The coffins were created by Almond Dunbar Fisk in 1848 in Queens, NY and marketed as Fisk Metallic Burial Cases.
Fisk’s iron coffins –modern marvels of their day– were specifically designed to naturally preserve their occupants. The coffins were developed in response to some of the inadvertent challenges that had resulted from the introduction of steam transportation in the preceding decades.
In a time before embalming or refrigeration, these coffins provided a sanitary means to transport the dead long distances in any season or preserve a body long enough for kin to travel to a distant funeral. In addition, they also provide a way to quarantine a body suspected of dying of a contagious disease (such as cholera which was first delivered from Europe via steamship in 1832).
Costing up to twenty-five dollars or more, the coffins were as expensive as they were practical. Fashioned after an Egyptian sarcophagus, these ‘ mummiform’ coffins, first attracted the attention of the political elite beginning with the funeral of First Lady Dolley Madison and followed by the likes of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and President Zachary Taylor, to name a few. However, their style and practicality also attracted those outside of Washington DC, and they became a mark of status for the upper and middle classes during the early years of consumer culture and the nascent funeral industry. The gold rush, and western expansion in general, also helped expand the market beyond the elite urban deceased.
More information to come.