Date: Circa 1900
Material: Nickel plated zinc.


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.

This item is in the following Themes:

Death  Industry & Manufacturing  Victorians

Children’s Coffins

Children’s coffins in the Victorian period up until the First World War tended to range in size from 2ft to 5ft in length. Anything over 5ft was considered to be in the adult range. Although not exclusively so, while adult coffins tended to have six handles, children’s coffins usually only had four. Often children’s coffins were not planed – instead they were covered in material to cover rough edges. Soft English wood such as alder or aspen was preferable and in terms of thickness, 9.5mm was suitable for a coffin between 2ft and 4ft. Anything above 4ft required wood 19mm thick.