The British Bee Hive

One of the last copper plate etchings George Cruikshank completed was this taxonomy of British society in the form of a beehive. Originally drawn in 1840, Cruikshank did not etch the design until February 1867, self-publishing the print in March of the same year. Graphic arts holds not only the original copper plate but also one of Cruikshank’s first pencil sketches for the print.

According to George Reid, the print “represents English society as it exists, and the folly of interfering with such a noble structure by means of Parliamentary Reform. The section displays fifty-four ‘cells,’ with each class and trade represented, from the royal family to the omnibus conductor, and having for a foundation the army, the navy, and the volunteers; surmounted by the crown, with the royal standard on one side, and the union jack on the other.” If you look closely, you will find book sellers in the middle left section.

Cohn notes that the print was sold by William Tweedie for one pound, uncolored. It was subsequently issued printed on a double sheet of letterpress, entitled A Penny Political Picture for the People.

George Cruikshank (1792-1878), The British Bee Hive [Preliminary sketch], 1840. Cohn 957. Pencil on paper. Graphic Arts, Cruikshank collection.

George Cruikshank (1792-1878), The British Bee Hive [copper plate], 1867. Cohn 957. Signed and dated in plate, l.r.: ‘Designed in the // year 1840 by // George Cruikshank // and altered & etched by him // in Febr. 1867 - & pubd. In March/67.’ Graphic Arts GA 2009.01179