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.

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