The Difference Between a Coffin and a Casket

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Coffin vs Casket – What’s the Difference?

The key difference between a coffin and a casket is the shape:

  • Coffins are wider at the top around the shoulders and taper down towards the feet
  • Caskets are rectangular in shape, often with a split lid which allows the upper half to be opened at a viewing and/or during the ceremony.
Coffin Shape
Example of a coffin illustrating the tapered shape
Casket Shape
Example of a casket with a rectangular shape

Which is More Popular in Australia?

In Australia, coffins are more popular than caskets, typically chosen by four out of five families. There is no particular reason for this trend – it’s simply the more frequent choice in our culture. In the United States, the opposite is true with most families opting for caskets over coffins.

What is the Difference in Price?

Generally speaking, the cost of a coffin is cheaper than the cost of a casket.

Due to the hexagonal or octagonal shape of a coffin, less material is required to construct the container which helps to bring down the price. Caskets are also often built with a higher profile (measured when the casket is lying flat from the base to the top of the lid) which adds to the amount of material required for its construction.

For a complete overview of coffin and casket prices, see our Guide to Coffin Prices in Australia.

Caskets for a Viewing and Open Funeral

An important factor to keep in mind about the difference between coffins and caskets is that caskets often feature a split-lid, the top half of which can be lifted for viewings and open-casket services.

Coffins on the other hand don’t have hinges and the entire top lid comes off as one piece.

This difference makes caskets more appropriate for large viewings and open-casket services, often associated with traditional funerals. In addition, being generally more spacious, and having more internal detail and cushioning with nice fabrics, makes open presentations in caskets more appealing.

Split-Lid Casket
Example of a split-lid casket for viewing

History of Coffins an Caskets

The history of coffins and caskets is also worth noting as it explains much of their differences.

Coffins were the traditional vessels for burying the deceased. The history of the word “coffin” actually traces back to the French word “cofin”, which originally meant “basket” but later evolved in the language to mean “sarcophagus”.

Later, in the mid-19th century, there was an effort by the funeral industry to dress up the death business. The result was the commercialisation and industrialisation of the funeral industry. During this time we saw morticians and undertakers become “funeral directors”, and mortuaries became “funeral parlours“. It’s also when we saw the new design of caskets which were deemed to be less confronting as the shape was more spacious and didn’t follow the contours of the body.

The word “casket” was originally used to describe a box used to store jewellery and other precious items. Indeed, the Oxford Dictionary still defines the word “casket” as “a small ornamental box or chest for holding jewels, letters, or other valued objects.”

A Matter of Personal Preference

While there are some functional differences between the two, and the consideration that caskets may be more appropriate for families arranging a large viewing and/or an open-casket funeral service, the decision between a coffin or casket is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

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