Mike Terry’s “BEE-u-tiful” Honey Pail Collection

 by Randy Goudeseune.

Mike Terry can do a lot of things…and does them very well.  He’s a body shop repair man with his own business. He collects old pedal cars and restores them to their former glory.  He also collects honey pails…and when you see them in a group, they are quite “bee-utiful”  and very interesting.


Mike got started almost twenty years ago, when he discovered two honey tins with his great grandfather’s name on the  label, and  then found another one with his grandfather’s name on it; Thomas Nevil  and George Nevil . There is evidence on the lid of Thomas Nevil‘s honey pail that it was used for more than honey. It seems Great Grandpa also used it as a ‘worm bucket“ to go fishing with and had punched a few holes in the top for air circulation.


Terry came to find out his great grandparents and  grandparents had apiaries in the area. In his search for more of his ancestor’s honey pails, he started to buy other  interesting honey tins from Ontario and  surrounding areas. They are very colorful and  make a very attractive display, with  an interesting history.


Great Grandpa, Thomas Nevil,  who was a bee keeper and  sold honey in the R R #5 Aylmer area did so for many year until he passed away in 1933.  Grandpa George Nevill  Thomas’s  son, carried on the business until he passed way in 1974.


It wasn’t surprising that  those  two honey tins  started  Terry on his quest for more tins which he finds at local antique markets, antique shows and also at local auctions.  Good honey tins in excellent shape with coloured  graphics can run from $20 to $30 for average tins, to  $80 and all the way up to $400 for the highly desirable or rare items. Many tins have graphics of bees, or bee hives in the shape of “skeps” that were made of wheat straw  and woven into a bee house. One brand of honey tins has graphics of rocket ships on it. I don’t know what rocket ships and bees have in common , but it sure grabs your attention.


Some of the older tins are from Clover Honey, “Brown Bear“ brand. Many are marked with a patent date  of 1922.  Another example was “Pride Of Ontario,” made in Brantford, with a design date marked 1910 .


The first honey containers where made of stoneware. Stoneware crocks were used between 1800s to the early 1920s. The farmer selling his honey  would just paste a paper label on the crock for advertisement.  In the early 1900s the tin pail was developed with a lid that sealed tightly and a nice bale handle to carry it with. It was around this time you started to see colour and  graphics on the tins, with the beekeeper’s name on the front panel. To help determine the dates on tins remember that if you don’t see  a patent date you can tell a tin from 1937 and after by the weight marked on it. Honey was sold  in two, four and eight  pound weights.  Also, from 1915 to the early 1950s all designs came in two main colors; blue, or shades of blue,  stood for light colored honey. Red, and shades of red,  meant the contents were a dark honey.  Metal pails or tins could be cleaned and refilled for years.  Modern plastic containers are a reflection of our throw-away society.


Starting a collection honey tins often creates interest in the history of beekeeping and  farming.  The practice of beekeeping  was unheard of on the North American continent before the coming of the Europeans.  It  seems that when the settlers from Europe came over,  it is thought the Dutch/German  immigrants brought over some of their bees, a somewhat agressive  dark black  bee. Queen bees were later imported from Italy, a lighter coloured bee with a less aggressive nature, which is more the type of domestic honey bee we have now. It  is said  that our Native American indigenous people would see a honey bee and called it the “white man’s fly “ and they could tell  that settlers were nearby.  The First Nations people  looked upon the honey bee as the harbingers of misfortune.


One of our earliest references to domestic  beekeeping in Ontario was from the Bay Of Quinte area in 1880. Beekeeping was likely brought there by the first Empire Loyalist settlers who came there from the Niagara area in the late 1780s.  Mr. Losee, an old-time beekeeper from the Coburg area, reported as early as the 1830s that  bees, both wild and domesticated, were plentiful in  Prince Edward County.  “The  Canada  Farmer“ publication of 1864 was the first farm paper to carry articles on “apiculture  (beekeeping) and the industry developed from that period.


Beekeeping can be difficult, especially since bees can contact many diseases that can wipe them out.  With  the formation of The Ontario Beekeepers Association, as early as 1882 they met to discuss the prevention and treatment  of “ American Foulbrood“  (AFB ).  AFB has been a problem for a long time and is the most serious and damaging brood disease of honey bees. This disease is caused by a spore forming bacteria “Paenibacillus larvae,” specific to honey bees. It is highly contagious and will weaken, and in most cases kill, a honey bee colony.


Also “tracheal mites “ can be a problem for bee hives, and has been a problem since the 1980s. It was wide spread in the USA and eventually started to spread into Ontario. With research in alternative chemicals  the mites have been dealt with and have been almost unheard of since 2004.


The current  threat is  “neonictinoids” a class of pesticides that have been approved in agriculture in Canada and around the world.  It’s used as  an insecticide coating on seeds and has been approved for human consumption, but it is believed to be harming the bee population. When the bee pollinates the flowers of corn, soybeans and other cash crops, it ingests this insecticide, which weakens the bee, possibly causing it to die.


Our harsh winters can also be blamed for the decline in our bee populations, as well as many other factors  that are hard on our little pollinators.


If I’ve peaked your interest with this brief history of honey bees and   honey pails and  you want to see some of Terry’s collections be sure to visit his annual “Pickers Swap Meet” show  held in Belmont on August 25th. (See ad page 23) You’ll see Terry and 40 of his dealer  friends all set up for this one day  show featuring really neat collectibles, car and service station signs, related gas pumps  antique toys, general store items and lots more … and  who knows, maybe  Terry might  sell the odd ‘double‘ honey pail from  his collection. Whatever  the day brings, Terry is always on the hunt for another honey tin to add his collection.