Although trivial, it must be noted that the concepts of beehive design and beespace are fundamentally flawed. Many people have been accredited with designing the concept of moveable frames: Huber, Dzierzon, Langstroth, Prokopovitsch, etc. It has become generally accepted that 1 ½ inches between combs is the accepted norm between combs. The problems associated with this are that standardized measurement had not yet been accomplished and many regional variations existed.
It is commonly accepted that there are twelve lines (lignes), to an inch, and twelve inches to the foot. This is not necessarily accurate as sometimes there are only 10 or 11 lines to both the inch and the line --and the length of the foot varies greatly. Moreso it is not known whether the writers themselves relegated themselves to the common French ligne (2.256mm), or derived lignes from their regional concept of the foot. For accuracy purposes most of this will be in millimetres.
By far the most convoluted measurements lay in the works of Dzierzon. His work was written and published in Karlsmarkt, Germany in 1882. Now a part of Poland, Karlsmarkt probably would have adopted the Silesian foot –although there are two. The old Silesian foot as used in Breslau where he did the majority of his education is 283mm. When he published his work Rational Beekeeping was very much under German rule, and was in fact the province of Silesia which used a foot of 289mm. Dzierzon stated that the space between comb bars be one and a half inches. Assuming he sticks to twelfths’ we can arrive at two different conclusions.
· 1 foot = 283mm
· 1 Inch = 23.583mm
· Movable comb space = 35.375mm or 1.39272 inches ( 1 25/64 or 1 3/8 for practical purposes)
· 1 foot = 289mm
· 1 inch = 24.083mm
· Moveable comb space = 36.125mm or 1.42224 inches (1 27/64 or 1 7/16 for practical purposes)
Realistically we are only looking at 1/32 of an inch difference. However for the purposes of woodworking it is more of a 1/16th. Considering a bee being such a small creature it would seem that the conventional 1 ½ inches is quite a stretch. Dzierzon did however recognize that the comb spacing differed between the brood nest and honey storage, and advised spacing the outermost frames slightly further then 1 ½ inches.
Under the pretext of the measurements above Dzierzon stated that cells should be 5 to an inch, or 60 to a foot. Undergoing the same calculations we can derive what he understood to be cell size.
Old Silesian: 4.716mm
In terms of individual cell size this is quite a stretch between the two and even more if we were to go with our common inch (which would amount to 5.08mm).
The inventor of the self-spacing frame was another Silesian known as Julius Hoffman who coincidently acquired much of his beekeeping knowledge from Dzierzon. Hoffman later immigrated to the United States, where Dadant had adopted the use of his frames. Hoffman built his frames with a space of 1 3/8 between combs. This suggests that of the two possible measurements and his connection to Dzierzon; Dzierzon used Old Silesian for his measurements. Another case for the use of this measurement is it coincides with a cell size of 4.7mm, which was the norm in Eastern Europe around that time
“I would say our present era of problems began around 1891 in Belgium with the introduction of artificial comb foundation with 920 cells to the square decimeter which would equate to about midway between 4.6 cm and 4.7cm for 10 worker cells. The beekeepers there all adopted this size of cell.” (Lusby)
There is however a slight problem with this. Hoffman had stated in Gleanings in Bee Culture Vol.18 that “the German foot is ¼” longer than ours.” That would give us a working inch of 25.92916666666667mm. Using this data in correlation to Dzierzon’s findings we come up with a comb spacing of 38.89375mm or 1.53125 inches (1 17/32”) slightly larger than a conventional 1.5 inches. This would also achieve a cell size of 5.185833333333334mm.
This is quite the contradiction. Using Silesian measures, we can arrive at a conclusion closer to Hoffmans understanding of comb spacing; However, if we use Hoffman’s definition of the German foot we come to a conclusion radically different than that of his mentor and other contemporaries.
Huber it is more or less accepted used the common French ligne. This could be contested as the Swiss also had some regional and national difference in measurement but for the sake of argument and lack of any supporting data otherwise we shall accept this notion. The French ligne is equal to 2.2558291 mm. He had come to the conclusion that there were 15 lignes between comb.
Moveable Comb Space = 33.8374365mm or 1.33218 inches (or slightly more then 1 21/64, slightly larger than 1 5/16ths for practical purposes)
As far as the size of cell Huber had come to this conclusion:
"The diameter of worker cells is 2-2/5 lines, that of the drone cells is 3-1/3 lines; those dimensions are so fairly constant that some authors believed that they might be used as invariable patterns of measurement."--Huber's New Observations Upon Bees, Volume II, Chapter V,
This would suggest that Huber believed the cell size (of the worker) to be 5.41398984mm.
The hive invented by William Broughton Carr known as the W.B.C. Hive was a popular hive in England in the early 1900s. He had invented a rather ingenious way of overcoming the problems associated with comb spacing:
“…made from a single piece of tin….These ends remove a great objection to the use of such appliances, as they allow the beekeeper to regulated, to a certain extent, the distance of frames from each other….They are placed the usual distance, so that the frames are 1 9/20 inch from centre to centre; but if it is desired to prevent the production of drone brood the ends of every other frame are slipped back…and a distance of 1 ¼ inch from centre to centre may be maintained.” (Cowan, T.W)
At this time the English yard was slightly different then the commonly accepted American yard, which invariably affects the actual length of the inch:
American: 25.40005080555556 mm
The difference is very trivial, but for curiosity sake let’s converts to metric and see:
Expanded Frames = 1 9/20 inches = 1.45 inches
English = 36.82997180555556mm
American = 36.83007366805556mm
This creates a difference of around one ten thousandths of a millimeter. Not a practical difference for the purposes of beekeeping. It is however noteworthy that 1.45 inches was considered the “usual” comb spacing amongst English beekeepers at that time, as well as the innovative way to compress the spacing down to 1 ¼ inches to combat drone rearing –it is also worth noting that in British bee-keeper's guide book by Cowan, that a spacing of 1 ½ inches is also demonstrated.