This article is excerpted from The Chronicle, Volume X, December 1957
An exhibit of old-time beekeeping equipment i now open to the public at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. This collection of old and rare beehives and apiculturist’s tools is being sponsored by the Vermont Beekeeper Association in cooperation with the Museum. Fifty-five different item are now on display. These have been donated to the Museum by 15 beekeepers, ex-beekeepers, and friend of the association. More item are being added continually. They are being housed in the west end of the “Red shed” where a room has been especially prepared for this collection.
Among the items on display are various type of beehives, bee feeders, smokers, bee-hunting boxes, honey extracting equipment, and equipment for the manufacture of sheets of honeycomb foundation wax. There is also a horse-type section press for assembling comb honey boxes. This is operated by a foot pedal which lowers a press onto the partially assembled honey box. The pressure forces the dovetailed ends together and squares up the corners.
The collection of beehives hows the development of this item from the European type straw skep to the modern movable frame hive. It includes several types of box hive , including one which had a door in the rear and a hinged bottom board. Opening the door reveals a glassed-in brood chamber and an upper compartment for surplus honey boxes. The glass in the rear of the brood chamber enabled the apiarist to observe the bee as they worked. This was the forerunner of our modern observation hives. The hinged bottom board allowed the size of hive entrances to be adjusted and also enabled the beekeeper to open up the hive bottom for removing the honeycomb from the brood chamber. The earliest type of box hive was a imply constructed box which made no provision for taking off surplus honey without destroying the bees. To remove honey from this hive it was first necessary to kill the bees with sulfur fumes. The honey comb was then cut from the hive. A later development was a separate compartment in the upper part of the hive into which boxes for surplus honey could be inserted. Bees could pass to these boxes through holes or slots in the bottom of the boxes and corresponding holes in the bottom of the compartment.
The next step forward was the development and invention of the “movable-frame” hive by the Rev. L. L. Langstroth of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1851. This invention made it possible to remove individual comb from the hive for inspection of brood or removal of surplus honey. One of the Langstroth Simplicity Hives with a portico is included in the collection.
An American Bee Hive, patented November 24, 1863 and October 10, 1865 is also included in the Museum’s collection. This is a movable-frame hive with a glass and door in the rear and a removable side heId in place by four hooks and eyes.
A special type of movable-frame hive was invented and used by Augustin E. Mannum of Bristol, Vermont around 1879. The museum has one of these “Bristol” hives together with its winter packing case and comb honey super.
The assortment of bee feeders includes several types of wooden trough-type feeler , a salt-box type, and a division board feeder for Mannum’s “Bristol” beehive.
The bee smoker collection consists of a Clark Coldblast Smoker (in use around 1890), and three type of the Bingham Smoker (in use during the same period and later).
The complete outfit for making honeycomb foundation wax was formerly used by Lavius Thompson of Weybridge, Vermont around 1885. With it he turned out prize-winning sheets of foundation for himself and neighboring beekeepers. This outfit consists of a tank for melting beeswax, a dipping-board for forming sheets of wax, and a Vandervort Foundation Mill. The wax melting tank consists of an inner tank for the wax and an outer tank for hot water which helped to keep the wax at the desired temperature. This tank was heated over a small stove. The dipping-board is a tapered board 4-1/4″ x 24” with cleats at the large end which permit it to be hung up. This size is for making surplus honey foundation. When forming sheets of wax, the board was first moistened with water, then dipped into the melted beeswax. It was then hung up to allow the wax to harden. This process was repeated until the desired thickness was obtained. After thoroughly cooling, a sheet of wax could be peeled off each side of the board. The sheet of wax was then run between the rollers of the foundation mill. These roller embossed the halves of the honeycomb cells in the sheet of wax. Use of this foundation saved the bees some work and produced the straight combs which were necessary for their easy removal from the hive.
A modern observation beehive containing a single comb with bee and queen adds interest to the exhibit. A wooden tunnel leading to a knothole in the wall provides an exit for the bees. In this hive, which has glass ides, may be seen the queen bee, the male bee or drones, and the worker bee which are underdeveloped females. The queen is marked by a spot of white paint on her back which makes her identification easier. The observer can watch the queen lay eggs and see the young bees in various stages of development. The storage of nectar and pollen as well as the feeding of young bees is also seen. One may watch the “honey-dance” by which one bee tells the other the direction and distance to a new source of nectar. This observation hive shows what goes on inside a hive. A modern beehive hold ten combs of the type seen here.
Enoch Tompkins of Burlington and Robert Mead of White River Junction are members of the Museum Committee of the Vermont Beekeepers Association. They have been collecting the various items which are on display at the Museum.
The association solicits contributions to the collection and anyone having equipment, books, magazines, etc. to donate may get in touch with one of the Committeemen or take it directly to the Shelburne Museum. A card is attached to each item which shows who gave it and other pertinent information concerning the article. A letter of acknowledgement is sent by the Museum to each donor.
Editor’s note: I tried to find out if the above beekeeping equipment is still on display at the Shelburne, but was unable to find a mention on the museum’s website. But the website is worth checking out – as is the museum itself when we’re back to traveling.