Date: Circa 1900
Material: Nickel plated zinc.
Date: Circa 1900
These children’s handles were produced around 1900 and show an Art Nouveau influence, in particular the middle handle. Art Nouveau designs were most popular between 1890 and 1910, and as shown here, were inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. Like other forms of decorative art, coffin furniture was influenced by the design movements of the day.
Child mortality rates in Victorian Birmingham were some of the highest in the country. Over 146,000 infants under the age of twelve months died in Birmingham between 1873 and 1938. To put that into context, that is an average of 2,246 children every year. Most of these deaths occurred before the turn of the century, prior to Joseph Chamberlain’s public health and sanitation acts, which significantly improved the life expectancy of children and adults alike.
Children’s coffin fittings were identical to those of adults, but just smaller. This was an age when children were dressed as ‘little adults’, so even the shrouds were the same.
The period of deep mourning for children lasted a year. After that, mourning continued for another year, although the clothing material was changed, and traditional black crape was dispensed with. Practically, it was difficult for poorer members of society to embrace this Victorian etiquette, as they very often had to wear what they had and couldn’t always conform to these standards. In fact, they planned ahead and saved money in advance for their children’s funerals, because the likelihood of dying before three years old was high. This was in an effort to ensure that if their children did not survive, they would still be able to have a respectable funeral for them.