A lesson in Taiwan butterfly specimens
  • Their eyes were watching … sun wall plaques
  • Wall plaque of vintage woodworking tools
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    Auction Finds

    Butterflies as wall art & not specimens

    The bright metal butterflies had their own space on walls that normally held paintings and other artwork at the auction house. There were so many of the large and colorful butterflies – some with cutouts and others solid – that they needed a giant field of flowers to flutter about in.

    As I continued my walkthrough before the auction began, I came upon another grouping of metal butterflies on trays on a table farther away. One tray held a small book titled “World of Butterflies,” and I wondered if this was someone’s collection. When I first saw the butterflies, I assumed they had come from a retail store. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

    Googling, I found lots of sites selling metal butterflies as wall art. But most of us – especially those who grew up in rural areas – can recall chasing after Monarch and real butterflies with nets or trying to grasp them in our bare hands as they alighted on flowers. That was the fun innocence of children – just as learning in school how a fat disgusting caterpillar can turn into a beautiful butterfly (in a shrouded process that ain’t pretty).

    metal butterflies

    A tray of metal butterflies, along with a book on the subject.

    There are others who see this as a serious undertaking, the lepidopterists – people who collect real butterflies and moths as specimens for scientific study (and I’m sure there are those who collect just as a hobby). British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was big butterfly collector. He had plans to build a butterfly house and garden on his property for breeding and enjoying in 1939, but World War II interrupted. They were later constructed in 1946, and refurbished and opened to the public in 2010.

    Collecting butterfly specimens as a hobby was a respectable endeavor in the early half of the 20th century. Not anymore it seems, maybe because there are fewer butterflies or so many of us live in cities that we don’t see as many anymore. I grew up in a rural area, and I do remember butterflies in the summer, a lot of them. Whenever I see a butterfly these days in my urban backyard, I’m thrilled (maybe I should plant a butterfly bush, although I’ve learned that they are invasive). I see lots of bees, though.

    While some may frown on catching and preserving butterflies as inhumane, a butterfly caretaker at a Florida museum with 10 million specimens wrote on slate.com that we should embrace it. Preserved butterflies allow us to learn more about those that are still alive, he noted. He also mentioned that since Victorian times, the butterfly net has been the primary way to catch them.

    metal butterflies

    A stack of metal butterflies.

    We seem to always have had a love affair with all species of butterflies (more than 17,500 worldwide, 750 in United States) in all of their colors and patterns. Butterfly wings were used in Victorian jewelry, artists painted them on pottery, glassware and lamps, and ashtrays and candleholders were made in their shape.

    At auction, this was not the first butterfly grouping I had come across. Several years ago, another auction house sold a collection of Taiwanese specimens, from a country that was known for years as the Butterfly Kingdom. By the mid-20th century, it was a major exporter of butterfly-wing specimens, which were harvested by people who collected them to be sold or who processed the wings in factories.

    Most of the butterflies at auction were large and were made to be wall decorations or as part of an ensemble. Take a look:

    metal butterflies

    A tray of metal butterflies.


    metal butterflies

    Two entirely different metal butterflies.


    metal butterflies

    A very colorful metal butterfly.


    metal butterflies

    One of these sets comes with its own flower branch.


    metal butterflies

    Another colorful metal butterfly – in a design that I’m sure is not natural.



    metal butterflies

    Small metal butterflies.


    metal butterflies

    Metal butterflies with cutouts.

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