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    

Swarovski Crystal Gp Turquoise Butterfly Earrings Pendant Necklace Set BoxedBeautiful Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch J Atkins & Son Sapphire Ruby Emerald Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Earrings 3.9 Grams ButterflyGiant 107g Old Pawn Indian Mountain Turquoise Sterling Silver *butterfly* CuffDavid Yurman Sterling Silver Blue Topaz 7mm Infinity Stud Butterfly Earrings 925Antique Chinese Yellow Silk Embroidery Panel Textile W/ Bats Butterfly & Flowers 14ct Solid Gold Butterfly Pandora Charm G585 AleErhard & S 14ct Solid Gold Butterfly Pandora Charm G585 AleHuge Vintage Enamel Flower Lot Brooch Pin Earring Butterfly Figural! Jm251Retired Lladro Spain Bird And Butterfly 1300 Fine Porcelain Figurine Nr AvmGorgeous Vintage Genuine Mink Diamante Inlaid Butterfly Brooch, Boxed - Jj B19Sterling Silver - David Andersen Norway Enamel Butterfly 15g - Brooch Ma9181James Avery Sterling Silver Linked Heart Butterfly Ear Hooks Earrings Van Cleef Butterfly Bracelet 18k White Gold/turquoiseStunning Large Sterling Silver & Enamelled Butterfly Earrings Pat Cheney?New!authentic Pandora Charm Pink Morning Butterfly Dangle #791258pczVan Cleef & Arpels Diamond Coral 18k Gold Butterfly NecklaceAmazing Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver & Turquoise Butterfly Necklace Nice!!Vintage Kenneth Jay Lane "jade" Rhinestone & Enamel Butterfly/moth Insect BroochFantastic "butterfly Girl"bohemian Art Deco Vaseline Glass Car Mascot H.hoffmannLot 3 Vintage Veritable Case Xx Butterfly KnifeNew!authentic Pandora Charm Pink Morning Butterfly Dangle #791258pczAuthentic Banned Slate Notched Butterfly Indian BannerstoneVintage Solid 18k Gold Blue Sapphire Butterfly Charm $9.99Japanese Samurai Sword Wakizashi Carbonsteel Butterfly Tsuba Cotton Ito HandmadArt Deco 1920s Gatsby Era 14k Wg Onyx Diamond Butterfly Filigree Pinky Ring S3New!authentic Pandora Charm Morning Butterfly Dangle Ltd Edition #791258lcz Big Real Amethyst Citrine Peridot Cz Sterling 925 Silver Yellow Butterfly BroochKarl Ens Volkstedt Germany Hand Painted Porcelain Butterfly FigurineTiffany T& Co. 18k Yellow Gold Akoya Pearl Dangle Earrings -butterfly 18k Yellow Gold Over 1.00 Ct Vs1 F Diamonds Emerald Eyes Butterfly Pendant N130Vintage Npi Philco Color Tv Butterfly Clock Light Sign Advertising 50" LongVintage Norwegian Solid Silver & Enamel Butterfly Brooch - Hroar Prydz Brass Antique Hatpin Hat Pin 6 3/4" Butterfly Red Glass Accent Stone RhinestonesReal Very Rare! Sunburst Butterfly Fish Skeleton Taxidermy Skull Bone UnmountedSigned Oriental Japanese / Chinese Enamel Silver Vase Iris Butterfly DecorationGarnet Citrine Amethyst Petidot &cz Sterling 925 Silver 2-tone Butterfly EarringAuthentic Pandora Charm Sparkling Butterfly #791257acz Box IncludedMeissen Porcelain Hand Painted Bird & Butterfly Fruit Snake Handle Urn / Vase Purple Lalique Closed Wing Butterfly - Signed9ct Yellow Gold Oval Cut Peridot Single Stone Stud Earrings Butterfly BacksFabulouse 9ct Gold Diamond And Amythyst Butterfly Brooch..hallmarked44357# Japanese Kimono / Antique Karieba For Furisode / Flower With Butterfly~vintage~sterling~silver~"butterfly & Flower"~ornate~spoon~ring~size 8~5.3g~nr~Movado Gold Tone Black Museum Dial Lady Wrist Watch Hidden Butterfly Clasp9ct Yellow Gold Emerald Single Stone Stud Earrings Butterfly BacksJames Avery Butterfly Sterling Silver 925 Hook & Eye Bracelet 6.75in (8.3g)Large Eisenberg Original Sterling Silver Butterfly Pin W/ Crystal Wings44351# Japanese Kimono / Antique Karieba For Furisode / Butterfly With FlowerIndian Artifacts- Nice Butterfly BannerstoneBeautiful David Andersen Norway Enamel Sterling Butterfly Pin Brooch Authentic Pandora Charm Sparkling Butterfly #791257acz Box IncludedGenuine Authentic Pandora Silver Open Work Butterfly Charm 790895Genuine Pandora Purple Sparkling Butterfly Charm 791257acz *gift Set Included*Black Legion Vibrant Butterfly Trainer Unsharpend Knife Heavy Steel Liners 9" OpVb Volmer Bahner Denmark Sterling Enamel Guilloche Butterfly Necklace 15" EstateVintage David Andersen Sterling Silver Enamel Butterfly - Large - PurplesVintage Sterling Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch Norway Ex Con BlueSigned Weiss Vintage Brooch Pin Butterfly Ab Glass Rhinestone Filigree Wow! 2170