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    

Large Vintage 18k Gold Amazing 1.57ctw Vs1/h Diamond/emerald Dragonfly BroochAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver & 14k Golden Dragonflies BeadAudioquest Dragonfly V1.2 - Perfect ConditionRaymarine DragonflyExquisite Art Nouveau J Atkins & Son Large Enamel Dragonfly Silver Brooch 6.8 GmVintage Jewellery Pierre Bex Art Deco Design Enamel Dragonfly Brooch/pin (70's)Heidi Daus Crystal Trembling Brillance Dragonfly Carnelian PinVintage Sterling Silver 925 Bracelet Cuff Art Nouveau Style Butterfly DragonflySterling Silver - Taxco Mexico Textured Dragonfly 12.4g - Brooch Bh3741Chinese Carved Natural Red & White Agate Toggle, Corn & Dragonfly, 20th C.Audioquest Dragonfly And Dragontail Usb Extension CableMsr Dragonfly Fuel PumpKirks Folly Dragonfly Dance Pill Box SilvertoneRaymarine Dragonfly Sonar Gps With Navionics Gold Charts E70085-gld No Reserve!Vintage Sterling Silver Dragonfly Pendant 12.4gSigned Silver Sterling 925 Vintage Brooch Pin Dragonfly Enamel Marcasite 1031A Superb Vintage Art Nouveau Style Enamelled 'dragonfly Bracelet.Fenton Sitting Cat With Purple Irises And Dragonfly, Cricket Antique Exc. #40Diana Gabaldon Dragonfly In Amber Outlander Hardcover Book Delacorte Press 1992Franz Fz00883 Sahara Dragonfly Sculptured Porcelain Cup & Saucer Set W/ Box!Authentic Alex And Ani Dragonfly Russian Silver Charm BangleDioptric Scope In Original Box W/info Sheet The Dragonfly Van Cort Kaleidoscope Old Pawn Zuni Opal Dragonfly Sterling Silver Pin -4g No ReserveHuge 5" Sterling Silver Marcasite Enameled Dragonfly Pin Brooch Mt 925 Gorgeous14k Yellow Gold Dragonfly Garnet Pin Brooch Vintage Antique Appraised $1100Carved Dragonfly & Flower Bead Ag430001Attractive Natural Aaa Sapphire & Cz Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly Necklace 19Rare~antique Brass Peking Glass Jade Dragonfly Pin Machine Age GermanyLuxury Frog Dragonfly Lotus Necklace Earring Set Rhinestone Crystal MultiJopanda Lampwork Beads Handmade Sra - Dragonfly In The Summer Incl BellflowesSalvatore Ferragamo Tie Floral & Dragonfly On Red Silk NecktieVera Bradley Handbag Straw Tote Blue Dragonfly "blue Bayou Nwt $68 LobVintage Laurel Burch Dragonfly Pierced Earrings Sterling SilverNeo Art Glass Iridescent Aqua Blue Pebble & Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heaton Burton Custom Dragonfly Snowboard With Bindings And Foot Pad (158 Cm)Fenton Hp Tranquil Pond Dragonfly On Rosalene Pitcher Limited Ed. - "nice"Authentic Alex And Ani Dragonfly Russian Gold Charm BangleHandcrafted Reversible Miche Classic Bag Shell- Butterflles & DragonfliesSpecial Treasures: Just Nan Dragonfly Charm (jnc15) - RareMarcasite In Tail & Body Dragonfly Brooch With Paua Shell Wings - Beautiful Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carve Dragonfly Mechanical Table ClockJapanese Primula Dragonfly Design Sage Blue Cast Iron Teapot Talbots Black And Green Dragonfly Theme Purse & Wallet Set - Nwt10k Dragonfly PendantChinese Painting Hanging Scroll 'lotus And Dragonfly' - ɽSigned Southwest Sterling Silver Multi Stone *dragonfly* Enhancer Pendant & PinAwesome Vintage Sterling Silver 3d *dragonfly* Charm Pendant 1.5 Grams4.33" Dazzling Insect Dragonfly Flower Brooch Pin Blue Rhinestone CrystalKirks Folly Day Dreamer Beaded Dragonfly Pin / Pendant / Necklace Silvertone 20 Leds Butterfly Dragonfly Solar String Light For Home Garden Yard Xmas PartyPlus Size 18/20 22/24 Summer Outfit Blouse/capris Fashion Bug Dragonflies PearlsHand Hammered Carence Crafters Frost Type Pin, Moth DragonflyRare Camrose & Kross Jbk Dragonfly Trembler Pin Mint In Original Box Kennedy NrBlue Sapphire & Australian Opal 925 Solid Sterling Silver Dragonfly Ring Sz 8Athleta Swimsuit Two Piece Bikini Xs Asphalt Dragonfly Scrunch Grey Set NwtMonogram 1/48 A-37 Dragonfly #85-5486 - Still Sealed! NibNice Vintage Sterling Silver Enamel Dragonfly Bug Brooch Pin 3 X Solar Power Butterfly Dragonfly Bird Combo 3 Rgb Led Light Outdoor LightKirks Folly Petite Daydreamer Beaded Dragonfly Leverback Earrings GoldtoneLiz Claiborne Vintage Dragonfly Pin