Coffin Adornment

metal flower coffin ornament

Set, coffin ornament
(4) molded metal; flower design attachment nail on back; nickel plated.
“Fittings” or “coffin furniture”’ included manufactured items added solely for adornment to the burial container. Cast or stamped from dies and made from silver, steel, white bronze, lead, tin, and other metals, coffin ornaments also came coated in silver and nickel. A silver-white, hard metal with a shiny luster, nickel plating can be achieved in various ways, including immersions in electrolyte solutions that dissolve key elements that then deposit on the base metal. Nickel-plating kits at the turn of the twentieth century were advertised with the claim that they would keep hearse and coffin trimmings from appearing tarnished or worn.

metal wheat coffin ornament

Set, coffin ornament
Sheaves of wheat tied with a bow and entwined with a sickle; nickel plated metal; attachment pin on back. L x W 1 1/4 x 2 ½."
Decorative items placed on coffins may have symbolic meaning or not, depending on the individual who made the selection. A sickle, a sign of death, for instance, also has been a coffin ornament associated with I.O.O.F. Funerary wheat, too, Bertram Puckle wrote in 1926, can represent the “divine harvest,” end of life, Holy Communion (because of the flour used to make the Host for the Consecration at Holy Mass), and resurrection. 
"In examining the spoils of the graveyard, we must distinguish between such things as were intended for the use of the dead and articles committed to the earth as symbols only, such, for instance, as wheat--a very ancient token of resurrection. . .Wheat, frequently buried by the Egyptian, is plentifully found engraven on the early Christian monuments, for to the Christian mind it holds a double meaning. Whilst the germ of life it contains is significant of resurrection, as the basis of bread, it was ever associated with the Sacraments. In quite recent years in England, it was the custom to distribute a sheaf of corn amongst the mourners at a funeral."

silver Our Brother plaque coffin ornament

Ornament, coffin
Silver-plated plaque; words “Our Brother” written across bottom half; numerous illustrations across top, including trowel, mallet, ruler, heart, bible, and hourglass. 
L x W 4 3/4 x 7 ¼."
The inscription “our brother” commonly was used for fraternal organization members, including the Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Freemasons, Woodmen of the World, and United American Mechanics. Inclusion of a trowel, ruler, and mallet connects symbols on this ornament to the Freemasons. The trowel stands for the spread of brotherly love and affection; the ruler gauge represents the recommended time division of eight hours for the service of God, eight for usual vocation, and eight for refreshment and sleep. Mallets signify the need of self-discipline and quiet deportment to attain contentment.

gold rest in peace coffin ornament

Ornament, coffin
Gold painted pressed metal; two-part; inset reads: “Rest in peace.”
L x W 3 x 4 7/8."
Once reserved for the wealthy, coffins by the time the local cabinetmaker was producing them could be adorned with a coffin plaque at little expense courtesy of a nearby blacksmith who made the engraved metal plates. When factories began making coffin plates, they stamped these inexpensive adornments with generic inscriptions such as “rest in peace” or “mother.”