A coffin, also known as a casket, is a funerary
box used in the display and containment of
deceased remains, either for burial or after
The word comes ultimately from Greek
kophinos, a basket. In English, the word
wasn't used in a funerary sense until the 1500s.
Any box used to bury the dead in is a coffin. Use of the word "casket" in this sense is
a North American euphemism, introduced by the undertaker's trade; a "casket"
properly so called is in fact a box for jewelery. When a coffin or casket is used to
transport a deceased person, it can also be called a pall. (Thus pallbearers).
Some Americans draw a distinction between "coffins" and "caskets"; for these
people, a coffin is a tapered hexagonal or octagonal box used for a burial. A
rectangular burial box with a split lid used for viewing the deceased is called a
A coffin may be buried in the ground directly, placed in a burial vault or cremated.
Some countries practice one form almost exclusively; in others it merely depends on
the individual cemetery .
The handles and other ornaments (such as doves, stipple crosses, crucifix, masonic
symbols etc.) that go on the outside of a coffin are called fittings while organising the
inside of the coffin with drapery of some kind is known as "trimming the coffin".
Cultures that practice burial have widely different styles of coffin. In some varieties
of orthodox Judaism, the coffin must be plain, made of wood, and contain no metal
parts nor adornments. These coffins use wooden pegs instead of nails. In China and
Japan, coffins made from the scented, decay-resistant wood of cypress, sugi, thuja
and incense-cedar are in high demand. In Africa, elaborate coffins are built in the
shapes of various mundane objects, like automobiles or aeroplanes.
Today manufacturers offer features that they claim will protect the body. For
example, some may offer a protective casket that uses a gasket to seal the casket
shut after the coffin is closed for the final time. Many manufacturers offer a warranty
on the structural integrity of the coffin. However, no coffin will preserve the body,
regardless of whether it is a wooden or metal coffin, a sealed casket, or if the
deceased was embalmed beforehand. In some cases, a sealed coffin may actually
speed up rather than slow down the process of decomposition. An airtight coffin, for
example, fosters decomposition by anaerobic bacteria, which results in a putrefied
liquification of the body, and all putrefied tissue remains inside the container, only to
be exposed in the event of an exhumation. A container that allows air molecules to
pass in and out, such as a simple wooden box, allows for aerobic decomposition that
results in much less noxious odor and clean skeletonization.
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With the resurgence of cremation in the Western world , manufacturers have begun
providing options for those who choose cremation. For a direct cremation a
cardboard box is normally used. Those who wish to have a funeral visitation
(sometimes called a viewing) or traditional funeral service will use a coffin of some
Some choose to use a coffin made of wood or other materials like particle board.
Others will rent a regular casket for the duration of the services. These caskets have
a removable bed and liner which is replaced after each use. There is also a rental
casket where there is an outer shell that looks like a traditional coffin. The deceased
is placed in a cardboard box that fits inside the shell. At the end of the services the
inner box is removed and the deceased is cremated inside this box.
price of the casket is included in the total bill for services rendered.
Often funeral homes will have a small showroom to present families with the
available caskets that could be used for a deceased family member. In many modern
funeral homes the showroom will consist of sample pieces that show the end pieces
of each type of coffin that can be used. They also include samples of the lining and
other materials. This allows funeral homes to showcase a larger number of coffin
styles without the need for a larger showroom.
Other manufacturers will sell to the general public in addition to the funeral service
industry. A number of stores and Internet sites have been set up to sell caskets.
Costco recently made news headlines when they announced an intention to offer
caskets for sale at their stores. In this case, the manufacturer sells directly to the
public, or will sell the casket to the store, which then in turn sells it to their clients.
One notable manufacturer of caskets is the New Melleray Abbey of rural Peosta,
Iowa . The monks of this abbey build wooden caskets and urns for their own use, as
well as for sale to the general public. The caskets are popularly known as Trappist
Under U.S. Federal law, if a family provides a casket they purchased elsewhere, the
establishment is required to accept the casket and use it in the services. If the casket
is delivered direct to the funeral home from the manufacturer or store, they are
required to accept delivery of the casket. The funeral home may not add any extra
charges or fees to the overall bill if a family decides to purchase a casket elsewhere.
It is noteworthy that the choosing of a coffin is often the most difficult part of a
funeral arrangement, perhaps as it gives a very immediate reality to the death to see
what will be the deceased's final "home".
• Atlas Casket Co. of Philadelphia, PA.
• Aurora Casket Co. of Aurora, IN.
• Batesville Casket Co. of Batesville, IN.
• York Casket Co. of York, PA.
• New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque County, IA
Use by the living
A few eccentric individuals sleep in coffins, usually as an affectation or deliberate
taboo breaking. With the lid closed, the coffin provides thermal insulation and
reduces ventilation, thus allowing the air in the coffin to warm up from body heat.
This performs the same function that a blanket or duvet does in a conventional bed,
but without being in direct contact with the sleeper. Some people find this
arrangement more comfortable. American psychic Criswell also made a habit of
sleeping in a coffin. Some people who believe themselves to be vampires also
indulge in such habits.
Custom coffins are occasionally created and some
companies make set ranges with non-traditional
designs. These include painting of peaceful tropical
scenes, sea-shells, sunsets and cherubs. Some
manufacturers have designed them to look like gym
carry bags, guitar cases and even yellow dumpster
bins. Others coffins are left deliberately blank so that
friends and family can inscribe final wishes and
thoughts upon it to the deceased. The rock band,
KISS has made a coffin called the KISS Kasket for
their most die hard fans.
|Coffins & Caskets That are Different|
|Coffins & Caskets That are Used by the Living|
In the United States, a number of companies
produce caskets. Some manufactures do not
sell directly to the public, and only work with
licensed funeral homes. In that case, the
funeral home usually sells the casket to a
family for a deceased person as part of the
funeral services offered, and in that case the
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