Last week the folks here at Houlton Stamp and Coin took in some odd items....Grave marker plates. These are commonly made out of lead or white metal, NOT SILVER. These plates were attached to stones prior to the changes in cemeteries, removing headstones and replacing them with “mow over” stones. When the headstone was changed, the family would receive the plate from it. Why a plate? These plates resisted lichen and moss growth, while the stone itself would not, so the name was always visible, never needed cleaning and would shine in the sun.
These plates are somewhat collectible, in a macabre sense. I found a few for sale on Ebay, and quite a few on Etsy. Folks like to frame these it seems. Through research I found that many of the wealthier folks would have some pretty ornate plates. The design seemed to include many Greek revival style pillar and curtains. Each plate is approximately 7-9 inches by 4-6 inches tall. What a strange collection!!!!
Gravestones or headstones (I am sure there are other names as well) never really became “popular”, more so they became common once cemeteries were created. Prior to cemeteries folks buried they dead on the family land or in pauper graves, sometimes marked by a wooden cross, sometimes simply marked by a tree. Sea faring folks would often throw the person over the rails, allowing them to go back to the sea. The act of placing a body in a casket or entombing a person was put in place to slow the decay process.....all of this is common knowledge but did you know this?
Safety coffins were prevalent in the Victorian era, these were put in place to prevent premature burial. In the age of cholera this was considered a big problem. The following is from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_coffin:
“P.G. Pessler, a German priest, suggested in 1798 that all coffins have a tube inserted from which a cord would run to the church bells. If an individual had been buried alive he could draw attention to himself by ringing the bells. This idea, while highly impractical, led to the first designs of safety coffins equipped with signalling systems. Pessler's colleague, Pastor Beck, suggested that coffins should have a small trumpet-like tube attached. Each day the local priest could check the state of putrefaction of the corpse by sniffing the odours emanating from the tube. If no odour was detected or the priest heard cries for help the coffin could be dug up and the occupant rescued.
Dr. Adolf Gutsmuth was buried alive several times to demonstrate a safety coffin of his own design, and in 1822 he stayed underground for several hours and even ate a meal of soup, bratwurst, marzipan, sauerkraut, spätzle, beer, and for dessert, prinzregententorte, delivered to him through the coffin's feeding tube.”
On a final note: The common expression of “saved by the bell” is a boxing term versus the debunked myth of a nightwatchman who would wait all night listening for bells in a graveyard. The urban legend of strings inside a casket and a bell above ground has been proven false.....
Stay collecting my friends. Come visit us downtown, at a live auction or online. We offer online auctions, live auctions, estate clean-outs and advice (sometimes it even is right) .
HOULTON STAMP, COIN & PAWN