Death Comes to Call


What do you collect? Some people collect mementos of the dead.  These morbid collectibles include locks of hair, funeral cards, and portraits of loved ones in coffins, as well as other death ephemera.  Mostly produced in the Victorian Age, these artifacts are highly sought-after collectibles today.  Local & Family History Services is lucky enough to have access to, through one of our volunteers, a wonderful collection of coffin plates that we have now put on display, in the spirit of this haunting season.  Coffin plates were silver plaques that were mounted inside of the lid of the coffin and had sentiments engraved, such as “beloved” or “rest in peace.”  They were on display during the viewing, but were often removed and kept as keepsakes by the family afterward.  The details are beautiful, and sometimes unusual.  My favorite is the plate in the shape of a clock that shows the time of a loved one’s death with the title “The Sad Hour.”   Come and take a look.  We’re on the second floor of the Main Library, and this collection is on display in the case just inside our front door.  Or check out Postmortem Collectibles, by C.L. Miller, or Wisconsin Death Trip, by Michael Lesy, available in our collection.


  1. Excellent blog!

    I do not collect coffin plates, but I guess as a genealogist, I do collect information about death also… I gather up newspaper obituaries, funeral cards, pictures, death certificates and so on, about family members and ancestors to preserve in our family history.

    On a totally different subject, I also collect items about the royal families of Europe (Great Britain mostly),

  2. Great post, Joe. It is a current custom for horse owners to save locks of mane or tail hair and to have remembrance jewelry made with the washed and braided hair.

  3. Interesting! Not something I would have thought of …. very appropriate highlight for the season.

  4. Judy,

    This is one of Greta’s posts and you really should see the coffin plates. I always thought it interesting when people would put poems or witty statements on tombstones. A few years ago Ellen went on one of the SB cemetery tours and learned about the art and symbolism among the tombstones. Ex. lambs signifying children’s graves, tree stumps refer to lives cut short, etc.

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