Butterfly Wing Jewelry

By Paula Kirwan, Booth B-2022


Vintage jewelry has been a very popular collectible for many years.  Even the most casual admirers will probably know some of the designers of these pieces, like Eisenberg, Lisner, Coro, Trifari and Napier. 


But how about Hoffman or Thomas L. Mott?  Chances are that these names are not easily recognizable, unless you are familiar with butterfly wing jewelry from the 1920s to the early 1950s.


Yes, butterfly wing jewelry was made using real butterfly wings, mostly from the Morpho butterfly. Their rich, iridescent peacock blue color was popular because it made a beautiful background to simulate water, sky, or cloth, or used alone as a colorful design. In the photo, above right, are pictured various pieces of butterfly wing jewelry; the piece on the far left has a white bas-relief figure, and the rest are reverse painted on the glass or Lucite. (All photos in this article are from the author’s private collection; however, there are several other pieces of jewelry, along with a plaque and tray, in the author’s case and booth, Booth B-2022).





In addition to butterfly wing jewelry, decorative items can also be found. Most common are serving trays (many of which are souvenirs from Brazil), as well as pictures that also incorporate reverse painting on glass (photo, left). 






Vintage butterfly wing pins, bracelets, earrings, and pendants typically incorporate designs such as palm trees, sunsets, people, scenic views of mountains, deserts, or ships on water. (Photo, below right, shows a ship on water on top of a powder jar). These designs were reverse-painted on a glass or Lucite cover, using the butterfly wing as the background. Another decorative technique combined butterfly wings with sulphide bas-relief figures, which were sandwiched between the glass and a backing of wings. 





The most commonly found vintage pieces are from two manufacturers. The first is Frederick S. Hoffman and Company, a US firm. Their pieces are set in either white metal with a rhodium (stay-bright) finish, or, less frequently, in sterling silver. The other is Thomas L. Mott, who manufactured in England. Most of their pieces are set in sterling silver, and may be marked “TLM” on the back.






Vintage butterfly jewelry is beautiful and unique, and is becoming increasingly rare. If you are interested in buying a piece, be aware that butterfly wings are delicate and subject to deterioration, so examine it with care. Look for spots, or a rusty or dirty appearance in the iridescent coloring. Also insure that the glass top is still securely fastened to the setting. 

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