A coffin is a funerary box used for viewing or keeping a corpse, either for burial or cremation.
The earliest evidence of remains of the wooden coffin, dated at 5000 BC, was found at Beishouling, Shaanxi, in Tomb 4. Strong evidence of a wooden rectangular coffin was found in an early Banpo site at Tomb 152. The coffin Banpo belongs to a girl of four; it measures 1.4 m (4.6 ft) by 0.55 m (1.8 ft) and 3–9 cm wide. On the Dawenkou culture (4100–2600 BC) site at Chengzi, Shandong, as many as 10 wooden coffins were found. As determined by the number of timber frames in its construction, the thickness of the coffin also emphasized the degree of nobility, as stated in the Classic of Rites, Xunzi and Zhuangzi. Examples of this have been identified in many Neolithic sites: the double coffin, the earliest identified in the Liangzhu culture (3400–2250 BC) site at Puanqiao, Zhejiang, consists of an outer and an inner coffin, while the triple coffin, with its earliest findings from the Longshan culture (3000–2000 BC) sites at Xizhufeng and Yinjiacheng in Shandong, consists of two outer and one inner coffin.
Traditionally, in the Western world, the village carpenter, who would handle the entire funeral frequently, made a coffin when necessary. The design and workmanship would reflect the particular carpenter's expertise, with the materials and brasses being the materials available at the time. In past years, if the parish paid for the funeral of a pauper, the coffin might have been made of the cheapest, thinnest pine available. At the other extreme, a coffin bought privately by a wealthy person could have used yew or mahogany with a fine lining, plated fittings, and brass decorations, covered with a velvet drape.
Coffins are almost always mass-produced in modern times. Some manufacturers do not explicitly sell to the public, and operate exclusively with funeral homes. During this case, the funeral director typically offers the casket to a client as part of the funeral services provided for a deceased person, and the casket price is included in the total bill for services rendered.
Many funeral homes have small showrooms to display the available caskets to families that could be used for a deceased member of their family. For several modern funeral homes the showroom would consist of sample pieces displaying only the end pieces that can be used for each type of coffin. These do provide lining samples and other materials. It helps funeral homes to display a greater variety of types of coffin without the need for a larger showroom. Other styles, including decorative paint effects, or printed images or patterns, may be available from a catalog.
Under a federal law of the United States, 16 CFR Part 453 (known as the Funeral Rule), if a family purchases a casket they bought elsewhere (for example from a discount department store in the United States, as explained here), the establishment is required to recognize the casket and use it in the services. If the casket is shipped from the supplier or store directly to the funeral home, they are expected to approve casket delivery. When a family wants to buy a casket somewhere, the funeral home can not apply any additional charges or fees to the total bill. If the casket was bought from the funeral home, then these laws demand that bills be completely articulated.
Choosing the Coffin or Casket
What is the difference between a coffin and a casket?
Fundamentally the difference is one of nature. The coffins at the head and foot are tapered, and the shoulders are broad. Caskets are rectangular in form and are typically made from better quality timbers and have higher manufacturing standards. Many people find the coffin or casket to be an important tribute to the deceased, and are therefore carefully picked. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to invest so much that it would mean financial problems for those left behind.
Personalizing the coffin or casket
If you wish, you may personalize the coffin. Here are the ideas others have used.
Use folk art, decoupage or color
Apply significant stickers or adornments
Choose a special fabric interior
Invite friends to sign the coffin at the ceremony
Your funeral director can show you photographs of a range of coffins and caskets.