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The little winged workers' fans include diverse luminaries such as Shakespeare, Napoleon, Emily Dickinson, A. A. Milne, Le Corbusier, Muhammad Ali, and even Jerry Seinfeld. The Mormons and Masons revere the bee for its hard work and perseverance and adopted the beehive as a symbol. In the 19th century, bees inspired potters in Staffordshire, England, who produced decorative creamware and ironstone plates, platters, and jugs that were piled in elegant profusion on dinner tables. Bees flitted through pastoral scenes and floral designs, and occasionally an entire hive and its occupants were showcased on a pitcher or bowl. Craftsmen used the beehive shape to transform mundane honey pots into irresistible little containers of ceramic, glass, or metal.
Bees also created a buzz in glassware. Pressed glass, an affordable alternative to blown glass, was produced in a vast assortment of honeycomb patterns. The hexagonal cells captured the light and made dishes and goblets shimmer, a magical effect that entranced Victorian hostesses. In fact, the Victorians' passion for insects prompted them to accumulate all sorts of bee collectibles, including honeycomb-patterned glass perfume bottles, mosaic pins, and gilded-metal pincushions.
Some of the most plentiful and inexpensive bee-inspired objects were made in the 20th century. Glass honey jars from the turn of the 20th century come in an array of fanciful shapes and patterns. Before World War II, Japan began exporting huge quantities of cheap, colorful ceramics, including bee-adorned plates and bowls that housewives purchased in five-and-dimes to enliven their kitchen tables. Antiques stores and auctions are the best sources for rare pieces, but flea markets, garage sales, and online auction sites can yield a charming swarm.
A Prattware pot surmounted by a red crown, left, is an early-19th-century commemorative collectible; the four honeypots topped with large bees are inexpensive postwar Japanese earthenware; a stoneware one, right, dates from the 1840s. Milk glass examples, which became fashionable in Victorian times, include an early one adorned with gold bees and two from the 1950s. The creamware pot in the back, patterned to resemble straw, is from the early 20th century. The small cast-iron hive, right front, and the wooden one are coin banks.
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Bee PitcherA rare early-19th-century Prattware pitcher hand-painted with a hive and a swarm of bees.
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Bee-Guiling VasesAn assortment of pressed-glass honey jars, many with honeycomb and ribbed straw patterns, dates from the late 19th century to the 1950s. They are ideal for blossoms of honeysuckle and other summer flowers. The tall jar with a label, probably of a beekeeper, is from the 1880s; in front of it is a 1930s pressed-glass jar patterned with hexagonal cells. During the Depression, jars that could be reused as decanters or bottles were a favorite of housewives. Today, these charming containers can be found at flea markets.
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Molded Beehive PitcherA Dudson stoneware jug, circa 1860, features an unusually large and intricately molded design of a beehive and holds a bouquet of dahlias, scabiosa, and ranunculus.
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Honey JarAn American honey jar, circa 1880, has a beehive, some of its inhabitants, and the word "honey" molded into the glass.
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Gilded BeeVictorians loved insect novelties such as this one, which is actually a sewing box concealed within a gilded-metal bee and set atop a fern frond.
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Wedgewood HiveIn the early 19th century, the English firm Wedgwood produced this stoneware honey pot made to look like a beehive of bound straw; a matching teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl were offered in the same popular pattern.
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Bee PlateThe earthenware plate, hand-painted with cartoonlike bees, was made in Japan in the 1930s.
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Bee SpoonA small silver-plated spoon, which may have been part of a set of children's utensils, features a hive and bees on a textured honeycomb background, a rare design from the 1880s.
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Buzzing BankIn the 1920s, local savings institutions encouraged children to be thrifty by giving them free coin banks, such as this gilded-pot-metal hive inscribed with the bank's name.
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Ale MugAn early-19th-century Prattware ale mug is prized for its unusual hand-painted decoration.
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Bee BroochAn Italian micro-mosaic bee made of tiny filaments of colored glass decorates a Victorian button that has been made into a brooch.
13 of 15Few treats could be more appropriate for an outdoor party on a summer afternoon than a honey cake in the shape of a beehive. The cake is baked in a beehive mold, covered with a warm honey glaze, and then drizzled with a sugar glaze. Plump black-and-yellow marzipan bees are pressed onto the cake to add the final touch of charm. The luscious confection sits on a ceramic cake stand that is decorated with a circle of -- what else? -- honeybees. Get the Beehive Cake Recipe
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Garden DelightsDome-shaped skeps made of coiled or braided straw were commonly used on farms as beehives until modern methods were developed in the mid-19th century. These turn-of-the-20th-century French and American examples are placed on rustic stools and benches, much as they were by beekeepers and farmers to keep them off the ground and protect them from rodents and other honey-seeking predators. Today, bee-free skeps make eye-catching decorations recipes for a garden or porch.
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Honeycomb SettingA Victorian pressed-glass pitcher and goblets in a honeycomb pattern set a sparkling tone for lemonade served with tea sandwiches and bee spice cookies.
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