History Of The Funeral Casket or Coffin

Posted by Coakley Hilton on Mon, Aug 06, 2012


The modern day burial casket can trace its roots back to ancient Egypt where nobles were wrapped in cloth and entombed in an ornately decorated box called a sarcophagus. Since that time there have been many incarnations of the burial coffin depending upon the region and societal customs. 

In Europe, the Celts were known for making caskets out of flat stones beginning in the 8th century but those were only used to buy aristocrats and nobility. The common man was simply wrapped in cloth and deposited into a hole in the ground.

In the United States, early caskets, or coffins, were designed by local furniture or cabinet makers who also doubled as undertakers and were made of wood on an as-needed basis. That changed during the Civil War when thousands of coffins were needed to transport the bodies of dead soldiers. An entire industry was then born in order to mass produce the needed caskets. 

Steel caskets were introduced to the populace in the late 1840’s. Dr. Almond Fisk patented a cast-iron casket with a bronze finish that featured a lid made from a sheet of glass which allowed mourners to view the deceased. This type of burial coffin became popular to use when a well-known person was laid out instead of the normal open lid style of casket. The glass prevented mourners from cutting off pieces of clothing or hair to keep as a memorial piece and selling the articles for profit. 

In the past century there has been a turn in the types of caskets used for burial that elicits ideas of ornate and unusual. The National Museum of Funeral History not only have an exhibit showing coffins and caskets of the past, but also of the unique.

“Ever seen a coffin made to resemble a chicken? How about a Mercedes Benz? A lobster? A Life Well Lived: Fantasy Coffins- Kane Quaye displays 12 coffins, each uniquely created to capture the essence of the departed - whether a character trait, an occupation, or a symbol of one's standing in the community.

This one-of-a-kind exhibit includes coffins of a KLM airliner, Mercedes Benz, fish, canoe, leopard, chicken, bull, crab, eagle, lobster, shallot and Yamaha outboard motor. Brightly colored and intricately designed, these wooden coffins were crafted by Ghanaian sculptor Kane Quaye (also known as Seth Kane Kwe) in his homeland of Accra, Ghana.”

Does your family know what kind of casket you'd prefer to be buried in? What if you want to be cremated and have your ashes scattered instead? Make sure they know your wishes in advance by downloading our no obligation Funeral Prelanning Worksheet. 

free funeral preplanning worksheet

Tags: funeral customs