Showing posts with label casket. Show all posts
Showing posts with label casket. Show all posts

Friday, January 23, 2015

Would You Rent A Casket?

There are always new cost-cutting ideas and eco-green practices being launched in the funeral industry, many of them taken from “real life” options that we select every day. After all, we rent homes to live in, cars to travel in when we’re on vacation and vacation houses to stay in once there. We have no problem renting DVDs, CDs, and audio books. And, we really don’t give a second thought to renting more personal items like wedding gowns, tuxes, evening dresses, jewelry, even fancy dress shoes. So why do we tend to feel uncomfortable at the mention of renting a casket?

Coffins have been used for burial for thousands of years. Known by several names including sarcophagus, coffin and casket, the box, which contains the remains, has always been a difficult choice; after all, this is the “final resting place” of the deceased.

King Tut
Sarcophagi were used in ancient times and by religious orders as a  means to hold the remains of their royal and powerful. A sarcophagus was carved in stone, usually bearing the appearance of the deceased on the outside of the box. 

A coffin is a box used to hold the remains for viewing and burial, and originally had six sides, plus the top and bottom. Early Americans built coffins for family members from the wood they cut and planed from local trees.
Casket and Coffin

In the U.S., a box with only four sides, plus top and bottom, is called a casket. That change in verbiage from coffin to casket is thanks to a marketing strategy that equated the burial casket with the same name as a box that held precious jewels; a jewelry casket.

Burial Shroud
Regardless of the name, this container is where we place the remains of the deceased for visitation, during the funeral and for burial after.
But, not all societies or religions use caskets, many use shrouds; in the case of cremation, an inexpensive casket or a biodegradable paper coffin might be used.

Simple Wooden Casket
Gold Casket Lined with Velvet
Something to remember, the casket is one of the most expensive items purchased for a traditional funeral. Caskets are usually crafted from wood, fiberglass, or metal and prices for the average box can vary from $2,000 to over $10,000, depending on the material used, extra features selected and how much ornamentation is in and on the box.  

But you are not required to purchase a coffin for burial. There are several options available including rentals, shrouds and biodegradable caskets.

Today, more funeral homes are offering families the option of renting a casket for the viewing and/or funeral services. Although a rented casket may be used numerous times, the body never comes in contact with the casket; a liner which looks like a part of the box is placed inside the casket for the services and afterwards it is removed with the body enclosed for cremation or burial. (Caskets may also be rented for the visitation of someone who wished to be cremated.)

Wicker Casket
When deciding on a casket, do your homework! You might be able to purchase a biodegradable cardboard casket or wicker coffin for less than a rental fee, which averages from $400 to $1,200.  You might find a local carpenter who will build one for less. Or you might decide that renting a casket is the right choice for your situation. Either way, you know you have options.

~ Joy

Friday, August 10, 2012

History of Coffins & Caskets

Old Coffin
The word coffin comes from the Old French cofin and from the Latin cophinus, which translates into basket. The word was first used in the English language in 1380.  A coffin is defined as a box or chest for the display/burying of a corpse. When used to transport the deceased, a coffin may also be referred to as a pall.


King Tut
Coffins have been used since ancient Egypt when a body was mummified and placed in a sarcophagus before being buried in pyramids.  In Europe, around 700, the Celts began fashioning burial boxes with flat stones.  But the majority of people throughout time have been buried wrapped in a shroud, or in a wooden box.

Wooden Coffin
Wooden Casket
A casket is defined as a fancy coffin by Merriam-Webster. The word casket is used mainly in North America; a casket has four sides, a top and bottom, (rectangular shaped.) A coffin has six sides, with a top and bottom, (hexagonal shaped.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne
As Nathaniel Hawthorne put it in 1863, “Caskets! A vile modern phrase, which compels a person ... to shrink ... from the idea of being buried at all.”

Civil War Dead
Casket Company
During the Civil War, so many coffins were needed to transport the dead that the mass production of coffins began and the casket industry developed by the late 19th century.

Iron Coffins
Gold Casket
Coffins/caskets have been made from wood, cast iron, steel, fiberglass, glass, bamboo, wicker, wool, even gold. Ornamental trim could be carved from whalebone, elephant ivory or precious metals.

Reusable Coffin
Joseph II
In 1784, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II declared that reusable coffins were to be used in order to save wood.  The coffins were equipped with a trap door on the bottom that would drop the body into the hole and allow the coffin to be pulled back up and used for another funeral.  Due to public outcry, the law was cancelled within the first six months.

Cast Iron  Coffin
1850 Cast Iron Coffin
Cast-iron coffins were made from the 1850’s through the 1870’s.  Almond Fisk patented the first cast-iron casket in 1848.  It was shaped like a sarcophagus, weighed over 300 pounds, and cost up to $100. Wooden coffins sold for $1 to $3.00, (around $40 to $60 today.) Unfortunately, Fisk’s manufacturing building burned to the ground in 1849.  Fisk died in 1850, penniless, having mortgaged his patented rights to John G. Forbes in order to get loans to continue building his metallic burial boxes. Forbes and his family restructured the company, changed the name, and continued making the metallic burial cases until 1888 when the company folded.

U.S. Grant
Grant's Iron Casket
But metal coffins had caught on with wealthy families.  The affluent purchased them to deter grave robbers. In 1885 General Ulysses S. Grant was buried in an iron casket that was created in New York.

Casket with Escape System
Rope Attached to Bell
The fear of being buried alive was rampant in the late 1700 and 1800’s.  This was due in part to the cholera epidemic and rumors of live burials that had occurred.  Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Premature Burial” didn’t help matters.  In response to these fears a safety coffin was developed.  The coffin would include a mechanism that allowed the occupant to signal that s/he had been buried alive.  Usually it was a cord attached to a bell.

Wooden Coffin
Steel Casket
At the turn of the 20th Century, wooden caskets were still the most popular.  But by the 1960’s, steel casket production had grown to 50% of the market.  By the 1970’s, nearly two-thirds of all caskets were metal.  Today, it is mainly stainless steel caskets that are used. Caskets are available in 16 – 18 – 19 (a combination of 18 & 20 gauge) – 20 and 22-gauge steel.  Metal coffins can also be made in bronze and copper.  The less expensive metal caskets are made of the higher gauge of stainless steel.

Cloth Covered Casket
Cloth covered caskets are made from pressed wood, softwoods or corrugated fiberboard.  Caskets that are cloth covered and less expensive than hardwood or steel caskets.

Oak Casket
Maple Casket
With the interest in cremation growing, and the beliefs of many religious groups, wooden coffins continue to have a place in our burial traditions.  Hardwood caskets are made of solid wood.  Selected woods include mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, birch, oak, pine, poplar and willow.  Other wood can also be used such as ash, elm, cedar, and redwood.  A veneer-finished casket is less expensive than one of solid wood.

Steel Gasketed Casket
Hardwood Casket
According to the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America,, as of 2007, over 1,700,000 caskets were sold.  Of those, over 800,000 were steel gasketed, over 300,000 were hardwood caskets, and just under 200,000 were cloth covered.

Sealing Gaskets
Sealing Gaskets
But remember that regardless of any claim, even if the casket has a gasket that seals, it will not protect the body from decay, or protect the public from disease.  In fact, an airtight coffin can cause the body to liquefy.  A coffin that permits air to pass through, such as a wooden box, allows for skeletal remains.

Wine Opener Casket
Guitar Coffin
Coffins/caskets can now be found in a variety of shapes, including musical instruments, cars, and wine corks. (

Cognac Casket

Box of Chocolates Casket
Some are designed to look like a box of chocolates, flowers, even a bottle of cognac. (

Regardless of the type of coffin/casket or lack of burial container, a burial, cremation or committal ceremony is a way for the living to honor the deceased.  It is a chance to say a final goodbye and pay tribute to a life well lived.  And that is what truly matters.

~ Joy