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    

Antique Vintage Nouveau 14k Gold Persian Turquoise & Ruby Dragonfly Brooch Pin!Antique Vintage C. 1900 Art Nouveau 14k Gold Seed Pearl Dragonfly Pin Brooch!Davis Co. Sterling Teapot C1880 Dragonfly 59ozFine Large Art Nouveau Design Enamelled Plique A Jour Dragonfly Brooch / PendantKirks Folly Dragonfly Destiny Seaview Moon Shadow Magnetic Enhancer GoldtoneMexico Sterling 925 Silver Oxidized Dragonfly Pin/brooch/pendant 11 GramsVictoria Wieck Sterling Silver Tanzanite Enamel Dragonfly Dangle EarringsSterling Silver - Garnet Flower & Dragonfly Wheat Chain 48.9g - Bracelet (6")Vintage Nelson Mccoy Flower Pot Planter Dragonfly 4 1/2" H No Saucer Cream IvoryVictoria Wieck Sterling Silver Tanzanite Enamel Dragonfly Ring - Size 6.25Job Lot 24 Vintage Victorian Silver Pearl Enamel Butterfly & Dragonfly BroochesNeo Art Glass Handmade Royal Blue Ivy Pebble Sterling Silver Dragonfly, K.heatonArchery Treadway Black Forest Longbow Dragonfly Rh 64"47#at28"dEstate 10k White Gold Dragonfly Amethyst Tanzanite Dangle Ladies Earrings 1.6gQuacker Factory, White Dragonfly... Diamond Accents...3/4 Sleeve Top, LargeImmense~navajo~henry Sam~sterling Silver~turquoise~agate~dragonfly~pendantHeidi Daus Fantasy In Flight Crystal Collar Dragonfly Necklace W/boxTiffany Style Stained Glass Dragonfly Desk Table Lamp Light Egg Shaped Gorgeous!Jay Strongwater Dragonfly Picture Frame Enamel & Swarovski Crystals 4" X 6"Large Vintage Oscar De La Renta Dragonfly Brooch/pin Mother-of-pearl RhinestonesPoly Plastic Dragonfly Water Dish Bird Feeder Mold Plaster Concrete MouldVintage Sterling Silver - Navajo Black Onyx Dragonfly 4.6g - Brooch Zy3332Welsh Pembroke Corgi Painting Whimsical Dog Fairies Dragonfly Art Painting 9x12Victoria Wieck Sterling Silver Tanzanite Enamel Dragonfly Hinge Bangle BraceletNeo Art Glass Handmade Iridescent Green Dragonfly Disk Paperweight By K.heatonDragonfly Insect Brooch Pin Purple Austrian Crystal Gold Tone Women Vintage GiftTiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Butterfly Dragonfly Firefly Charm BraceletGorgeous Natural Purple Amethyst,red Ruby,white Cz 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochTiffany And Co Flower, Butterfly, Dragonfly, Gemstones Necklace 100% Authen/sterAlex And Ani Silver Dragonfly Bracelet Charms Insect Perfect EucVera Bradley Straw Pouch Purse Blue Bayou Dragonfly NwtRare~signed Laurel Burch~"dragonfly"~multi Color Enamel Cloisonne~pin/broochRaymarine Dragonfly-4 Pro With Us Navionics Gold Charts And TransducerGenuine Pandora Sterling Silver Dragonfly Meadow Charm- 791733czSuperb Antique Horn Composition Picture Button Inlaid Mop Gold Silver DragonflyAmerican Southwest Tribal Pueblo Ingot Sterling Silver Dragonfly Cross NecklaceNeo Art Glass Purple Pink Lily Pad & Sterling Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonDragonfly - Indonesian Bumble Bee & Citrine 925 Silver Pendant Jewelry Sp157553Gorgeous Natural Rich Green Peridot,ruby,white Cz 925 Silver Dragonfly Brooch NrTiffany & Co Silver Enchant Dragonfly 16" Necklace Michael Aram Forest Leaves And DragonfliesNatural Orangish Yellow Citrine & Cz Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly Bracelet 9Flax Jeanne Englehart Dragonfly Blouse -2g- Classic Comfort And Style! Blue Fish 1994 Unique Vest Great Paint Fish Dragonfly Etc Retired 2010 Juicy Couture Dragonfly Charm Gold W/green Crystal Rhinestones EucNeo Art Glass Iridescent Red Gold Swirl Pebble & Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonSolar Led Path Light Dragonfly Style Outdoor Garden Lawn Landscape Lamps79x67mm. Natural Emerald,ruby,marcasite Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly Brooch Nr!Nwt Tommy Bahama Men's Pima Cotton Bali High Polo Sz Xlt Dragonfly Blue WowKate Spade Straw Handbag With Beaded DragonfliesAuthentic Pandora Dragonfly Meadow Lot Of TwoDragonfly - Larimar - Dominican Republic 925 Silver Pendant Jewelry Sp1615702013 Canada $10 Pure Silver .9999 Twelve Spotted Skimmer Colored DragonflyRare Natural 22x17mm. Sunstone,pearl,w Cz 925 Silver Enamel Dragonfly EarringsVintage Microscope Slide By Nbs. Wing Of Adult Dragonfly. 4 Metal Earth 3d Laser Steel Cut Models;scorpion;dragonfly;tarantula;mantisDragonfly K2 Blue (azurite In Quartz) 925 Silver Pendant Jewelry Sp154100Dragonfly Smok Topaz 925 Sterling Silver Ring Jewelry S.9 Sr141301Handmade Dragonfly QuiltJames Avery Dragonfly Earrings Ear Hooks Sterling Silver Er1597 Orig.$69