When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Not just boxes

Fish coffin from Ghana
I think it's a waste of money, spending a lot on a coffin. It'll soon be buried or burnt, though some people order theirs in advance, or make one in advance, and use it as a blanket box or cupboard - memento mori furniture.

I'd heard about the elaborate coffins made in Ghana, where coffin-makers aim to make coffins that look like anything their clients choose - cars, guns, fish (see above), animals, vegetables, mobile phones . . . Some of them are so elaborate, they must have to dig very large holes to bury them in. I think the African coffins were originally DIY projects, but have become so popular that they're exporting them.

I was watching the BBC's 'Flog It' TV programme this afternoon, when presenter Paul Martin visited a coffin maker, Vic Fearn & Company, who've responded to requests for more elaborate coffins by taking on a designer who'll create anything you want. This part of the business is called Crazy Coffins. Some of them cost £thousands. If you have one of those, people will remember your funeral, even if they forget who it was for.

Colourful Coffins have a 'pre-design' service; you can design your own coffin, maybe with "Goodbyee!" in big letters along the sides? It might be tempting to send some sort of farewell message to everyone.

There's evidently a market for this sort of thing, which can be very lucrative. The death business always was a money-spinner. When local builders first started making coffins, they were just plain boxes. Then some enterprising characters realised that their more affluent clients would be pleased to pay for better coffins, mourning accessories, professional mourners, fancy hearses, etc., to demonstrate their social superiority. Richard Chandler's trade card, c. 1750, lists what he could provide for a "decent" funeral ("at reasonable rates"), as opposed to a common or garden funeral. If Mr Chandler was alive today, he'd be making crazy coffins.

Richard Chandler's trade card, c.1750,
from 'The English Way of Death' by Julian Litton.


ZenMonkey said...

Have you seen this story about personalized urns?


I can't seem to get to the original site, however; possibly they got smushed by BoingBoing's link.

Margaret said...

I really don't fancy having my dear departed's head on the sideboard, especially with the lid on the top. The guy in the photo looks alarmed, as well he might.

Jeremy Bentham had himself stuffed (He sits in a cabinet in UCL). Doubt that's an idea that'll catch on.