With Halloween arriving, the world of collecting inevitably looks toward horror memorabilia. The auction world is full of items from the fiction’s most frightening characters – Michael Myers’ signed mask, an autographed copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a Frankenstein movie poster.
Well, you can keep them. For me, the creepiest collectibles are those that come from real-life creatures of the night. The ordinary can quickly become the extraordinary, the mundane transformed into murder most foul.
Albert Pierrepoint (1905-1992) was your average Yorkshire schoolboy. An average schoolboy who, aged just 11 years old, was asked to complete a “when I grow up” exercise in class, to which he responded: “When I leave school I should like to be the Official Executioner”.
That’s a morbid statement that is likely to have sent social workers into a frenzy whichever way you look at it, but in context its something (slightly) less sinister than the murderous desires of a young boy.
Albert was the son of Henry Pierrepoint who, along with his brother Tom, were the UK’s top choppers in a time when capital punishment was still legal. Following the family tradition, Albert took the lives of almost 500 of the country’s criminals in his long-lived career including some of the most famous war criminals and high-profile murders.
The collection, which includes items from each of the family members, is nothing short of chilling. Having recently rifled through its contents at Paul Fraser Collectibles, I can confirm that it sent more than just a small shiver down my spine.
On the surface, there is nothing in the collection that will make you jump out of your skin: a journal, a watch chain, photographs of the family. It’s when you put the items into context that their gruesome nature becomes apparent.
The journals see the Pierrepoint’s coolly calculating the weight and drop of their victims. “Very heavy body, ordinary neck” – just another day at the office for Albert.
The chain, a fine silver piece befitting of the UK’s official executioner, was once attached to the watch that counted down the final seconds of hundreds of lives.
The photographs, somewhat sinister in sepia, show the ordinary men going about their otherwise ordinary lives. Not even Albert’s wife knew of his occupation, at least until he retired. But place these next to the plaster casts of Albert Pierrepoint’s face and hands and the man is temporarily resurrected, bringing a haunting character to the collection – This was the last face that hundreds of criminals ever saw, the hands that secured the noose around their necks.
No spooky movie or horror novel can match the grim reality of this collection.