Monday, May 16, 2005

Antique Funeral Collectibles

Antique Funeral Collectibles

Mourning, a most powerful feeling. Some shelter this amazing emotion. Others feel that to possess or even just viewing the symbols of grief, they are made to feel stronger. Collecting funeral and cemetery collectibles are an interesting way to learn how to empathize with loss and view death as part of the human condition. Mortuary collectibles is a hobby that has taken on a life of it’s, own.

The need to remember burns strong in many of us. This is seen by the archeologist restoring the sarcophagus of King Tut and the sweet little old lady, who collects funeral parlor key chains. You need not be, “Harold And Maude” to enjoy this fast growing hobby. Following the lead of TV shows like 6 Feet Under and Dead Like Me, our fascination with death and grieving continues to evolve.

Collecting funeral related memorabilia can be a most compelling pursuit. Available to all levels of affluence, this avocation can be well nursed in flea markets, antique shops, auctions and certainly on line. With a modest outlay one can build a respectable collection and feel a part of others lives in a very personal way.

Assembling a collection of funary items is most interesting, when one specializes. There are many paths. Some specialty niches include; advertising, photography, books, art, Memento Mori and even vintage embalming and mortuary supplies. Each category can be further decomposed into a myriad of sub levels, including age, locality and maker. Let’s briefly look at a few areas of high collector’s interest.

Advertising collectibles are any type of item imprinted with a graphic brand logo or company name. The list is only limited by your imagination. Many collect funeral parlor or cemetery labeled desk top items. These include coin and paper clip trays, paper weights and letter openers. Kitchen related advertising also makes a strong showing. Bottle and can openers and refrigerator magnets are both quite popular and affordable.

This author has in his collection, a set of wooden salad forks, which certainly come under the heading of “what were they thinking”. Many funeral and cemetery advertising items were doomed to fail, as the public often thought them too extreme and its uses were not appropriate for the company named product. Some ephemeral trinkets that did see extensive use were calendars, thermometers and paper hand fans.

Photography has a fascinating role in funeral collectibles. From its invention in the 1840’s thru today, folks have appreciated the captured image. There are two main collectible themes in funeral related photography. The first is cemetery and graveyard photos. Gothic style cemetery and mausoleum shots evoke a certain feeling few can explain. Antique or modern, they are readily called an art form unto itself.

The second form of collectible funeral photography, like fine wine, gets better with age. Antique Post mortem, embalming, autopsy and undertaker occupational photos are often pricey and in high demand. The practice of memorializing a dead loved one via photography is, certainly an unsettling practice. In days of short longevity Post Mortem photos are possibly the only remembrance of a loved one.

Crime scene, execution, autopsy and embalming procedure photos though gruesome, are readily collected, as are photos of the undertakers and the establishments and schools they ran. Angels, ghosts and other set up studio and staged trick photos also have their share of fans.

Books on death and the business there of, hold fascination regardless of antiquarian modern or origin. Postmortem Collectibles by C.L. Miller is an often quoted price guide for funeral collectible. Beautiful Death by David Robinson is another modern, though out of print coffee table book on the marble art of grave yards. Antique mortuary science and embalming books especially those with color plates, are at a premium and command a strong dollar. Philosophies of death treatise or even gallows humor booklets also are in demand.

Cemetery art, in most any medium has interest. Soulful southern cemeteries images with massive live oaks draped with Spanish moss are eagerly sought out. Stark New England winter cemeteries are also popular. Miniature paintings on bone and especially ivory were fashionable in the Georgian period and bring tremendous prices.

Memento Mori is a most interesting expression of grief. The core belief that one can capture the essence of a departed loved one by possessing an owned trinket or even a piece of that person dates back thousands of years. Reliquaries are an example revered in antiquity. Closer to reality for today’s collectors are Memento Mori, a small section of hair spun, braided or woven into a design and incorporated into art or jewelry. Often seen in several forms such as a loved ones hair braided into a watch fob or bracelet.

The most collectible include woven hair of the deceased placed under a small watch glass like crystal and worn as jewelry. Some of these were extremely well designed with garnets and amethysts. These two gems were popularized by Queen Victoria in mourning. Jet, Bakelite onyx and celluloid also were fashioned into mourning jewelry, some with fine enamel decorations. Other hair art is seen braided into flowers, birds and wheat sheaves then placed in frames hung for remembrance. Rare are the multi generation hair art pieces, as they tell a much larger story.

Antique Mortuary and embalming funeral supplies have their place in the pantheon of collectibles. Old casket hardware, keys and plates, many with unusual inscriptions, are eagerly sought out. The caskets themselves are even traded. One can sometimes find for sale, well preserved Victorian “toe Pinchers” in defunct funeral parlors. The wicker carry out coffin, AKA basket casket is another rarity in high demand, especially with Hollywood prop masters and Halloween revelers.

Embalming supplies are really strange. Embalming fluid bottles, mortuary tools such as trocars and cosmetic kits, have all found their way into the market. Cemetery iron fixtures and even funeral parlor lighting all have their devotees, eagerly searching for more. Perhaps the most fun are those with an automotive bend. The hearse and flower car collector are among the most visible and eager of collectors. There are many clubs that gather for swap meets and shows, all around North America.

Collecting funeral related items and cemetery art is not for every one. There seems an intoxicating blend of Psychiatry and grief attached to each item. Happily, there is enough material out there to amass a neat collection in any of the categories mentioned. The specialist can have lots of fun with research as well as satisfying archival pursuits. Many items have attached, an unknown human history waiting to be told. A life lost, need not be a life lost to history

By Tear Drop Memories
Teardrop Memories is part of a 3 web shop business offering vintage niche collectibles, vintage funeral collectibles, antique Victorian bird cages and rare photographs.
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