Date: Circa 1890s
Material: Highly burnished brass
These backplates are sand cast. On the south side of the Newman Brothers’ courtyard was the Casting Shop. Here were made the high-quality brass coffin handles and backplates for which Newman Brothers were so famous. Unfortunately, the one-storey range containing this workshop was demolished in circa 1967 and replaced by the two-storey range we see today.
These are the oldest Newman Brothers’ backplates in the collection, roughly dating from the late 1890s. It may be that some are older, and date from Newman Brothers’ time as cabinet ‘furniture’ makers. Each handle, whether for a coffin or a cabinet, would be mounted onto a backplate. Cabinet and coffin fittings were interchangeable and this allowed Newman Brothers to make the smooth transition into the funerary trade.
The move into coffin furniture was probably financially motivated. Newman Brothers entered the funerary market at the height of the Victorian ‘cult of death.’ There was no other period when the English funeral was more lucrative. The Victorians were obsessed with social etiquette and needed to ensure that their loved ones were given a ‘good’ funeral. However, a respectable funeral was expensive.
For a firm of brass founders like Newman Brothers, the change from making furniture for cabinets to fittings for coffins was not difficult. After all, if you could make a handle for a cabinet, you could make one for a coffin. They were very similar in design, and the materials, manufacturing processes and machinery were the same.