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    

Platinum Elegant High Fashion 1.11ct Vs1/f Diamond Butterfly BroochStunning Silver And Enamel Butterfly Brooch Ja&s John Atkins And SonRare Antique W&t Avery Patent 301 Gilt Metal Butterfly Needle Case & ContentsStunning Large Silver And Enamel Butterfly Brooch Ja&s John Atkins And SonCw 18k Wg Beautiful .75ct Diamond Designer Butterfly Pendant On Chain NecklaceKurt Wayne Heavy 18k 1.70ct Vs/f Diamond Emerald Ruby Sapphire Butterfly RingLarge David Andersen Norway Enamel Sterling Butterfly Pin BroochBeautiful David Andersen Norway Enamel Sterling Butterfly Pin Brooch Large Vintage Norway Aksel Holmsen Enamel Sterling Butterfly Pin BroochPretty Antique Silver Enamel And Paste Butterfly Brooch, Chester 1902Vintage 14k Gold Lovely .08ct Diamond Enamel Butterfly Pendant Designer NecklaceBohemian Art Deco Glass Car Mascot Hood Ornament Butterfly Design H.hoffmannAlex And Ani Charity By Design Silver Butterfly NewDe Tayler Entomological Pins Specimen Butterfly Insects Entomology TaxidermyLarge Ivar Holth (holt) Sterling Enamel Norway Butterfly Pin BroochBeautiful Antique Bohemian Red Garnet Art Nouveau Butterfly Pin C.1900Authentic Pandora Charm Sparkling Butterfly #791257acz Box IncludedJames Avery 9pc Charm Lot 15.5g 14k Gold Butterfly Frog Cross Prayer Texas A&m Magnificent Black & Gold Norway Sterling Butterfly Pin Brooch - HjortdahlFrank Lloyd Wright Arts & Crafts Butterfly Shade. Truly Rare Item!David Yurman Sterling Silver Blue Topaz 7mm Infinity Stud Butterfly Earrings 925Grandmas Gingham Fine Vintage Denim & Barn Red Squares Butterfly Cotton QuiltDavid Yurman Sterling Silver Black Onyx 7mm Infinity Stud Butterfly Earrings 925Pretty Pair 19thc Victorian Bristol Glass Enamelled Butterfly Mantle Roses VasesPyrex Butterfly Gold Lasagna / Roaster PanSet 4 Vintage Pyrex Butterfly Gold Cinderella Nesting Mixing Bowls Box 440-4 Norway Vintage Sterling Silver Blue Enameled Butterfly Brooch Pin Signed 5gr NrLovely Antique Art Nouveau Copper Picture Photo Frame - Butterflies - 6 Inches Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver Small Butterfly Necklace Chain & Pendant 17"Unusual Vintage Art Deco Butterfly Wing Picture Koala BearsSterling Silver James Avery Butterfly Pin Abp Intaglio Engraved Butterfly American Brilliant Cut Glass 20"1/2 Tall Lamp,nrJumo Very Rare Real Multigems Sterling 925 Silver Butterfly,floral Ring Handmade1972 Photograph Pin Up Young Goldie Hawn Hippie Free Spirit Butterflies Are FreeVintage 1910s Avant Garde Theatre Photograph The Butterfly & The Orchid Dance NrGenuine Art Deco 800 Silver Filigree Butterfly Brooches All Good ConditionVintage Navajo Dead Pawn Sterling Silver & Red Coral Butterfly Brooch/pin Lladro #1850 Fairy Of The ButterfliesJay Strongwater Bejeweled Butterfly Decorated Egg On Stand SignedJames Avery Sterling Silver Mariposa Butterfly Ring Size 7Authentic Pandora Love Takes Flight Butterfly Cz CharmVictorian Butterfly Caterpillar Moving Glass Magic Lantern Slide Watkins & HillVtg Arne Nordlie Blue Guilloche Enamel Silver Butterfly Brooch Pin 830 NorwayStunning Antique Art Nouveau Pewter & Enamel Large Butterfly Necklace C1900!!Paden City Crow's Foot Silver Overlay Tray Blue With Butterfly And FlowersJames Avery 14k Yellow Gold Spring Butterfly EarringsStanley Hagler Gorgeous Butterfly Garden Rhinestone Glass Bead PinSilver Butterfly Wing Picture RingRare Antique 19thc Canton Enamel Bowl - Cabbage Leaf And ButterflyFenton Art Glass Butterfly Light Green Flowers Hand-painted - New RareJay Strongwater Bejeweled Iris & Butterfly Figurine #sdh1040456 Orig. $595Kirks Folly On The Wings Of Love Butterfly Christmas Tree Pin /enhancerAntique Pair Wedgwood (only) Majolica Butterfly Bumble Bee Plates Bamboo PrunusOld Pawn Sterling Navajo Cast Turquoise Butterfly Bracelet - Signed !! MjKirks Folly Butterfly Kisses Sparkle Leverback Earrings Antique Chinese Embroidered Flowers Butterflies Silk RobeFenton Art Glass Peach Marigold Carnival Hp Butterfly On Pedestal #5271 R4Herend Queen Victoria Hand Painted Butterfly Fine Porcelain 10" Dinner Plate #8Jiku3072 Jcmc China Big Scroll Flower & ButterflyJoan Rivers Multi Colored Pave Rhinestone Butterfly Brooch