Sweet Relics of the Past

South Dakota collection includes vintage beekeeping equipment.

  • “The Beekeepers” by Peter Bruegel the Elder, circa 1568.
    Illustration by Peter Bruegel the Elder
  • Among the vintage beekeeping items found at Jim Lacey’s museum is this wooden box. Boxes like these were used in the early 1900s to ship live bees to beekeepers across the U.S.
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen
  • View of an antique Root Cowan honey extractor on display at Little Village Farm.
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen
  • A wide variety of smoking equipment was used to calm bees during moves or honey extraction. These two smokers are on display at Little Village Farm.
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen

The hobby of beekeeping is enjoying a resurgence today. It is a reminder of the era when farmsteads were diversified operations, producing almost everything a farm family needed to survive. Livestock, poultry, garden, orchard and hive were carefully tended to Vintage beekeeping equipment is scarce today, and many collectors have little knowledge of the category. Collector Jim Lacey is an exception. Jim has a few beekeeping accessories tucked away in the vast collection he and his wife, Joan, have amassed in their Little Village Farm museum near Dell Rapids, South Dakota.

“These pieces were given to us by neighbors and friends,” he says. “Most people who come through our museum use honey and find these pieces very intriguing.”

Common 19th-century beekeeping accessories include 1-pound honey storage sections, veils, protective suits and wax extractors. Jim’s collectibles range from a wooden box used to mail live bees to customers to a 5-gallon honey extractor made of tin. He also has a smoker, a knife that was heated for use in capping honeycombs, and tin containers used for honey storage.

The honey extractor, about the size of a 50-gallon barrel, originally belonged to L.G. Elsinger, the father of one of Jim’s friends. Before it was donated to Jim’s museum, the extractor was owned by one of Elsinger’s sons. After that, it went to Blue Cloud Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in South Dakota, where it was put to work once again.

“When the abbey closed in 2012, the extractor came back to my friend, Gerald Elsinger,” Jim says. “It’s now here on pretty much a permanent loan from Gerald.”

Honey extractors were used to extract honey from the comb without damaging the comb. Driven by centrifugal force, a frame basket within a drum spins, flinging honey onto the walls of the receptacle. After the honey is extracted, the comb can be reused in the frame.


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