September 2021

The Yardley Honey Bee – Reco’s or Katharine’s?

Autobiographical Notes

One of the most iconic design features of Yardley cosmetic packaging in the 1930’s and 1940’s was the honey bee symbol, which appeared on all sorts of items, notably the Bakelite lids of jars and containers. Most historians have assumed that this charming little motif was a Reco Capey design.

bakelite bottle top with bee design bee design eye shadow and rouge bee design powder box Bee design powder compact

However, in Katharine’s immediate family, who knew her well in the post war period following her divorce, it was an accepted fact that it was Katharine’s, and not Reco’s design. Although Katharine disliked talking about this period of her life, both her brother and sister-in-law were adamant that the bee design was hers, which must have been based on information from her.

The honey bee is certainly consistent with Katharine’s love of, and interest in, the natural world, plants, animals and insects, as demonstrated in her personal work. In an article in the ‘Christian Science Monitor’ of April 1944, reviewing her work, this attention to the small things in nature is noted:

“Katharine says she actually used to... mentally stake off a square foot of grass or water and note everything that happened there during a given time. That is how such a lot of funny little things crept or flew into her paper paintings.” One honey bee image on a ‘Bond Street’ powder box is very redolent of Katharine’s style:

katharine’s little bee

It is impossible now to know whether Katharine or Reco designed the bee, but they certainly collaborated closely as designers over the period when it was first used. Perhaps Katharine drew the original honey bee, and then it was adapted by Reco for the 3D caps and lids? In any event, there is little doubt that the famous Yardley honey bee came into being largely, if not exclusively, as Katharine Bertram’s creation.