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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Vizzari

Coffin vs. Casket

What is the difference between a coffin, casket and burial vault?

casket example
Example of a casket

Coffin example
Example of a coffin

Many of the photographs in the MoMP collection display the deceased in a casket or a coffin. While the terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. In this post, we will briefly explain their differences.

A coffin is a tapered, six-sided burial box with a hinged lid, while a casket is a rectangular-shaped box with a hinged lid and a more elaborate design. The terms are often used interchangeably, but traditionally a coffin is intended to be more simple and economical, while a casket is intended to be more decorative and ornate.

Caskets are typically made of materials such as hardwoods, metals or a combination of both. They are often decorated with elaborate finishes, such as polished brass or silver hardware and plush interiors, and may also have features such as split lids, which allow for viewing of the deceased and interior bedding, which is made of velvet or satin. Caskets are typically used for more formal funerals and are viewed as more visually appealing than a traditional coffin. On the other hand, coffins are typically made of cheaper, more economical materials such as cardboard, fiberboard or cloth-covered particleboard. They are often used in less formal funeral settings or for cremation. The simpler design and materials of a coffin make it less expensive than a casket.

Coffins came before caskets. The use of coffins for burying the dead dates back thousands of years, to ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Greece. Coffins were originally simple, unadorned boxes made of materials such as stone or wood. Over time, the design of coffins evolved to include more elaborate features, such as carved decorations and decorative finishes. The term "casket" came into use in the 19th century, when American funeral homes began offering more decorative burial options, including caskets made of metal and decorated with elaborate hardware. The word "casket" was used to differentiate these more decorative options from the simpler, traditional coffin.

A burial vault is a protective outer container that is used to encase a casket or coffin in a grave. It is typically made of concrete, metal or a combination of materials, and is designed to help prevent the ground from caving in and the casket from collapsing over time. A burial vault also helps to keep groundwater from seeping into the grave, which can cause damage to the casket and create unpleasant odors. Some burial vaults are designed to be decorative, with features such as etched designs or finished surfaces, while others are simply functional, serving to protect the casket and maintain the integrity of the grave. The use of burial vaults is common in many countries, and is often required by cemeteries and funeral homes for the protection of the grave and the preservation of the deceased.

The use of burial vaults dates back to ancient times, when the Greeks and Romans used them to encase caskets and protect them from the elements. The use of burial vaults declined in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but regained popularity in the 19th century, when improvements in manufacturing made it possible to mass-produce concrete vaults at a lower cost. By the mid-20th century, the use of burial vaults had become widespread, and many cemeteries required them as a condition of burial. Today, the use of burial vaults is still common, although some people choose to forgo them in favor of more natural or eco-friendly burials.

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