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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • UNFAIR TO BABIES, 1936

Crystal Glass Casket: 1920

Crystal Glass Casket: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Crystal Glass Casket Co., exterior." The offices of Crystal Glass Casket ("Let us tell you why 90 per cent of the people will Demand Glass Caskets") at 605 15th Street N.W., "directly opposite U.S. Treasury." This was the start of a "business opportunity" that ended with predictable if not entertaining results -- a million-dollar swindle, indictments for stock fraud, conspiracy and bribery, and trials that dragged through the courts for years. National Photo Company Collection crystal glass negative. View full size.

 

Glass Caskets

Their advertising suggests that the casket itself wasn't represented as being transparent, but was supposed to take advantage of the relatively inert nature of glass and the possibility of hermetic sealing (essentially like an opaque thermos bottle). For example, a full page ad in the Washington Post (1/1/20, page 11) describes the casket as "impervious to air, water, mud and vermin, and will for all time resist the action of every destroying element to which burial caskets are exposed." The accompanying picture shows what appears to be a conventionally opaque casket.

Of course, as Dave has pointed out, the whole enterprise was a scam and no glass caskets were ever made. The newspaper picture actually does show a conventional casket, made by some other company.

Some of their ads also showed photos of a glass factory -- someone else's glass factory! -- in operation. A few of those pictures appear in the show windows in this image.

Classy Glassy

A tisket, a tasket, they broke my crystal glassket.

Re: Beyond Barnum

I realize it was a fraud and they weren't actually selling the caskets, but I can see how a glass casket might be a viable proposition. People used to have a lot different ideas about how they handled death--throughout the Victorian era, even extending into the very early 20th century, the dead were displayed st home and photographs were commonly taken of the body, sometimes even with family members sitting with it. So in 1920, the idea of seeing a corpse in a kind of display case probably wouldn't be that weird, and perhaps might even be viewed as practical. Even today, the open casket funeral lives on (though I can't say I'm a fan).

On another note, the Pickled Mao sneeze shield is one of the funniest things I've ever read on this site. Good thing this didn't come up before I visited China this summer, or I would have remembered it and cracked up at a really inopportune time--probably wouldn't have been the wisest move.

Six Feet Under

A stock certificate for the company.

Role reversal

Isn't it interesting how the Crystal Glass Casket Company may now be out of business, but the million (or should I say billion) dollar swindles have now moved across the street!

See Me

The crystal sarcophagus -- favored repository of Chairman Mao and various other other well-preserved Asian tyrants.

[Not unlike the sneeze shield at Wendy's. - Dave]

Transparency

You would have thought that any sensible investor would see through it from the beginning.

For your viewing pleasure

It would eliminate the need for open-casket viewings I suppose. It must've weighed a ton though. I wonder how many were actually sold?

[They weren't selling caskets. They were selling stock in the company. - Dave]

Glassket™

Don't you remember Eddie Cantor singing the famous Glassket™ jingle ?

You may go to Hell
In a handy handbasket;
Your earthly remains
Remain in your Glassket™.
It's like a glass jar
With a big rubber gasket,
So can and preserve
Your remains in a Glassket™!
Put your body in pine,
And your coffin will mask it.
Why not show it off
In a crystal-clear Glassket™?
When you're laid out in church,
The mourners will ask it:
"How looks he so fine?"
The answer's your Glassket™.

Hoookay.

Somebody read "Sleeping Beauty" just one time too many.

A case for really strong pallbearers

All I can say about a glass casket is, whatever you do, don't drop it, guys. And the hearse had better not drive over too many bumps.

It's written on the wall

My first impression of all the numbers was that a worker was preparing to add some decorative accents and had gridded out that portion. Though I'm unsure as to why he stopped at #12.

As for the folks running the Crystal Glass Casket Company -- here's a lowdown from the NY Times, August 8, 1922:

FIVE INDICTED FOR FRAUD.

Washington Grand Jury Holds Directors of Glass Casket Company.

Washington, Aug. 7 -- Five directors of the Crystal Glass Casket Company of Washington and eighteen persons said to be interested in the selling of the stock of the Birmingham Motors Company were today charged with using the mails to defraud by the Federal Grand Jury. Indictments were returned in the Crystal Glass Casket Company case, but in the case of the motors company the grand jury merely filed its presentment in court.
According to the indictment in the casket company case, letters were mailed to prospective buyers of stock notifying them that the company was about to purchase a plant at Nitro, W. Va., for $96,000 which would result in a saving of nearly $100,000 to the company and that therefore the price of the stock would be advanced to $15, but that the person addressed could buy it for $12.50 a share.

No details of the specific charges in the case of the Birmingham Motors Company were given out.

Those indicted in the casket company case were A.B. Lacey, President; R.A. Howe, Vice President; Edwin C. Reed, Secretary and Treasurer; James V. Decamp and S.N. Acker.

Beyond Barnum

I have to think the founder of this "company" was intentionally trying to see just how far P.T. Barnum's rule would stretch. How could anyone even IMAGINE that anyone would want a glass casket? The desire for privacy in death may be irrational, but it's deep.

How would the sales spiel go? "Listen to me, brother, you can finally get your revenge on gophers and worms! They'll watch you decompose and they won't be able to get in to join the feast! Ha, ha, ha! You'll show them who's boss!"

An Old Saying & Big Advantage

People who die in Glass Caskets don't throw stones.

Curious

Why the handwritten numbers on the stone work, just above the awning? Any idea??

Ok, Why buy a glass coffin?

Wouldn't pine be cheaper?
And are there any speculations on the numberline marked on the front of the building, or is that on the image itself?

Just nine short years later...

Can anyone argue that the Great Depression was not a result of unwise casket investments and predatory casket companies offering glass caskets for buyers with neither income nor assets?

 
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