A Brief History of Coffin Screws

These antique thumbscrews from the Cult of Weird collection were used to secure the lids of coffins prior to burial.
Antique decorative coffin screws
Antique coffin screws from the Cult of Weird collection c.1880

Over the weekend I shared a photo of a pair of coffin screws (pictured above) from my personal collection on Instagram and Facebook. It sparked some interesting questions, so I decided to dig into the archives (which here means the vast Google library) to find some specific references detailing how these screws were used.

Decorative thumbscrews like these were clearly meant more for the purpose of form rather than function. In the comments, one Cult reader suggests they were part of a funerary ritual wherein family members would screw the lid down after the coffin was closed. The final act of closure before the deceased were committed to the dirt.

These funerary customs, as well as the lavish coffin hardware, were the results of the 19th century Cult of the Dead, or the Beautification of Death movement.

The International Handbook of Historical Archaeology describes these new views on death as the result of Romanticism that began in the late 1700s. With its reverence for nature and emotions, as well as interest in the esoteric, the Romantic movement increased sentimentalism surrounding death and afterlife, leading to more elaborate mourning behaviors, monuments, and coffins.

Plain pine boxes gave way to finely crafted coffins with white metal, often silver-plated hinges, handles, tacks, caplifters, screws, escutcheons (thumbscrew plates), and ornamental plaques. According to Coffin Hardware in Nineteenth Century America, thumbscrews with decorative heads had entirely replaced nails and builder’s screws to secure lids, coffin plates and viewing window panels by the 1880s.

Silver-plated coffin screws and tacks in the Stolts, Russell & Co. special coffin hardware catalog c.1880.

In this ebay listing for a 19th century child’s coffin, you can see similar thumbscrews and other hardware in place:

Antique child's coffin from the 19th century

Coffin viewing window

Coffin viewing window closed

Coffin thumbscrew

Coffin screws and escutcheons

Though these types of thumbscrews are no longer used on coffins, they continued to be advertised in catalogs until the 1960s.

Artifact from 1884 British Naval Cannibalism Case For Sale

An artifact from the 1884 Mignonette shipwreck, the last case of cannibalism in British naval history, is up for auction.
Captain Dudley's sextant from the Mignonette shipwreck

The yacht Mignonette was en route to Australia from Southampton when it was shipwrecked in a storm on July 5, 1884. The crew were left stranded in a 13-foot lifeboat in the middle of the south Atlantic with a few tins of turnips and some navigational instruments.

The sextant, now up for auction, bears a pencil inscription inside the lid that details their plight:

We Thomas Dudley, Edwin Stevens, Edmund Brookes & Richard Parker, the crew of the yacht Mignonette which foundered on Saturday the 5th of July, have been in our little dinghy 15 days.

We have neither food or water and are greatly reduced. We suppose our latitude to be 25º south our longitude 28ºW.

May the Lord have mercy upon us, please forward this to Southampton

Custom of the Sea

In order to avoid seawater, the men began drinking their own urine. The turnips and a captured sea turtle managed to feed them for ten or twelve days, but soon after that they began discussing the possibility of cannibalism.

When 17-year-old cabin boy Richard Parker, who had been drinking the salty water, lost consciousness, Dudley and Stephens figured he was probably dying. They decided they should kill him rather than let him die naturally so that his blood would be better preserved for drinking.

Dudley said a prayer, and then pushed his penknife into Parker’s jugular.

Of the grisly scene that followed, Dudley later said:

“I can assure you I shall never forget the sight of my two unfortunate companions over that ghastly meal we all was like mad wolfs who should get the most and for men fathers of children to commit such a deed we could not have our right reason.”

They were rescued four days later on July 29.

The men readily described their desperate act of survival, believing they were protected by an ancient custom of the sea. It was a common practice for shipwrecked survivors to draw lots to determine who would be eaten. Rather than go home to see their families, the sailors were detained and charged with murder.

Brooks was acquitted, but Dudley and Stephens were convicted and sentenced to death. Due to public outcry, however, their sentences were commuted to six months imprisonment.

The sextant up for auction in November at the London-based Charles Miller Ltd. is said to be the only remaining artifact from the event. When Dudley was released, he took it with him when he moved to Australia. There it remained until it was bought from an antique shop in 1973.

Captain Dudley's sextant from the Mignonette shipwreck

Inscription inside the sextant from the Mignonette sextant

Ghosts And Gadgets: Communicating with the Spirits

Morbid Anatomy presents this short film by Ronni Thomas exploring Brandon Hodge’s incredible personal collection of planchettes and other devices used to communicate with the spirit world.

From his profile on the Talking Board Historical Society:

Brandon Hodge is a collector, author, historian, and the prevailing authority on automatic writing planchettes and early spirit communication devices. Long fascinated by the bizarre occult world of tipping tables, séances, Spiritualism, and ghostly encounters, Brandon acquired his first automatic writer—a boxed E.I.H. Scientific Planchette—nearly two decades ago. He has since traveled the globe documenting, collecting, and lecturing on the world’s rarest séance artifacts.

For more, check out his website at mysteriousplanchette.com

via The Daily Grail

Ghosts and gadgets: Brandon Hodge and his collection of spirit communication devices

Anatomical Greeting Cards for Your Funny Bone

These quirky anatomical greetings cards are sure tibia hit with the science nerds and other weirdos in your life.
I lobe you brain anatomy greeting card
I Lobe You card available here.

Blue Specs Studio is a purveyor of handmade science and anatomy-themed greeting cards described as “offbeat and oddly sweet.” If you have something to say, why not say it with osteology?

After all, nothing says “let’s bone” like a femur.

Here are some more humerus designs:

Anatomy greeting cards by Blue Specs Studio

See more in the Etsy shop right here.