Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What a Sweet Idea

QUESTION: My mother collected honey pots almost all of her adult life. When she died, she had over 200 of them. Now I have her collection. And while many of them are fun to look at, I know very little about them. What can you tell me about my honey pots? How did they get started and what can I do to maintain and continue my mother’s collection.

ANSWER: First, it’s great to hear that you want to continue collecting honey pots. Too many people inherit collections from their parents, only to sell them off or leave them to collect dust in their attic. Continuing a collection is a great idea, but you need to know something about the items you’re collecting.

People use honey pots to hold the sweet viscid material produced from the nectar of flowers in the honey sac of bees. Bees, beekeepers and honey have been documented since ancient times. One of the more interesting discoveries made by archeologists in the tombs of Egyptian kings was containers of honey. Considered the golden liquor of the ancient gods, two honey pots pulled from New Kingdom tombs, dating from 1400 BC, still had their contents intact. And the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses III made sure he was in good with the Nile gods by offering them 15 tons of honey.

Honey is one of nature's great miracles. In fact, honey discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs is still edible today. Since bees depend on honey for substance during the winter, they need to create something that will last a long time.

While the most popular form of honey pot is the skep-shaped pottery, honey pots can be found in numerous shapes and sizes. The pots can be found in rectangular, round and box shape. Most collections include a myriad of designs, colors and patterns from many different countries. The United States, France, Germany, England, The Netherlands, Spain, Scotland, Norway, Japan and Ireland are some of the countries represented in many collections.

Although rare pots sell for as high as $1,000, many vintage ones can be found at flea markets or antique malls. The most expensive pots have back stamps by potteries such as Irish Belleek, Limoges, English Moorcroft, Spode, Wegdwood, Royal Winton, and Noritake. Several leading companies represent the United States, including Lenox, Cambridge, Fostoria, Westmoreland, and Imperial Glass. The Indiana Glass Worlds produced a red honey dish in the late 19th century designed to hold one piece of honeycomb. The dish design contains four beehives and 40 bees. The Indiana Glass Works later produced a replica of the same piece.

In countries around the Mediterranean, potterers inscribed the word “Miel” or “Mel” or “Miele” on their pots. England and Germany have a rich tradition of beautifully decorated honey pots. However, in Holland, people didn’t make very much of setting an elaborate table with a separate piece of matching china for each category of food. So, honey was kept in very simple pots covered with cork or parchment paper. In the 1950's the Dutch honey firm Mellon a issued some very nice white pots with a brown lid, a honey pot made of glass and a honey pot in the shape of a bee.

Pots can also tell a lot about other cultures. Scandinavian pots are very modem, English pots are richly decorated, American ones have bears on them, as do Russian pots. Southern European honey pots are mostly made in the form of a Grecian amphora.

The stinger in collecting honey pots is trying to find all the pieces intact—the pot, lid, spoon, and under plate. The weakest part of any honey pot is the bee’s wings. Before you buy a honey pot for your collection, be sure to check for chips, restorations, an in particular, re-glued wings. Only be tempted to buy such pots if they’re inexpensive or exceptional.

Ping the base of a pot with your fingers. You should hear a ringing sound. A thud, or muffled sound should immediately arouse suspicion, as there may well be invisible cracks.

Check that the pot has the correct lid. Flea market dealers, in particular, often match lids with the wrong base, whether on purpose or not. Slight variations in glaze color between the lid and the base can be normal.

If any of the pots you purchase contain honey, empty them as soon as possible. Honey can sometimes stain them or leak from under the lid.

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