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    

Paul Stankard Dragonfly Flower PaperweightAntique Onyx Seed Pearl 14k Gold Oval Dragonfly Earrings 8.3 Grams NrWts Sterling Silver Vintage Dragonfly Winged Bug Insect Cuff Bracelet 29.9 GramsMoorcroft Clock Home Maker Dragonfly V. Rare .Eberlestock J107 Dragonfly Backpack In Real Tree Max 1 CamoAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver & 14k Golden Dragonflies BeadDragonfly Detachable Fairing For Harley Road King FlhrHuge Arts & Crafts Hand Beaten Hammered Silver Dragonfly Brooch Art Nouveau 21gsVintage Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Dragonfly Brooch Pendant W/ Garnet EyesAlex And Ani Bracelet "dragonfly" Rs Nwt Alex And Ani Bracelet "dragonfly" Rg Nwt Brighton Dragonfly Pendant Necklace & Pierced Earrings ExcellentRare Relios Carolyn Pollack Sterling Silver 14k Gold Dragonfly Cuff Bracelet Raymarine Dragonfly 518kt Two-tone Gold .50ct Diamond Dragonfly Brooch Pin W/ .20ct Ruby EyesJapanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Red Dragonfly Makie Kinrinji-natsume (822)Kirks Folly Magic Garden Light Switch Plate Goldtone ~ Dragonfly Gnome ButterflyHuge Lot 30 Vintage Brooches Dragonfly Teddy Beetle Reversed Glass Cameos FrogNeo Art Glass Handmade Emerald Green Mushroom Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonRare Antique Butterfly & Dragonfly Consolidated Glass Gwtw Banquet Parlor LampEdwardian $1500 14k Yellow Gold Diamond And Pearl Dragonfly PinVintage Sterling Silver Big Enamel Dragonfly Pin Brooch 11.2g Size 2.75" X 2.75"Original Art*o Fairy Magic!*mushroom Garden*mouse*snail*unicorns*dragonfly Too!Art Glass Pate De Verre Walter Nancy Berge Art Deco Vide Poche Dragonfly BlackSilver And Gold Dragonfly Pandora CharmNib Jbk Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Pave Ab Pink & Lt Green Crystal Dragonfly Pin20 Leds Butterfly Dragonfly Solar String Light For Home Garden Yard Xmas PartyEarly Van Briggle Dragonflies Vase Mulberry Color Pottery Purple 7" No ReserveDiana Gabaldon 3-prbcks Outlander Srs 1-3 Outlander+dragonfly In Amber+voyager.34ct Natural Ruby & Diamond Dragonfly Necklace Gorgeous Sterling Silver - Mexico Taxco Textured Dragonfly 14g - Brooch Et2911Carltonware Rouge Royale Double Handled Dish Handpainted Dragonfly + WaterlilyCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Bronze Carved Bamboo Dragonfly Brush PotCarved Dragonfly On Flower Bead Ah441009Authentic Alex And Ani Dragonfly Russian Silver Charm BangleFashion Dragonfly Print Viscose Infinity Loop Cowl Eternity Casual Voile Scarf Chinese Dragonfly Butterfly Carved Peking Overlay Glass Snuff BottleDiana Gabaldon~dragonfly In Amber~voyager~hbdjCarved Dragonfly On Flower Bead Ah441008Size 10 Dragonfly Satine Matilda JaneJapanese Vintage Bamboo Tea Spoon Sago 2set/ Nice Carving/ Crab & Dragonfly 3311Neo Art Glass Blue Mushroom Paperweight & Sterling Silver Dragonfly - K.heaton** Aden + & And Anais Nordstrom Dragonfly White Blue Muslin Swaddle Baby Blanket18k Gold Gp Animal Dragonfly Brooch Pin Green Rhinestone CrystalAmethyst & Australian Opal 925 Solid Sterling Silver Dragonfly PendantRare Art Nouveau Silver & Enamel Dragonfly Brooch By Charles HornerJumbo Natural Emerald,ruby,sapphire 925 Silver Dragonfly Wingscan Move Brooch NrXl 30mm Czech Glass Teal Copper Silver Art Nouveau Dragonfly Buttons 4pc Diana Gabaldon Lot 1st 5 Outlander Dragonfly Voyager Drums Of Autumn Fiery CrossSterling Silver - Single Diamond Textured Dragonfly 0.5g - Pendant Fu3351Creative Memories Dragonfly Punch NwotHand Carved Dragonfly Natural Buffalo Bone 100% Solid 925 Silver Pendant 3"Hot Selling Dragonfly Flower Oval Drop Necklace Set Green Rhinestone CrystalSolid Sterling Silver Polished Green Orange Opal Topaz Dragonfly Earrings 925Dragonfly White Fire Opal Women Jewelry Gem Rose Gold Filled Pendant 1.5" Od3776Tokelau $5 Dollars Silver Proof Crown 2012 Dragonfly With Jeweled Eye NiceEkemas Signed & Numbered Etched Dragonfly Vase $reduced!!!!!Dragonflies Applique Baby Wall Quilt Top 40.5" X 40.5"Carved Dragonfly On Flower Bead Ah441005Sp104164 Dragonfly Herkimer Diamond 925 Sterling Silver Pendant Jewelry