The earliest written record of the Hoffman frame I have been able to find is from 1879. In ‘The Bee Keepers Exchange’ magazine Vol 1. No. 3 March 1879 a letter is written to the magazine by Julius Hoffman’s neighbour discussing the frame design that Hoffman is using. What’s interesting about this article is that at the time of writing, Hoffman was running different frame sizes and it was the author of the letter (Hoffman’s neighbour) that discusses the adaptation of this design to the standard Langstroth hive.
Below is transcribed (my transcription) from the Google scanned/archived version of the Cornell University magazine article. There is one minor issue with a single measurement in the transcription, but I believe it would be easy enough to deduce the measurement from drawings that are produced and published later than this article.
The attached image is the original from the article and unfortunately didn’t scan clearly. In later interactions with Julius Hoffman published in Gleanings in Bee Culture, the top bar design is credited to a beekeeper named Berlepsch. The top bar design in itself is unique, and varies from that used today.
The primary focus off the Hoffman design at this point in time was that it provided a middle ground between the argument of narrow/manually spaced frames and frames with full thickness end bars.
The original article includes three sections:
- The Hoffman Frame
- How To Make Them
- Nailing Blocks (for assembly)
The transcription is only of item 1. If you are interested in the later items, I can transcribe them when time permits.
The Hoffman Frame
Our neighbor Julius Hoffman, of Fort Plain N.Y., has a frame, like the one illustrated below, in use for several years.
The marvelous speed with which he handles his bees and the fact that he could unaided take cre of 300 or 400 colonies, led us to search for the causes. Among other reasons, we found that this frame was part of the secret. The only difference between Mr. Hoffman’s frame and the one shown in the engraving is that his frame is about 13 inches deep and 11 1/2 wide.
The frames shown above, are adapted to the Langstroth hive. The points of difference between these and the frames commonly in use are, that the top bars, are 1 11/32 in. wide for 1?? inches from each end. The intermediate parts of the frame are 7/8 inch wide. The end bars are 11/32 inches wide for 4 inches of their length, beginning at the top, the lower end being 7/8 inch wide. The points of superiority are, that the frames are exactly spaced; that no bees can get under the rabbet, hence, the frames are glued to the rabbet only on the inside; that the bees are more easily configured at the top by a sheet of duck, or enamel cloth; that the warmth which arises to the top of the chamber is considerably configured; that in handling, two, three, or even four frames can be picked up at a timel that a division board and half a dozen or frames can be pried off at one operation, thus giving room at the once to handle the desired framel that a little block or other fastening can be put at the side of the frames, and the hive transported from place to place. In fact these frames combine all the good qualities of a closed end frame with all the advantages of the loose hanging frame.
But says one, “the bees will stick the frames together,” - yes they do, but it is no objection. You notice by their construction that only a small portiion of the edges of the two frames come together, and that is at the top, where you can easily pry them apart, both because you have plenty of room to put in a knife or screw driver and because the frames can tilt together at the bottom, thus easily breaking the fastening. We made this style of frame the size of the old Quinby, two years ago and they gave such excellent satisfaction, that we made new frames and transferred all of our combs, last season. Since we use these frames, we find it very easy to put a division board in a strong colony, and thus provide place for two queens.
To work nicely, one side of the hive should be movable, or have a loose following board inside, that can be moved back a little. Suppose you want to find the queen. Remove the duck or other covers. A glance will show you the size of the cluster, and give you an idea as to where she is. With a blunt knife, pry the frames apart, just where you want to lift out the frst. Pry off the frame, and you will probably find her before the bees have time to get scared and run about.
To avoid killing bees, a little practice will enable the operator to slide the frame he puts back into the hive, after he gets it part way down, right against its neighbor. In that way the bees are pushed out of the way. We use the old Quinby frame and adapt this style to our size. By modifying the dimensions, frames can be made to fit any hive adapted to hanging frames.
The following image/drawing is from 1891 and more clearly displays the concepts of the Berlepsch top bar design integrated with the Hoffman end bar.