Volume 15      www.thedead-beat.com      Issue 5

 

Columns

Spotlight

"Ducks in a Row" - Robby Bates

Kenneth J. Doka

Mortuary Muse

Behind the Back Fence

 After Thoughts 

Dear Counselor       

Urns & Outs

Tips from the Back Room

Archives            

Amy's Gallery

 

 

 

Crazy Coffins

Info from crazycoffins.co.uk and Besancon Exhibition

A friend was visiting Ireland and he saw something interesting in an Irish newspaper (Irish Independent, January 20, 2012) on Crazy Coffins and we did some investigating. It turns out that “Crazy Coffins” is a subsidiary of Vic Fearn and Co., Ltd. in Nottingham, England. After contacting the company they sent us some information from an exhibition in Besancon, France and some wonderful examples of their work. Also there were many frequently asked questions on their website that gave insight into this unique business.

As described in the exhibition material, the coffins were “not the product of an ‘English’ sense of humour.” They “could not speak for other coffin-makers” but those requesting unique coffins were “not in the mood to joke.”

For example, “An aunt rings up, the mother and the father being too distressed to speak; but a boy has died in tragic circumstances and they wish to inter him in a coffin shaped like a guitar. A guitar, that is, which is an accurate, though larger, reproduction of the guitar which he himself played.”

The making of these individual coffins was a result of “the phenomenon of people designing their own rituals for funerals, and of commissioning special coffins to play a central part, is not the outcome of anything which Vic Fearn & Company has done.” They were “no more than simple joiners; joiners making boxes for a humble, and sometimes humdrum, trade. And, in our own case, one hundred or more years of commitment to the trade had led us, by the year 1990, to have fallen practically asleep. We were woken, in that year, by Corinna Sargood, an illustrator and engraver. She ordered a conventionally-shaped coffin, with an oak veneer, then painted it in traditional canal-boat fashion, in order to accommodate her aunt.


Corinna’s gesture seemed isolated at that time. Before long, though, other customers came forward, with similar requests; until, without fully understanding what had taken place, we had been led into a world of decorated coffins. Into a world of coffins, that is, conventional in shape, but adorned with artwork showing animals or flowers or Chelsea Football colours or the slogan ‘Elvis Lives.’ We built these coffins because, one by one, members of the public approached us and ordered the coffin they required. We were not artists, and shrank from ever claiming that we were; we simply painted on to the sides and lids of coffins the images which these customers desired.”

In 2000 another “change came tapping at the door.” “A lady had inspected our shop window, but couldn’t see the coffin which would satisfy her needs. She wanted, not a conventional coffin, not a decorated coffin, she wished to commission a coffin constructed to a new and individual shape. So, once again, it was pressure from an outsider which pushed us down this path. It led us to build guitars and ballet shoes and rubbish skips—it thrust us into a world of concepts and ideas, ideas which have refreshed our staff, our management and indeed have rekindled our commitment to the trade.”

The Sun, Europe’s biggest selling daily newspaper, picked up a story and put the coffins with a pin-up girl on the Page 3 with catchword— “Crazy Coffins” and it stuck.

Some unique requests to the company have come from “Michael Wood, England’s champion town crier, has ordered a giant handbell, in which, on death, his body is going to be interred. He had no problem in arranging this with the clergyman in the village where, he, Michael Wood, was born. The bell is large and so Michael, quite simply, has bought a double graveyard plot.” Showing that the clergy have no problem with the unique graves.


“In the England of the 1950’s, discussions about death, and the rituals of funerals, were hardly commonplace. When the bell tolled, it hushed not only people’s voices, it left no scope for their imaginations to weigh up how best their loved ones should be cremated or interred. Fifty years later, England is perhaps a different place. The desire for style, for making statements about what one thinks and is, has eroded inhibitions. Notions of ‘fashion,’ of ‘designer’ items and of ‘personalized’ procedures, have gained admittance to the ante-room of death.”

 

“Perhaps the majority of the population seeks for itself, or for its loved ones, a funeral no more elaborate than that which its grandparents enjoyed—although, recordings of popular songs are supplanting hymn sheets in the cremations of today. Beyond that majority, though, lies a growing fringe of respectable, middle-aged people who intend arranging funerals which will reflect something of themselves and of their individual taste.”

The exhibit literature continued, “Shortly before Christmas, 2004, The Sun published an article under the headline, ‘Dying for a laugh.’ It stated, ‘More and more people are putting the fun in to funerals.’ The article went on to describe some ‘wacky’ funeral arrangements including a fan of a well-known science fiction series was buried in a replica of a time-machine, an elderly New Yorker being buried in her car, conventional cremations being given an unusual end. The ashes of a dead man was propelled by a rocket into outer space and some were mixed with gunpowder and ignited in spectacular and celebratory ways.

Interestingly the article in The Sun gave a long list of strange coffins, but only one had been made by Vic Fearn & Company Ltd., so the assumption is that Crazy Coffins is only a “fraction of the total built, planned or impending and that the world of the English (and other) funerals has irreversibly moved on.”

On the Crazy Coffins website there were numerous “Frequently Asked Questions” and I’ll try to summarize some of the facts they shared.

The first Crazy coffin happened like this: “One day, a lady knocked on the door. This lady had a half-built coffin in the back of her van. It was in the form of an aeroplane fuselage. She asked us to finish it off. Other people heard about this and a trickle of orders came in. The Sun picked up the story and they used the term “crazy coffins” and that was how the name was born.

There have been very few Crazy Coffins made but they have had numerous inquiries. For example when a family learns that a Ferrari-shaped coffin could take two weeks to build and might cost five thousand pounds ($7600), they often buy a conventional coffin with a Ferrari design painted on the sides or lid which takes 3 days and costs five hundred pounds ($760). They have made coffins for those who want to have it waiting.

They build only to order. When ordering the coffin usually the customer has specific requests about color or model of say a car. Therefore the coffins are custom built.

The cost of the coffins vary from amount of time required to build and materials used. They have usually been made from medium density fiberboard and flexi-ply. Materials are from sustainable forests and their finishes are from water-based products.

Their favourite Crazy Coffin is usually the one they are working on. It’s a puzzle. All of them ponder the drawings and play with ideas. The coffin that is in the centre place is the most interesting one. As they were answering this question they were in the midst of making a beer bottle coffin, mounted on a brewer’s delivery truck.

They really feel there is no Crazy Coffin they cannot make.

As far as people who purchase Crazy Coffins there is no age bracket, it’s just people who want to decide on their final journey, what and how to celebrate their life. The coffin can say a lot about the person’s lifestyle, hobbies, or interests or even “to cause a stir at my funeral” carries some weight.

They have a catalogue of what they have done, but encourage clients to create one of their own personal identity

They have yet to have orders from other countries outside of the UK. This may be due to time constraints and possibly additional cost, but they stated what helps to sell a crazy coffin in the UK is “the English sense of humour.”

For more information check out: www.crazycoffin.co.uk


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