Coffin or Casket: How to Determine Which One is Right for You

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Funeral planning involves many details, and one of the most important is the choice of a coffin or casket.

Although most people think these burial containers are the same, they actually have a number of significant differences. If you are tasked with selecting a coffin or casket for a loved one, please read on to learn more about these vessels and their key distinctions.

Evolution and History

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the funerary trade in the United State grew quickly. The introduction of the casket, a rectangular box for viewing and burial, was created to ease the suffering associated with the mourning process. The display of the departed within the casket is intended to resemble a bed and embalming practices give the appearance of sleep. Today, caskets are far more popular and widely available than coffins.

Key Characteristics of Caskets

  • Caskets are rectangular and the lid is usually dome-shaped. It is often divided into two sections set on hinges. This allows for the top section to be opened to reveal the head and upper torso of the departed during the visitation and memorial service or funeral.
  • Two long rails extend along the sides to assist with lifting and transportation by pallbearers.
  • The interior is usually lined with elegant, plush material.
  • Caskets come in an endless variety of sizes, designs, colors, and materials to suit the preferences of the departed and any budgetary requirements.
  • Caskets are crafted from quality materials and can have intricate, expensive details.
  • They can be purchased through funeral homes as well as other sources.

Key Characteristics of Coffins

  • Coffins are tapered at the head and foot. They may initially appear rectangular in shape, but they extend out where the shoulders of the departed rest, creating an elongated hexagonal shape. This design is called "anthropoidal”, which means it is formed in the shape of a human body.
  • The lid is not attached by hinges, which allows it to be removed for viewings.
  • Coffins have handles on the sides instead of rails.
  • They are usually crafted from MDF (medium-density fiberboard), although they may be made from iron, fiberglass, or steel.
  • Because they lack ornamentation, coffins are typically less expensive than caskets.
  • Coffins are not generally offered by funeral homes, but they can be purchased online or hand-crafted. It is important to consult with the cemetery in advance to ensure they can accommodate a coffin burial.

Which should you choose?

Caskets and coffins can both be fine choices. Ultimately, the decision comes to down to your family’s preferences and your loved one’s final wishes. If cost is a significant factor, a coffin may be a better option due to its lower price point. If elaborate decorative features are important, you may prefer a casket. There is no right or wrong choice when deciding between a coffin or a casket.

If you have additional questions about caskets or coffins, or if you wish to make funeral arrangements for a loved one, please contact us anytime. It is always our pleasure to serve you.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 25 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information about our funeral, cremation, memorial, repast, and grief counseling services, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at

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