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.