Gateway Object: Plastic Gothic Handle

Silver coloured coffin handle
Silver coloured coffin handle


The Vacuum Coating Shop was Next door to the Casket Handle Assembly Shop and came into existence in 1963 when Newman Brothers bought a second-hand vacuum coating machine. This machine was used to put a metallic finish on plastic products. Cremation regulations meant that the switch from inhumation to cremation entailed a switch from incombustible to combustible coffin furniture. In response Newman Brothers designed plastic handles which were produced for them. They gave the handles a metallic finish at their own factory using the vacuum coating machine.


This handle is a plastic version of the Newman Brothers’ N121 Gothic brass handle. In the post-war years, society’s attitudes to death and funerals changed profoundly. Land was used for building new housing rather than cemeteries, and cremation became more common. The number of coffin furniture manufacturers in Birmingham shrank from twelve in 1944 to only three in 1967. No new companies entered the market after 1949. 1968 was the first year that records show cremation as being more common than burial in Britain.

As with most proud firms, Newman Brothers saw little reason to alter their manufacturing techniques. Although over the years they had added modern designs to their range. They provided a small range of plastic mould-injected handles, breast-plates and lid motifs for those clients offering cremation as an alternative to burial. In the late 1980s when cremation was by far the preferred method of disposal, Newman Brothers noticed a decline in the demand for their exclusive high-quality metal products. As a result in 1999 they decided to close the firm. They chose to close rather than compromising their reputation by providing products for which they had no desire to manufacture.

Chart showing burial vs cremation from 1885 to 1979. cremation rises in popularity from 1925 onwards, although the numbers of burials stay about the same.

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