, whilst more modern bronze tends to have a reddish hue.

3. Is it like the real thing?

For example, Samuel Pratt’s fake helmets were often much bigger, heavier and more intractable than the genuine articles. It was often impossible to actually wear them due to their weight and shape, and the vision slits were often in the wrong places.

4. Is the style of decoration of the right period and the right subject matter?

Modern aesthetics often feature in later fabrications, particularly in the decoration, as ideas about what looks good change over time.

5. Does it exhibit the right amount of wear/damage?

For example, with Japanese swords, original scabbards are often discoloured/blackened inside from use over time. Modern reproductions are often convincing on the outside, but remain clean on the inside.

6. Is the corrosion/patination in the right place?

These processes tend to reflect how an object has been used and kept over time, showing evidence of where it has been resting, whether it has been exposed, or kept in something, or damaged. With real objects, corrosion and patination is often localized and can be quite severe in places, with areas rusting away to almost nothing. With fakes, corrosion and patination is often evenly spread and too regular. Also, it is very rarely anything other than superficial; fakers are generally loath to spoil their hard work!

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Fake, Forgery or Replica?

Ever wondered how sneaky forgers managed to dupe and deceive the experts with fake arms and armour? Our Curators Emeritus Ian Bottomley and Peter Smithurst in their Fakes, Forgeries and Replicas Seminar sought to uncover some of the forger’s duplicitous tactics.

Fakes and forgeries often become more prolific when the demand and prices are high; consequently, the gothic revival and the rise of romanticism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provided ideal conditions for the fakes market to thrive as the craze for medieval pieces grew.

Examples of Samuel Pratt's handiwork

Examples of Samuel Pratt's handiwork

One of the most infamous fabricators of fakes of the 19th century was Samuel Pratt of Bond Street. Pratt was originally a vendor of antique furniture, but he colluded with a metalworker called Grimshaw and began to deal in ‘antique’ arms and armour. Some of the armour that he sold was real, but much was fake, being either copies or ‘improved’ items, such as a fifteenth-century sallet which Pratt modified into a basinet in around 1850.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Towton on Twitter

On 29 March 1461 the largest and bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought about 12 miles southwest of York, between the villages of Towton and Saxton. According to the chroniclers more than 50,000 soldiers from the Houses of York & Lancaster fought in blizzard conditions on Palm Sunday 550 years ago.

Towton 1461

Towton 1461

On Saturday 9 April join us on Twitter from our Towton History In Your Hands Seminar to learn more about the arms and armour of the period, find out how the battle unfolded and see images of contemporary pieces from the Royal Armouries collections. We’ll be Tweeting the day’s events live as they happen from 10.30am.

To join simply follow @Royal_Armouries on Twitter or search for #RAseminars on Twitter to join in the action. We’d love to hear any questions you have about the Battle of Towton so please ask away, on the day or in advance – we’re waiting to hear from you!

Japanese Swords on Twitter

Japanese, 15th century katana - attributed to the Shizu group

Japanese katana - 15th century

Our ever popular Japanese Swords Seminar is taking place on Saturday 12 February, in fact it’s so popular that tickets have sold out! But don’t despair, even if you didn’t manage to get hold of a ticket, as  we’ll be Tweeting events live as they happen throughout the day.

This session, delivered by Keeper of Armour & Oriental Collections Thom Richardson, and Curator Emeritus Ian Bottomley, will give participants a unique chance to learn about the making and care of these important cultural objects. Including the chance to handle genuine objects from our study collections which are not usually on display.

To join simply follow @Royal_Armouries on Twitter or search for #RAseminars on Twitter to follow the day’s events as they unfold. We’d love to hear any questions you have about our Japanese sword collection so please ask away, on the day or in advance – we’re waiting to hear from you!