Antique and Vintage Dragonflies

The dragonfly’s ability to move in all six directions during flight, as well as its sparkling, bejeweled tones, have inspired magical associations on all continents. Lakota mythology includes a “Whirlwind” god in the form of a dragonfly, who was worshipped for assisting the tribe in deceiving enemies. Other Native American cultures thought of the dragonfly as an omen of good health; for the Zuni people, killing a dragonfly was actually punishable. The insects were also painted onto Native American pottery or sewn into beadwork on ritual objects.

In Medieval Europe, the dragonfly was referred to as the “devil’s darning needle,” “water witch,” or “snake killer,” nicknames expressing fears of the insect's alleged connection to the supernatural world. The "devil’s needle" moniker migrated to the United States with early European settlers, and has imbued regional folklore with colorful images of the creatures sewing up profane mouths or idle fingers.

The insect became linked with triumph and courage in Japan, where one of the words for dragonfly, “shoryo,” closely resembles the word for victory, “shouri.” The animal’s shape was used in designs for samurai accessories and weaponry, and legend says that one Japanese emperor even temporarily changed the country’s name to Akitsushima, translating to “Isle of the Dragonfly.”

In the 1850s, Japan finally ended centuries of isolationism and opened its borders to trade, sparking an exciting exchange of products and ideas. The International Expositions in Paris during 1867 and 1878 further highlighted the Western world’s newfound fascination with Asian-inspired imagery. The exhibitions showcased artwork like Emile Gallé’s delicate glass vase depicting a dragonfly passing over the folds of a paper fan.

The dragonfly’s complex wing pattern lent itself perfectly to the developing Art Nouveau movement, which emphasized intricate craft design and natural motifs. As the style enveloped the applied arts, dragonflies appeared everywhere—floating in paperweights and amid porcelain patterns, dangling from earrings and pendants, and decorating vases and lamp shades.

By the turn of the century, well-established glass and jewelry designers had incorporated dragonflies into their pieces, as with Baccarat’s dragonfly-shaped cut-glass dish from 1904. The same year, French magazine “Art et Décoration” held a competition for handmade product designs featuring the dragonfly, with entries ranging from an enameled metal belt buckle to ornamental lacework.

French glass and jewelry maker René Lalique often infused his work with repeating images of dragonflies, creating an elegant natural geometry, as seen on his enameled damselfly necklace from 1905. The pendant is made from four crisscrossed dragonflies clustering around a central cabochon, with a single teardrop hanging from their tails. One of Lalique’s most incredible pieces of wearable art is a dragonfly corsage ornament from 1897, with enameled and diamond-set wings, oversized dragon claws, and a head formed from the bust of a woman...

Possibly the most famous dragonfly motif was created by artist Clara Driscoll who worked in the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Driscoll’s dragonfly lamp features a repeating pattern of dragonflies placed wingtip to wingtip on its stained glass shade, and was mounted on a variety of stamped bronze or mosaic bases. Color schemes varied according to the craftsperson assembling the piece, with minute glass pieces making up every detail in the dragonfly’s wings. The Tiffany dragonfly lamp received top recognition at its debut in the Paris International Exposition of 1900, just as the Art Nouveau style was reaching its peak.

Dragonfly imagery continued to be widely used in the decorative arts throughout the 1920s, when the transition to abstracted, sleek modernist forms of Art Deco began. However, the mysterious insects are still popular today, especially for subjects on costume jewelry, decorative art glass, and Asian-influenced pottery.

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 Amplion Speaker Dragonfly Ar61 + Horn Joint By Alfred Graham Co. - WorkingAntique Fine Natural Ruby Rose Cut Diamond 14k Gold Bug Dragonfly Pin PendantTrio Of Dragonfly Gemstone Brooches Inc. Sterling Silver, Marcasite - V16 H39Huge Job Lot Vintage Butterfly & Dragonfly Rhinestone, Enamel Brooch / Pins 50+1983 Gijoe "dragonfly" Lot With "wild Bill And Footloose"Navajo Silver And Turquoise Dragonfly BraceletRaymarine Dragonfly 4 Pro Gold Combo Navionics LakAntique Art Nouveau Deco French Silver Paste Rhinestones Dragonfly Pin BroochSuperb Japanese Edo 18-19th C Samurai Antique Kozuka "dragonfly" Sword FittingVintage Wooden Kaleidoscope Dragonfly Van Cort Optical Toy ViewerAudioquest Dragonfly 1.2James Avery Dragonfly Finial W/ Orange Floral Charm Pendant .925 Sterling SilverSterling Silver Jewelry Brooch Pin Pendant Dragonfly Blue Stone Body MarcasiteHuge Lot 140 Plus Littlest Pet Shop Animals Dachsund Dog Cat Turtle Dragonfly MoVintage Sterling Silver 925 Mexico Dimensional Dragonfly Ladies Pin 12.9gSale Quilt Top: Midnight DragonflyHeidi Daus Flower Garden/dragonflies Crystal Necklace "as Is: ItemVintage Hand Made Sterling Silver Brooch Dragonfly Flying Bug Turquoise JewelryVintage B&g Bing & Grondahl Dragonfly On Lily Pad Small Pin Dish TrayEberlestock J107 Dragonfly Pack - BrushDiana Gabaldon 1st Dell Pb Ed / Print Lot: Outlander Dragonfly In Amber VoyagerVintage Jewelery Adorable Amethyst Rhinestone Flying Dragonfly Insect Brooch PinSs Vermeil Daniel Swarovski Crystal Yellow Ab Dragonfly Magnetic Brooch - RepairNeo Art Glass Iridescent Gold Swirl Pebble & Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonLarge White Metal Brooch Art Nouveau Dragonfly 65mm RareVintage In Seattle Auctions:925 Sterling Silver Shell Inlay Dragonfly Brooch PinRare Live Kiss Lp "destroys Anaheim" 1976 Idle Mind / DragonflyRaymarine Dragonfly-4 Pro Gps Fish Finder ComboTiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Dragonfly Butterfly Pendant Necklace 16' W/ PouchThe " Dragonfly" R/c Trainer/fun Fly Glow Model Airplane Kit Japan 1923 Cherry Blossoms/sun And Dragonflies Mint No Gum As IssuedHandmaiden, Casbah Silk, Handpainted Yarn, Color Dragonfly, 2 Hanks, 360 Yards Rare 1968 Orig The Legend ~ "ego Trip Box" Pre-dragonfly Hard Garage + Fuzz !Genuine Pandora Sterling Silver Dragonfly Meadow Charm- 791733cz48x42mm. Fabulous! Black Opal,sapphire,ruby Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly Brooch100% Natural Amber Statue W DragonflyVintage Lilly Pulitzer Fabric Pink Dragonfly 48 X 38 Vintage Lilly Pulitzer Fabric Blue Dragonfly Signature 78 X 33 Inches Coach 64136 Brass Dragonfly With Crystal Keychain Keyring Key FobVg! Salvatore Ferragamo Men's Silk Necktie Tie Dragonflies Royal Blue GroundMiche Hope Dragonfly Demi Shell *with* Matching Scarf!Beautiful Amber Dragonfly Fossil Insects 528g83x55mm. Gorgeous! Emerald,tsavorite,sapphire 2-tone 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochAuthentic Pandora Ster Silver 925 Ale Sparkling Dragonfly Meadow 791733cz CharmVintage Large 4" Jj Jonette Dragonfly Silvertone Purple Green Brooch Pin Vintage Czech Necklace Jewelry Dragonfly Aqua Blue Glass Art Nouveau Sterling Silver - Taxco Mexico Textured Dragonfly 16.7g - Brooch Vd1592Vintage 925 Solid Silver Dragonfly Pendant On ChainNeo Art Glass Purple Blue Gold Swirl Disc Silver Dragonfly Paperweight, K.heatonAuthentic Pandora Charm Dragonfly Meadow, Clear Cz No.791733czKirks Folly Spring Celebration Fairy Pin Goldtone Dragonfly Bumble BeeLuxury! Rhodolite,topaz,peridot,amethyst,ruby,w. Cz 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochGorgeous Rhinestone Givre Cabochon Dragonfly PinGorgeous! Natural Top Rich Blue Turquoise-white Cz 925 Silver Dragonfly Bracelet2007 Salmon Falls Salt Glazed Stoneware Dragonfly Pattern Crock Utensil HolderTory Burch Imogene Calf Hair Cap Toe Mary Jane Dragonfly Pumps Sz 8Raku Pottery Hand Made Green & Copper Dragonfly Lidded Urn With Reeds CorvusmoonBnwot Beco Soleil Dragonfly DiscontinuedModern Flight! Silver Tone Modern Themed Butterfly/dragonfly Brooches/pinsGorgeous! Natural Amethyst,peridot,turquoise,w. Cz 925 Silver Dragonfly Bracelet