Coffins always have hinged lids, caskets have tops that
remove completely and are screwed on after viewing.
A subcategory of taphophilia is often an additional interest in period funerary practices and accoutrements, both from the cultural and artistic viewpoint. How a culture treats it’s deceased can reveal much about it’s people, and no one took funerary arts into a more thoroughly romanticized and morbid period than those clever Victorians of the 19th century. From post-mortem photos
to elaborate caskets and even
burials where a mother could go down and sit beside her child during storms
, they reached the peak of funerary arts and crafts before the onset of embalming changed many practices forever.
Recreated Victorian funeral parlor, National Museum of Funeral History. Houston, TX
On to the examples: coffins or caskets –
Victorian glass childs coffin.
One of only three surviving glass coffins, it is on display at
the Museum of American Glass in Millville, NJ.
One of the other surviving glass coffins, at the
National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX.
(Yes, in the background, you are seeing a casket built for three people.)
Copper viewing casket. Age unknown.
Research has determined that these were most often used by undertakers to transport a body from the place of death to the funeral home. Typically they have wooden bottoms and canvas handles, and were made in various sizes, from infant to adult.
There are sketchy reports that they were occasionally used for viewing, but I have been unable to substantiate this, and it seems unlikely for several reasons; not the least being rapid body decomposition in their time.
Victorian, wooden, hinged viewing window, on wheeled trolley.
Closeup of viewing window.
ElaborateVictorian drop-down viewing coffin.
Left: 19th c. Fisk iron casket with hinged viewing faceplate. (1849/50)
Right: 19th c. cast iron casket with viewing window.
These caskets were generally custom ordered and fitted to the occupant,
and also sometimes filled with alcohol to preserve the remains –
possibly this aided in transports over distance, etc
; see The Lady In Red.
Thank you to a reader who sent the following info:
“Your second last image (which was taken at National Museum of Funeral History) depicts two cast iron coffins, not one cast and one wooden. The example on the left is a Fisk and likely dates to 1849 or 1850. Although I do not know the manufacturer of the coffin on right, I own one, and believe it dates to 1860s.”