The Sad Hour: Rare 1900s Coffin Plaque Used to Indicate the Time of Death

This rare and early example of decorative coffin hardware includes a clock which could be set to display the exact time of the deceased’s passing.
The Sad Hour coffin plaque
The Sad Hour coffin plaque. Image via @macabrecollector

Reaching it’s height at the end of the 19th century, the “beautification of death” movement brought with it a variety of changes to the way society encountered death. Embalming, mourning rituals, and the development of post-mortem photography elevated the funeral process to near-theatrical levels. The plain old pine box just wouldn’t do anymore. Coffins became much more elaborate, incorporating curvy forms, glass windows, and decorative hardware like swing bail handles, thumbscrews for securing the lid and other removable panels, escutcheons, and plaques.

Coffin plaques saw the most use in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The affluent could afford ornate gold or silver plated brass plaques to adorn the lids of their coffins, engraved with their names and other information. Less expensive plaques were stamped with things like “Mother,” “Our Darling,” or “At Rest.” Members of the Odd Fellows fraternal order were buried with metal emblems depicting the all-seeing eye, a handshake, and three interlocking rings surrounded by rays of light.

The Sad Hour plaque seems to be an extremely rare example, including a clock with hour and minute hands used to indicate time of death. Victorians were notoriously superstitious, and this style plaque likely stemmed from the tradition of stopping clocks at the time of death. They believed time stood still at the moment of passing, and a new existence would begin without time. If the clock was not stopped, the spirit of the deceased would remain to haunt the living. Also, if time was allowed to continue, bad luck would befall all who remained in the home.

Side view of The Sad Hour coffin plaque

These rare pieces sometimes turn up on ebay from time to time. Search coffin plaques right here.

What Do the Colors of a Barber’s Pole Mean?

I’d like a little off the top, please. Oh, and don’t forget the bloodletting.

You wouldn’t go to your barber today to get that life-saving kidney transplant, but in the early days of modern medicine you used to be able to get a whole lot more than just a shave and a haircut at your local barber shop. In the latest episode of Under the Knife, Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the role barber surgeons played in early modern medicine and the reason why barber’s poles have red and white stripes.

Watch more episodes of Under the Knife right here.

Odd Fellows Ceremonial Coffin

Antique Odd Fellows coffin used for initiation ceremonies for sale on ebay.
Odd Fellows ceremonial coffin for sale

I received my daily email update from ebay today featuring all the newly listed vintage Odd Fellows items. It contained the above ceremonial coffin recently pulled out of an old building. While the ghostly face inside this particular find is not real, it’s often genuine human remains left behind when local Odd Fellows chapters close their doors.

Here’s what the seller has to say about the piece:

For Sale: an early odd fellows coffin. Just removed it from an old building. I didn’t clean it up. The head inside is from shoulders to head. Not full body. Not sure what the material is that it’s made from. It’s hard like ceramic not paper mache.

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Odd Fellows coffin for sale on ebay

Check out coffin on ebay right here.

As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society, 1850-1930
As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society, 1850-1930

The morbid origin of Santa Claus

Santa the Turkish Necromancer

Caitlin Doughty digs up the weird origin of Santa Claus in this special Christmas edition of Ask a Mortician.

The Dr. Seuss Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy

Everyone knows the work of Dr. Seuss, great American poet, illustrator, children’s book author…and taxidermist of things that don’t exist.
Dr. Seuss with his Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy
Theodor Geisel with the Turtle-Necked Sea-Turtle and the Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast

The pioneers of modern taxidermy perfected their art for the purpose of putting wild and exotic species from remote corners of the world on display for the general public, to educate and promote conservation. When Dr. Seuss did it, ‘the world’s most eminent authority on unheard-of animals,’ as Look magazine called him in 1938, was mounting a menagerie of whimsical creatures from his imagination.

Theodor Seuss Geisel began creating quirky taxidermy mounts of animals that would later fill the pages of his beloved children’s books in 1934. His father, who worked at the Springfield, Massachusetts zoo, where Geisel spent much of his childhood drawing, would gather horns, bills, and antlers of animals that died naturally and send them to his son in New York. Over the next several years Geisel used these parts to create 17 undeniably Seussian sculptures resembling the aftermath of a Whoville hunting party.

The collection, which includes rare specimens of the Kangaroo Bird, Flaming Herring, Andulovian Grackler, and Semi-Normal Green-Lidded Fawn, to name a few, was never intended for public sale. They were used now and then for promotional purposes, but Jeff Schuffman, an expert from The Art of Dr. Seuss project, told CBC Radio he believes Seuss created the Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy for his own enjoyment.

Dr. Seuss with his taxidermy creations
Dr. Seuss with his taxidermy mounts

See the entire collection at The Art of Dr. Seuss.