Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bring out your dead!!

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, American mortuary practices developed a popular cultural trend called the "beautification of death." Mass-produced coffin hardware have appeared in archaeological contexts throughout North America. Types of hardware range from glass viewing plates, decorative handles, screw caps, escutcheons, etc. A few months back, assisted by the Northern Chesapeake Chapter of ASM, we excavated the Cole Cemetery near Aberdeen, MD.

Over the next few weeks we will discuss some of the different types of coffin hardware found at the Cole cemetery. Today we will cover coffin and casket handles.

There are three basic types of handles: bail handles, drop handles, and bar handles. All can be either single or double lug.

The handles found at the Cole cemetery are all double lug swing bail handles, meaning they had two attachments to the coffin.

Bail handles are open loops that hang freely between two fixed mounts. Drop handles have oval or circular grips with one central bracket secured to the coffin (single lug). The bar handle comes in two styles, the short and extended bar. Short bars have only two brackets through which a bar is fixed. An extended bar handle can run the length of the coffin and often have several brackets.

The handles recovered from the Cole cemetery are double lug swing bail handles. Of course, once we find a 19th century catalog of coffin hardware we might come up with another name for them.

Stay tuned for more mortuary hardware blogs soon!

- Peter

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