A coffin is a box used for the display and burial or cremation of a cadaver.
Some people mistakenly believe that a coffin is a tapered hexagonal or octagonal box used for a burial, and that a rectangular coffin ought to be called a "casket" instead. This is a euphemism invented by the funeral director's industry. They are all coffins, regardless of shape, and regardless of the amount of upholstery they contain.
A coffin may be buried in the ground directly, or placed in a burial vault. Some countries practice one form almost exclusively; in others it merely depends on the individual cemetery.
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. Consumers should keep in mind however that no coffin will preserve the body, regardless of whether it is a wooden or metal coffin, or if it is a sealed casket, or if the deceased was embalmed before hand. In some cases it may actually speed up rather than slow down the process of decomposition.
Coffins have been traditionally made of wood. In the United States of America, it was common for coffins to be made to order by carpenters until the late nineteenth century. Eventually, the manufacture of coffins became a national industry, and dealers were typically in the furniture business. The traditional, hexagonal pine coffin gave way at this time to the rectangular model. Metal, fiberglass, particle board (chipboard) and cardboard coffins are available today. While the less durable materials are usually chosen on grounds of cost, they may also be chosen out of environmental concern; cardboard coffins are generally used in woodland burials, or they may be chosen because the deceased will be cremated.
Coffins have not always been used in the Western world. They were formerly the prerogative of the wealthy and noble. The poor were buried in a shroud in the churchyard; the wealthy, in a coffin in the crypt of the church building itself.
With the resurgence of cremation in the Western world, manufacturers have begun providing options for those who choose cremation. For a direct cremation a cardbord box is normally used. Those who wish to have a visitation or traditional funeral service will use a coffin of some sort.
Some chose 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 carboard 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.
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 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. An example of such a showroom can be seen on the A&E show Family Plots.
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.
Under U.S. Federal law, if a family provides a casket they purchased elsewhere, the establishment is obligated 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 obligated 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.
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13