- Carole Conn
The Beehive in Country Antiques
I love beehives. Even before I ever thought of keeping bees I was drawn to this iconic image of country life. There is something so pleasing about the form. It evokes a feeling of home and hearth, of country gardens, and of lucious fresh honey dripping from a dipper.
The symbol of the beehive has been used for hundreds of years. It symbolizes industry and teamwork, and unity. The bee culture is really fascinating - one queen who rules the roost, lots of worker bees, guard bees, nurse bees, scout bees, all female, and then there are the drones who are needed for only one reason, and all but 10% or so are killed off by the females and kicked out of the hive. But that's a subject for another blog.
I think you see the beehive represented in country antiques because bees meant a lot to country folks in the 18th and 19th centuries. They pollinated the gardens, of course, but more important, honey was a the go-to sweetener. Sugar was imported and expensive.
This is an English blue underglaze transferware teapot by Davenport dating from about 1830. Love the bees buzzing around the hive. Other makers had their own beehive patterns. Here are a few:
All of these are English Staffordshire and all date from the 1820s-50s. They are very collectible, come in many colors, and can still be found at reasonable prices at shows and flea markets. Try and buy the ones with no damage. But if you just want to look at the great pattern, a hairline or chip here or there won't make a difference and they are much cheaper.
My most favorite transferware bee related pattern is "Bee Master", unknown maker. It shows the beekeeper holding a hive, chasing a swarm, and explaining it to passersby.
(Transferware images courtesy of The Transferware Collector's Club, www.transcollectorsclub.org.)
The Masons have used the beehive symbol for generations to signify industry and unity. This transferware plate shows masonic symbols with Lodge Perseverance in the middle. Note the beehive under the arches. The gold painted hive on a red wood footed base is from a Masonic lodge and dates from the 1850s. They just had beehives around.
I found this reverse painted glass picture online, in its original frame, 19th century, American:
It's a bit worn, but I love it. It hangs in my potting room.
Ever wonder what "beehive turnings" look like? You see that description on wooden bowls. It conveys age. Frankly, some of the "beehive" turnings I've seen described on bowls on Ebay, for example, are hard to see. In fact, they are figments of the seller's imagination.
These are beehive turnings. This bowl was made in the 1700s. These grooves were created by the turning of the lathe, propelled by a foot pedal.
I gave one of these cast iron string holders to my beekeeper friend, Cathy, thinking she'd keep string in it, but she takes it to lectures she gives on beekeeping to show children various forms of beehives.
The string pulls out of a hole in the top. The coil lives in the body of the "hive". You can find these easily for anywhere from $40-$80. They are nice and heavy, so when you pull the string the holder doesn't jump all over the place. They date from the 1930s, 40s.
I just like to collect anything that is a beehive shape. I had an old thimble once, shaped just like a hive, but it was hard to use. I found this woven grass basket with a lid. It is 20th century. Hole for the bees to go in and out and everything! It is little - only about 10" tall.
I've found a number of turned wooden beehive shaped boxes. One is a bank, others are just to hold stuff.
I find them hard to resist, as you can probably tell.
The Shakers used the beehive symbol in their crafts. They lived off the land and kept bees, believed in hard work and in working together, so I guess it was natural. I found this Shaker beeswax cube at an antiques show in Vermont a few years ago. It has a beehive design pressed into it.
My potting room is just a bevvy of beehives:
I collect anything in the shape of a beehive. I have a jar I store my cat grass seeds in (yes, I grow grass for my indoor cats). 1950's, found on Ebay for no money.
And this is a brass candy jar and an old honey jar:
You can find little candles shaped like beehives at craft fairs and in country shops. I also saw some on Etsy.com. I love them and I have them all over the house. I found this antique one last year. By antique, I mean that it probably comes from the 1930s. I think it is charming:
Other beehive antiques are actually beehives! I have a few of those, too. This one is straw covered with wattle:
And these are straw:
I have them all around my gardens, too. But not antique ones because they won't hold up in our severe weather.
You can find skeps (beehives made of straw are called skeps) like these online or in garden shops. They last about a year outside, sometimes more. I bring them in in the winter. The water and sun just make them disintegrate over time. One of these pictured is clay. The top comes off. It is actually used to grow white asparagus. You keep the sprouts covered in the spring and they won't turn green. I haven't tried that with my asparagus because I like it green. That clay one is from Guy Wolfe's pottery in Bantam CT. He is extremely knowledgable about 18th and 19th century American pottery, and this is an authentic reproduction of an asparagus grower.
I use the beehive image on cards and tags. You can get some really great vintage looking images at Etsy.com. I like these cards:
They are from ShabbyPeaDesigns on Etsy. Or you can make your own using the great graphics supplied by Antique Graphique also on Etsy:
I would love to hear about other beehive related antiques that you've found, or reproductions that look good in the garden or in the home, etc. Thanks for looking at my blog.