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    

Tiffany Studios Butterfly Enamel Favrile Glass Damascene Shade LampLarge Vintage 14k Yellow Gold Green Jade & Pearls Butterfly PinTrifari Enchantress Pink & Green Glass Cabochon Butterfly Pin Set W/ Tags!David Andersen Norwegian Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch Navajo Herman Smith Butterfly Pin/pendant W/turquoise & CoralGeorg Jensen Vintage Denmark Sterling Silver Butterfly Brooch PinAntique Silver Enamel Butterfly BroochBeautiful Pair Of Lalique Art Glass Butterflies - Both Signed Lalique / FranceFour Superb Sterling Silver Enamel Art Nouveau Design Butterflies .Victorian 9ct & Opal,ruby And Seed Pearl Butterfly Brooch Beautiful Unique RareAuthentic Pandora Charm Sparkling Butterfly #791257acz Box IncludedVintage Sterling Silver Butterfly Wing BroochSherman Sapphire & Peacock Blue - .75" Wide Butterfly Motif Bracelet NrAntique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Butterfly Floral Decorated Brush PotVintage Antique Western Handmade Marked Spurs With Butterfly RowelsAntique Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch Pin Ja&s John Atkin & Son 1918 Large SizeVintage Enamel Flower Brooch Pin Lot Daisy Metallic Rhinestone Butterfly Wow Jr5Sterling Silver - Hans Myhre Norway Enamel Butterfly 3.7g - Brooch Ds8321Pr Chinese Export Green Cloisonne Enamel Flower Butterfly Vases W Wood Stand Mth10ct Yellow Gold Pearl Kiss Stud Earrings 10ct Gold Butterfly BacksAntique Chelsea Ships Clock Butterfly Key~3.4mm~military IssuePretty Art Deco Sterling Silver Butterfly Wing Pendant/bracelet *no Reserve* Antique Nippon Tall Covered Urn Vase Heavy Gold Beaded Butterflies Tiffany & Co 925 Sterling Silver Butterfly Pendant With Silver 18" Chain Modern 14k Gold Butterfly Earrings NrAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver Sparkling Butterfly BeadRare Pandora Bead 925/ale Sparkling Butterfly Charm No 791257aczDavid Yurman Sterling Silver Black Onyx 7mm Infinity Stud Butterfly Earrings 925 14ct Solid Gold Butterfly Pandora Charm G585 AleSigned David Andersen Norway Sterling Silver 925 Enamel Guilloche Butterfly Pin Antique Chester Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch1910 Sterling Silver C.h Charles Horner Butterfly Enamel Insect PendantNew!! Authentic Pandora Charm Purple Morning Butterfly Dangle #791258aczLarry Begay Vintage Navajo Stamped Sterling Silver Opal Butterfly Pin Brooch J E18thc New Hall Tea Bowl & Saucer Pattern 421 'boy Chasing Butterfly - Circa 1790Perthshire 1995f Faceted Double Overlay Bouquet And Butterflies, L/e #40/300Coca-cola Aluminium Bottle 'butterfly' UnreleasedEstate Diamond 2.80ct Green Tourmaline 18k Gold Butterfly Pendant NrNew!! Authentic Pandora Charm Purple Morning Butterfly Dangle #791258aczArt Deco Silver & Enamel Butterfly Brooch Zombie Killer Blood Spatter Horde Butterfly Trainer Flipper Practice KnifeEstate $2775 14k Yellow Gold Natural Ruby And Diamond Butterfly RingJames Avery 14k Yellow Gold Spring Butterfly EarringsYellow& Pink Dahlia Flower With Chestnut Tiger Butterfly-satake Glass Round BeadLot Of 4 Vintage Turquoise Cuff Bracelets Butterfly 1 Sterling Silver Vintage Silver Green Enamel Butterfly BroochNice 18thc Chinese Famille Rose Jar Vase Flowers & ButterflyWoody Crumbo Vintage Etching - 'deer And Butterfly' Signed In Pencil By ArtistVintage Silver Butterfly Amethyst Turquoise Coral Matl Style Necklace MexicoVintage Pyrex Butterfly Gold #664 4 Qt. Covered Casserole / Dutch Oven / RoasterChinese Porcelain Vase X 2 Celadon Glaze Famille Rose Birds & Butterflies 19thc?Vintage High Quality Scatter Pin Brooch Lot Rhinestone Flower Star Butterfly Jr6Genuine Pandora Butterfly Glass Bead CharmJames Avery Sterling Butterfly Dangle Earrings RareKirks Folly Forever Free Butterfly Cord Necklace Kirks Folly Forever Free Butterfly Cord Necklace Authentic Pandora Sterling Silver Pink Morning Butterfly Dangle Charm 791258pczOld? Cast Iron Garden Bench Frame Hunting Dog Birds Butterflies Ferns & FlowersSterling Silver - Magnus Aase Norway Enamel Butterfly 3.7g - Brooch Gc2831Dominique Dinouart Limited Edition Sterling Turquoise Butterfly Cuff Bracelet