The demand for coffins is as sure as death and taxes. In Victoria there are only three major manufacturers of coffins but many cabinet makers make them, often as a sideline. As sure as death and taxes, it could be a ‘boom and bust-proof’ career.
Twenty-six years ago South Australian carpenter John Peddar found himself in a recession and unemployed. In bed one night he thought “What can I do that people will always need, and I thought; coffins.” He’s been making them ever since with the manager of the funeral company, Paul Callahan and is quoted as saying “Making coffins, curiously, seems to encourage longevity.” It’s certainly not a morbid job and does from time to time encourage humour.” There is a café in Port Fairy on Victoria’s South coast called ‘Coffin Sally.’ Apparently the café used to be a coffin manufacturers workshop and out the back there was an alley leading to the undertaker. It was called ‘Coffins Alley’….hence the play on words to the café now called ‘Coffin Sally.’
In New Zealand there’s a quirky Coffin Club; a group of north island New Zealanders that are destigmatising death. The clubs are staffed by seniors who build coffins which can be personalised with anything you like; TARDIS, go cart, or Elvis tribute. “People can personalise their own going away by ordering a coffin and having it made to their specifications, and then decorating it in a way that depicts really what their life has been around or about,” club founder Katie Williams said.
Of course there are some sad moments. A spokesperson at RH Minter, a coffin manufacturer in Oakleigh Victoria said “It’s very hard to make a baby coffin without feeling something, only a few of our craftspeople are able to make one of those.” Another cabinetmaker Denis Sampson is quoted as saying, “You do the little boxes, baby boxes, and it sort of hits you for a while; they haven’t had a chance to live their life.”
John shared a few ‘insider’ facts about coffin making. The first is that coffins used to come in standard sizes. “There was a six-foot coffin for a man and a five-foot-nine coffin for a woman and these were 20 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Although nowadays, coffins are getting bigger so those old dimensions would be a tight fit,” he said. Like all other manufacturers, John and Paul make to order but only occasionally; these could be so large as not to fit through doors, meaning they need to be reworked.
Another ‘fact’ is that many customers are asking for individualised coffins with six sides and a cheaper option, or more expensive caskets with only four sides. Caskets are more popular in the United States and were called caskets to soften the terminology. There are photos, football club colours and other decorations people want, it sort of makes the service less formal, more of a personal event, Mr Callahan said. “We can’t by law do whatever the customer wants, there are limitations.” Some quotes sourced Simon Royal, ABC News.