No, I didn’t mistakenly type “coffin” instead of “coffee”. No, I’m not sharing plates that are specially designed to sit on a curved surface, such as the lid of a casket (although there are times that could be useful). I’m talking about the unique collection I discovered in a box of belongings my Grandmother inherited from the lovely couple who raised her.
In amongst this box of books, rent receipts from Ireland, and letters from Ireland to Canada (the oldest document dating back to 1826), are 4 decorative “coffin plates”.
Coffin plates are decorative pieces that were attached to the lid of a coffin with various inscriptions: dates, age or term of endearment. They were usually made of a soft metal like lead, pewter, silver, brass, copper or time. The type of metal used and the elaborateness of design often reflected the status or wealth of the deceased.
With the Industrial Revolution, the cost of coffin plates dropped dramatically, which made them more readily accessible. Simple blank machine-made plates were available by the mid-1840’s, and by the 1860’s, elaborate plates and designs were being manufactured by multiple companies. Someone from the community, like a jeweler, would engrave the details as requested by the family. About the same time, removing the name plate prior to burial became a popular trend. It was meant to be kept as a keepsake. The trend peaked toward the end of the 1800’s and was discontinued by the 1920’s. Coffin Plates can sometimes be an excellent source of free genealogical information, depending of course, on the information engraved.
I’m not sure why I find them so fascinating but I do, so I brought them home and hope to frame and hang them somewhere within the hallowed halls of my domestic hovel. My mother thought it was a little macabre and perhaps should also be donated to the museum, and it could be that in a little time, I’ll agree with her. They don’t even belong to my blood kin. But for now, they are living reminders of dead people in my bedroom, and I think they’re kinda cool!
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