Antique and Vintage Butterflies

The colorful, teasing, fluttering insect known as the butterfly—which goes through drastic transformations over its lifetime, including a caterpillar stage and chrysalis in a cocoon—has been associated with rebirth, reincarnation, and the afterlife since before recorded history. The light, jittery motion these delicate creatures make as they pollinate flowers is also associated with the giddy feelings of falling in love.

Ancient Egyptians, as well as ancient Mesoamericans in Teotihuacan, Mexico, used butterfly symbolism in their tombs and temples. In Teotihuacan, a butterfly shown in the maw of a jaguar represented the reincarnated spirit of a dead warrior. The Japanese also thought the butterfly was the embodiment of a human's soul, living or dead. One butterfly in your room might mean your love is coming to visit, but a mass of them could be a warning of death and destruction. In China, two butterflies dancing together in the air represents love. In many cultures, when a butterfly lands on you, it is seen as good luck. Hence, butterflies have a long history of appearing as motifs in art pottery, jade carvings, screens, scroll paintings, and fine jewelry.

Collecting actual butterflies didn't become a craze until the 19th century in Europe, when the Victorians became fascinated with natural history. Then it was quite common for amateur entomologists to run around with butterfly nets and preserve their catches in display cases. While this phenomenon helped scientists with species identification, it may have also led to the extinction of certain species.

During the Victorian Era, real butterfly wings, particularly those of species with a vibrant, iridescent blue color, were also delicately hand-painted and incorporated into lockets and charms. The shimmering cobalt could represent the ocean or the twilight sky in these miniature paintings. Eventually, butterflies were also encased in clear resin as paperweights and other items.

The mysterious, shape-changing nature of the butterfly, as well its intricate and lusciously colored wings, made it the perfect subject for the Art Nouveau movement, which celebrated intricate craftsmanship and organic, flowing imagery. Art potters and glassmakers, in particular, were inspired to experiment with colorful slips, glazes, and glass colors that could achieve the effects of butterfly wings.

Vases made by glass artisans and companies such as Emile Gallé, Daum Frères, and Steuben, as well as potteries like Zsolnay, Sèvres, Massier, Rozenburg, Rookwood, Moorcroft, Minton, and Royal Doulton, depicted butterflies in luxurious colors and swirling Art Nouveau imagery. Louis Comfort Tiffany also replicated the elaborate colored scales of butterfly wings in his stained glass, while butterflies also appeared in the bronze bases of his flower lamps.

Butterfly figurines have been a common subject for glassmakers; Waterford Crystal butterflies are particularly popular. In the 20th century, American manufacturers like Fenton, Imperial, Cambridge, and Westmoreland made butterfly ornaments, ashtrays, and candleholders...

These beautiful insects also made a natural subject for jewelry, fine and costume. Butterfly brooches, pendants, and charms have been made with gemstones, rhinestones, filigree, Bakelite, enamel, shell, or incised stones designed to imitate the wonders of their wings. Hats and hairpieces have also incorporated butterfly figures, and butterfly-printed fabrics have been used in vintage clothing.

Unfortunately, the butterfly's reputation has been sullied a bit in recent years. Many conspiracy theorists insist that the monarch butterfly, which may migrate thousands of miles in its lifetime, are an example of MK-ULTRA, a covert CIA human experimentation program started in the early 1950s. Modern pop stars who've incorporated butterflies in their fashion or their videos are often said to be victims of supposed "Monarch Programming."

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Japanese Chinese Silver & Enamel Orchid Butterfly Big Brooch Pin No ReservePlatinum .75ct Vs1-g Diamond Ruby Butterfly EarringsClogau Gold Silver & Rose Gold Butterfly Pendant (large)Mother Of Pearl Inlay Jewelry Trinket Box Lacquered Flowers Butterflies DesignAntique Porcelain Figural Erotic Art Deco Butterfly Girl German Wall Pocket VaseArt Deco Silver Enamel Butterfly BroochPair Of .75cttw Diamond Stud Earrings In 14k Yellow Gold W/butterfly BacksBeautiful Vintage 14k Gold Pendant And Chain With Carved Jade ButterflyVintage 14k 2-tone Gold .75ct Diamond Butterfly Pendant On Chain Necklace.50cttw Diamond Stud Earrings In 14k Yellow Gold W/ Butterfly BacksStunning Silver And Enamel Butterfly Brooch Ja&s John Atkins And SonHuge Antique Wine Silk Embroidered & Fringed Piano Shawl - Roses & ButterfliesNew!authentic Pandora Charm Morning Butterfly Dangle Ltd Edition #791258lcz Pandora 14k Yellow Gold Butterfly Garden Charm 0.7gVtg Antique Edwardian Late Victorian Silver 800 Butterfly Insect Bug BroochVintage Native American Sterling Silver Buckle Concho Butterfly Turquoise Belt Disney-olszewski Gallery Of Light "bambi With Thumper And Butterfly" NibRetired James Avery Sterling Silver Butterfly Mariposa Earrings Jumbo! Natural! Emerald,tanzanite,tsavorite Sterling 925 Silver Butterfly BroochGenuine Authentic Pandora Purple Sparkling Butterfly Charm 791257aczAn Unusual Art Deco Era Silver Iridescent Butterfly Wing & Lily Design Brooch.English Platinum 1.9 Carat Diamond Butterfly Dangle Drop Earrings S1 / GVintage Zuni Sterling Silver Turquoise, Coral, Onyx Inlay Butterfly Brooch Pin Stunning Marius Hammer Silver Enamel Art Deco Large Butterfly Brooch Old Pawn Sterling Silver Turquoise Butterfly Native American Pin Turquoise N43Joan Rivers 1st In The Crystal Critters Series "art Deco Butterfly" Pin BroochAntique 19th C Canton Silk Piano Shawl Stole Embroidered Flowers ButterfliesSherman Costume Jewelry & Box Brooch Necklace Bracelet 6 Pieces Plus ButterflyVintage Norwegian Silver Enamel Butterfly BroochHuge Lot,100 +,vintage,butterfly Brooch Lot,rhinestone,enamel,crystal,germany,nrNew!! Authentic Pandora Charm Purple Morning Butterfly Dangle #791258acz2 ~ Antique Gorham Sterling Silver Butterfly Master Salt Cellars Set RareUnusual Arts & Crafts Nouveau Liberty Co Tudric Pewter Box With Butterflies 083Old Chinese Fan Shape Painting - Butterflies And FlowersPandora 14k Yellow Gols Butterfly Garden Charm925 Hroar Prydz Norway Guilloche Yellow & Blue Butterfly Pin #280 #sparklesale Vintage Art Deco Real Butterfly Wing Framed Picture Japanese Lady With LanternsSterling Silver - Volmer Bahner Denmark Menamel Butterfly 3.4g - Brooch Le9161Estate 0.10ct Natural Diamond W/ Jade 10k Gold Butterfly Earrings G360 See VideoKirk’s Folly Saphaedra Butterfly Goddess Magnetic Enhancer & NecklaceSpectacular Ruby & Diamond Butterfly Gold/silver BroochModern 16.70ct Diamond Amethyst 18k Gold Butterfly Dangle Earrings 9.9 Grams NrLladro Spain A Moment's Rest Butterfly 6173 Hand Painted Porcelain Figurine Rbm Antique Victorian Brides Bowl Basket Cased Glass Webb Enamel Flowers ButterfliesHerend Hungarian Porcelain - Hand Painted Bird & Butterfly Cabinet Cup & SaucerAntique Microscope Slide. Charles Bourgogne. Dissected "trophi" Of ButterflyAntique 1920’s Art Deco Chinese Rug Runner 8’ 10’’ X 3’ 1.5’’ Birds Butterflies Bear & Son United Cutlery Butterfly Knife 4.5" Green Die Cast Metal Handles UsaMint Disney Pins Tinkerbell Spring With Butterflies Le 100 Pin JumboBohemian Art Deco Glass Car Mascot Hood Ornament Butterfly Design H.hoffmannVintage 22" Ceramic Pink Christmas Tree Snow W/misic Box Butterflies Birds BulbsGenuine New Pandora Sparkling Butterfly S925 Ale Sterling Silver CharmSterling Silver - Volmer Bahner Denmark Menamel Butterfly 3.7g - Brooch Le9101Vintage Gold Butterfly Pyrex Lasagna/cake Pan DishRare Aynsley Art Deco Butterfly Handle Cup And Saucer Fine Old Chinese Silk Robe Jacket With Flowers And Butterflies10k Solid Gold Diamond Ruby Butterfly Flying Pendant Necklace NrOld Fenton Blue Panther Carnival Glass Sauce Bowl Pretty! Butterfly & Berry ExtOld Chinese / Korean ? Oriental 100 Butterfly Celadon Vase Hand Painted Asian Solid Silver Miniature Perfume Bottle Chatelaine Pendant & Chain Butterfly