What is the Difference between a Casket and a Coffin?
Outside the funeral industry, the terms “casket” and “coffin” are often used interchangeably to describe the vessel in which the deceased is placed before being buried in the ground. Most people recognize both words, and are comfortable using both in situations related to death and burial.
In reality, a casket and a coffin are not the same things. A coffin (a term that has been around since the 1500s) is the traditional burial box we associate with death. Shaped to fit the human body (with six or eight sides, wider at the top for the arms and torso), a coffin is designed to be built fairly cheaply and with a minimum amount ofmaterials. Because many people in history built their own coffins, or hired a coffin maker to do it, the emphasis was on practical burial that didn’t put a strain on family finances. Coffins are almost always made of wood instead of more valuable metals.
Coffins also tend to carry negative associations. Horror movies (especially ones with vampires) emphasize the shape as a kind of spooky, atmospheric prop piece—and because there is a definite “human” shape to it overall, consumers today tend to shy away from coffins altogether.
Caskets, on the other hand, are almost always shaped like a rectangular box, and they have the lids that lift on hinges for easy opening and closing. They tend to be more elaborate in their construction, and are what we associate with burial vessels today. Available in everything from low-cost pine to high-gauge stainless steel, caskets are very much a modern construct on the burial process.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that caskets are new. They became popular in the Victorian era, as they allowed for a more elaborate burial and were less off-putting because of their generic shape. Caskets also allow for more things like plush lining, space to bury the deceased with beloved items, and handles and drawers.
Purchasing a Coffin Instead of a Casket
Although traditional coffins are harder to come by these days, you can still opt to purchase this traditional burial vessel. Because they are a specialty item, however, the funeral home cost tends to be fairly similar to what you’ll pay for a casket.
If saving money on funeral costs is important to you, try looking online for coffin options. You may be able to find traditional coffins in materials like pine or wicker, or even come across DIY coffin kits that allow you to build your own. The Funeral Rule requires that any coffin you purchase (or make) that meets local regulations can be used in place of a more elaborate casket. Before you embark on these choices, be sure to weigh the complexity and expense against the other costs and tasks associated with funeral arrangements. You may also want to consult with a funeral director to be sure that the plans you make will come together for what you need.