Monday, 16 March 2015

"Dead and bright handles"

From 1803 Edward Dunn (the elder) and later his son Edward in their accounts books refer to coffin furniture including dead and bright handles. I came to learn that in the period 1803-1830 Edward used a wide variety of metals in furnishing his coffins. It also became apparent that the more lavish large funeral corteges required him to use a wide inventory of coffin furniture and many types of nails.
When his son took over the range of decorations of coffin lids began to appear repeatedly in accounts.
Both Edward's were literate but their spelling on some accounts suggests that some commonplace aspects of funerals had not reached a uniform spelling; Mattrass was still being used it is not until the 1850's that mattress is adopted at the end of Edward the younger's career before Joseph Dunn takes over the funerals for the Dunn Bromley Market Square company.
I have researched the sourcing most likely for the Dunn funeral inventory and was not entirely surprised to find that my native county of Warwickshire and one part of Birmingham provided all the goods needed by the Dunn's.
Nail manufacture took place in many locations but the specific types of nail required for the layers of black or white headed exterior  coffin decoration were most reliably manufactured in Birmingham and when Edward Dunn's accounts of Bromley district funerals began in 1803 the Birmingham and Midland hardware manufacturers were developing new metals with which to provide metal funeral wares.
Prior to 1804 two metals black lead and tinned metal were used for "coffin-lace" and handles to provide black or white "gripes " or grip handles which can be found employed in Edward Dunn's accounts. He also made and stocked wooden handles. For larger and more ornate funerals brass handles were stocked and "superb" "massive" preceded descriptions of handles which appear to bear arms or coronets.
In 1804 in Birmingham Thomas Dobbs invented "Albion Metal" which consisted of tin laid on lead and pressed into thin sheets which were then pressed to form coffin handles or plates. It became possible for Birmingham to supply through the pressed metal manufacture both black or white on black furniture in addition to the one foundry supplying cast iron coffin handles in the same district of Birmingham. Local nail manufacture using various metals supplied black and white headed exterior nails for coffins.
Bright varnishing black finished items was accompanied by the use of  a dead black being highlighted with bright white or golden hues which could offer the funeral trade alternative colour schemes for preparation of coffins. The early adoption of Albion metal "dead and bright" handles is evident in Edward Dunn's accounts of the Georgian and Regency period.
In several accounts both Edward's described white on black plates of inscription with tin laid on lead.
Several lid decorations from the classical "Glory and an urn" through various child and flowers decorations as well as the Angelic styles of lid ornaments are mentioned.
As I have indicated in earlier blog sadly there are account books lost in various fires at the expanding Market Square premises. When Edward's carrer is ending in the 1850's and Joseph is trading in the 1860's and seventies the detail of ornaments is less but there are substantial metal decorations of coffin lids covering lid from head to foot.
Brirmingham still conserves one of the later Coffin Works Newman Brothers began manufacture in 1882 for a history of this see Newman Brothers history.,the Coffin works store, I like to imagine resembles a part of the Dunn premises at Market Square which could when required produce a bespoke coffin for a child in under 24 hours to accompany a sibling burial.