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    

Estate Dragonfly 9k Gold Ruby Opal Pendant Necklace NrStunning Victorian Art Nouveau Large Scottish Agate Dragonfly Brooch Kilt PinVintage Sterling Silver Scottish? Dragonfly Pendant Sterling Silver Jewelry Cuff Bracelet Dragonfly Moth ButterflyMen's Lowa Dragonfly Gore-tex Xcr Mid Hiking/trail Boots Waterproof Size 13 MTiffany-style Dragonfly Red & Purple Torchiere LampSuperb Nbthk Certificated Japanese Edo Antique Signed Dragonfly Tsuba B024Tiffany-style Dragonfly Red & Purple Torchiere LampSterling Silver - Bali Pebbled Amethyst Dragonfly 14.7g - Pendant Brooch Em7612Graco Duoglider Classic Connect Stroller, DragonflyGraco Duoglider Classic Connect Stroller, DragonflyAuthentic 14k & 925 Pandora Golden Dragonflies 790898 Bead Charm With BoxAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver Dragonfly Meadow Clear Cz Bead 791733czAlex And Ani Dragonfly Charm Bangle Silver Tone BraceletMsr Dragonfly Fuel PumpCoach Runway Anna Sui Limited Edition Dragonfly Duffle Coach Legacy Anna Sui Limited Edition Dragonfly Large Black Leather Duffle Bag Neo Art Glass British Handmade Blue Mushroom Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonDecorative Shiebler Sterling Napkin Ring Owl, Dragonfly, Spider Vtg Old AntiqueVintage Marble King Marble Dragonfly? Superman Colors Wet Mint 5/8" Az19Dragonfly Fibers Djinni Sock Yarn 80/10/10 450yds Cinnamon SpiceNeo Art Glass Handmade Multi Iridescent Mushroom Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonNeo Art Glass Iridescent Golden Purple Lily Pad & Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonPrada Large Leather Dragonfly Fly Key Chain / Hook Snake Wings Very Rare InsectTiffany & Co. Scarf Dragonfly Butterfly Turtle Ladybug Salamander Multi ColorRare Vintage/antique Wooden Lure, Dragonfly?, Very IntricateIndigo Dragonfly Superwash Merino Wool Cashmere Sock Fingering Weight Yarn 100gArt Nouveau,tiffany,loetz Style Harp Desk Lamp W/oil Spots Dragonfly Lamp ShadeLatex Rubber Mold That Makes A Concrete Statue Of A Dragonfly PlanterRare !!!! Kjl Kenneth Jay Lane Plique-a-jour Dragonfly Pin BroochGalle Dragonfly, Glass Lamp Base. Neo Art Glass Iridescent Handmade Pink Mushroom Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonFossil Brand Antiqued Gold Tone Dragonfly & Faux Turquoise Pendant NecklaceFenton Hand Painted Glass Egg On Pedestal Dragonfly White Flower #581 Of 3000Stunning! Natural Rich Red Ruby,white Topaz Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochVintage Multi Quartz Or Glass Dragonfly Silver Pendant Necklace (17.5g) 15.5inCarolyn Pollack Relios Mulri Stone Sterling Silver Dragonfly Pendant And Chain Neo Art Glass Handmade Corn Flower Blue Mushroom Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonHeidi Daus "dancing Dragonfly" Crystal Bangle Bracelet Watch *swarovski Crystal*Vintage Hinged Monet Trinket Pill Box~turqoise Enamel Paint~dragonfly~nr!Vintage Old Czech Rose Glass Beads Necklace & Dragonfly PendantVintage 925 Sterling Silver Aquamarine Dragonfly Pin / Brooch (9.4g) - 460763Beauteous Natural White Pearl Sterling 925 Silver Enamel Dragonfly Pendant L@@k!Hand Forged Japanese Samurai Sword Dragonfly Tsuba Katana Sharp Blade Full TangAntique Arts & Crafts Handpainted Dragonfly 10" Ceramic Candlesticks - 1 DamagedNeo Art Glass Handmade Aqua Blue Mushroom Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonSterling Silver Turquoise Spiny Oyster Jewelry Multi Gemstone Dragonfly PendantVtg.signed Jewelry Lot-kirks Folly Fairy Shell Brooch-damascene Set-dragonflyAmerican Girl Lanie Blue Pajamas Nightgown Green Slippers Headband DragonflyRare! Real 11mm. Black Tahitan Pearl 925 Silver Enamel Dragonfly,flower PendantTokelau 2012 $5 Dragonfly 25g Silver Proof Coin With CoaMoss Opal Flowers, Seafoam Czech:leaf, Sun Disk, Dragonfly + Picture Jasper RdsSterling Silver - Mexico Abstract Dragonfly 12.5g - Pendant Ep5992Vintage 925 Sterling Silver Dragonfly Peridot Pin / Brooch (9.4g) - 466211Classy Flight! Gold Tone Enamel & Rhinestone Butterfly/dragonfly Brooch/pin LotStampin' Up! Retired Bugs And Kisses Wm Stamps Dragonfly Worm Snail Cricket Gorgeous! Natural Red Ruby-white Cz 925 Silver Dragonfly Wings Can Move BroochNeo Art Glass Golden Purpel Pebble Papereight Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonNeo Art Glass Purpel Blue Pebble Papereight Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonDiamond Dragonfly Pendant In 14k White Gold ! Wow ! No Reserve !