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Frankenstein’s monster model and costume from 1930s at the centre of museum row


Boris Karloff as the monster of Frankenstein on the silver screen

Boris Karloff as the monster of Frankenstein on the silver screen

Boris Karloff as the monster of Frankenstein on the silver screen

Frankenstein’s monster is at the heart of a transatlantic row, as a US museum has insisted it is the rightful owner of a full-size dummy of Boris Karloff held by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London.

The V&A has in its collection a 7ft-tall wooden dummy modelled on Karloff, the horror star who played Frankenstein’s monster in a string of 1930s films, and wearing one of his costumes.

However, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) has said it owns the dummy and the costume, and demanded that the Frankenstein relics be repatriated to the US.

The Californian museum said that it “did not consent to the sale of these objects”, adding that it was “eager to see the Karloff costume back where it belongs”.

The V&A’s position is that the costumed dummy was legally acquired, and cannot be returned under UK law, but the row has raised questions about the history of the mannequin.

The dummy is clad in the original rags – a tattered jacket, trousers, and oversized boots – worn by Karloff in Bride Of Frankenstein, released in 1935 as a sequel to the 1931 film Frankenstein. That year the film’s production company, Universal Studios, donated both the dummy and the tattered costume to the NHM.

According to V&A provenance research, the dummy was then loaned in 1949 the Academy of Motion Pictures – which runs its own film memorabilia museum – but was reported to have been destroyed in 1967. The pieces were thought to be lost, but the dummy and its costume were bought at auction in 1988 by London’s Museum of Moving Image, run by the British Film Institute until its closure in 1999.

In 2014 the pieces were transferred to the V&A, where they subsequently came to the attention of NHM staff.

The Academy has been contacted for comment.

The V&A has said the objects were bought in 1988 with no claims to ownership hanging over them. The dummy is set to be displayed at the V&A Museum of Childhood. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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