Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

A Butterfly Collection of a Different Sort: Butterfly Wing Collectibles

posted by Karen Hood
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

by Pamela Wiggins

It’s easy to recognize the beauty of a fluttering butterfly. When it comes to collectibles, however, you’ve probably walked right past a picture, tray or piece of jewelry made using butterfly wings without giving them a second thought. That’s the beauty of butterfly wing collectibles.

Are Those Actually Butterfly Wings?

It’s true, genuine butterfly wings have been used to fashion objects, many of them travel souvenirs, for decades. The Morpho butterfly, captured in South American rain forests, imparts the lovely sheen found in these collector’s items, according to an article by Janet Lawwill for Vintage Fashion and Costume Jewelry Newsletter.

The pretty peacock blue butterflies were captured by South American natives and sold to crafters for about $5 apiece back in the 1950s. They were also raised on “farms” in Europe for use in small pictures, jewelry and other decorative objects as far back as the 1920s. Most of these items were made in England, and some still have paper tags attached indicating the origin.

How Do I Recognize Butterfly Wing Collectibles?

Oftentimes it’s not immediately obvious when collectibles are decorated with butterfly wings because they tend to be used as a background to simulate water, sky or even cloth. The main feature of the piece is a silhouette done predominantly in black, but a little colorful accent can be part of the decoration as well.

These are generally produced by a technique called reverse painting. That is, the tint is painted directly on the back of glass and then placed atop the butterfly wing background.

What are the Most Popular Motifs?

Motifs vary according to where the items were originally sold, and it seems they were retailed all around the world at one time or another. Since a good number of these items were sold in tropical tourist areas, they feature palm trees, boats and water scenes. Other popular motifs include women dressed in period costumes, American Southwest cactus scenes, and Dutch children.

When Were Butterfly Wing Collectibles Made?

Most of the pictures utilizing butterfly wings for decoration seem to have been produced somewhere between the 1920s and 1950s. Jewelry items, which include pins, pendants and an occasional ring, are still being made today in Brazil and Belize, but the newer pieces aren’t as nicely crafted as the older ones. In fact, many early butterfly wing jewelry items made in England were set in sterling silver and feature fancy scrollwork along the edge of the setting.

How Can I Tell if They’re Genuine Butterfly Wings?

Before paying top dollar to adding a piece to your collection, you’ll want to make sure that you’re actually getting genuine butterfly wing items rather than simulations. Some of these objects still have stickers attached to them denoting the origin of production and that they are in fact “genuine butterfly wing” pieces. Or, as seen with some jewelry items in the original box, the description will be printed on the container.

If these signals aren’t present, look closely at the iridescent background. If you have a jeweler’s loupe, you can actually see the tiny overlapping scales indicative of true butterfly wings. Pieces that simulate butterfly wings were usually made with colored foil background and it’s obvious upon close examination. With a little practice, you won’t even need a magnifying instrument to see the difference.

How Much are They Worth?

The value of these items can vary widely. In general, older jewelry pieces tend to be more popular than the newer pieces. Another aspect to consider when deciding a value is the quality of the decoration. After examining a few butterfly wing items, you’ll probably notice some differences in the skill level of the artists who painted the silhouette decorations. High quality painting adds value to your piece.

And keep in mind that pieces with fading, discoloration or showing disintegration should not be valued as highly as items still holding their pretty luster. Most small butterfly wing pictures in excellent condition sell for $50 or less, but there are exceptions exceeding $100 depending on the rarity and desirability of the theme.

Butterfly wing jewelry prices can vary widely. Sterling bracelets with charms or multiple butterfly wing links can bring $75-100, while those made of other metals with more simple designs may only bring in $25-40 in online auctions. Single charms, or small pendants, seem like a bargain at under $10 apiece. Small pins generally sell for $25-50, with older sterling examples bringing in the top range.

How Do I Care for My Butterfly Wing Collectibles?

To keep your butterfly wing collection bright and beautiful, avoid exposure to harsh light and moisture. For jewelry, take care to keep it put away when it’s not being worn. When displaying pictures, trays, decorative boxes, compacts and other butterfly wing items, do so in areas with low light and low humidity.

With a little TLC you can continue to enjoy these interesting pieces for years to come.

How to Start a Butterfly Collection

posted by Karen Hood
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Butterflies have fascinated people for centuries! Some of the oldest butterfly collections in museums today have specimens from the 1700s – including species that are now extinct. (A note of caution:  many species of butterflies have plentiful populations, but make sure you don’t collect too many of the same species or kill rare ones without considering first.) To start your own collection of these beautiful Lepidoptera (the insect order that butterflies and moths belong to), you’ll need some basic collecting equipment. A sturdy butterfly net is essential, and a spreading board, insect pins, and a display case are helpful tools for making a quality collection.

Using a butterfly net

How to Use a Butterfly Net

When trying to capture a butterfly with a net, move slowly until you are in range. Position the net under the insect, then swing your net upward and turn the handle so that the net flips over and the captured insect cannot escape. If you bring the net over the insect and down to the ground, raise the end of it so that the insect can fly to the closed top, then stick a container under the net and carefully move your butterfly down into it.

Identifying Butterflies & Moths

This step can come after you’ve brought the specimen home, but often it’s helpful to identify it right away, so you can remember where you found it. A field guide like the Butterflies & Moths Golden Guide can help you identify many common species, or you can try an Audubon guide with color photos of 600 species. Using a guide, find out what type of plant the caterpillar of that species eats, then check any of those plants in the area for tiny butterfly eggs on the underside of the leaves. (And come back later to see the caterpillars!) If you decide to identify your captures when you get home, make a note of where you found each one and what plant or flower it was feeding on.

The first step of the identification process is to determine whether your capture is a butterfly or a moth, the two groups of Lepidoptera. Sometimes they are very difficult to tell apart, but in general moths have plump, furry bodies, are more dull in color, are active at night, and have wings spread flat when resting. Butterflies, on the other hand, usually have smoother bodies, brighter colors, are active during the day, and fold their wings up over their backs when they land. Another important difference is their antennae – butterflies have slender antennae that form a club shape at the end. Moths tend to have feathery antennae and very few species have clubbed antennae.

How to Use a Killing Jar & Relaxing Jar

For all insects that you want to keep in a collection, the easiest way to kill them is to use a killing jar. You can make one of these by putting cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol or ethyl acetate (a more hazardous chemical – use caution!) into a glass jar. For best results, though, use ethyl acetate in a killing jar made for the purpose. The ethyl acetate will work more quickly than rubbing alcohol and the jar has a plaster cartridge to soak up the fluid so the insects don’t get wet.

Butterflies, because they are so fragile, sometimes batter themselves in a killing jar so it is better to first stun them by pinching their thorax – the central part of their body. It might take a little practice to get the method down just right, so try it out first on common moths or butterflies that you aren’t concerned about keeping for your collection. After you stun the butterfly, you can also carefully fold its wings over its back and put it in a glassine envelope.

Don’t leave the butterfly in the killing jar too long. Use forceps, if you have them, to carefully take the butterfly out. Either pin the butterfly immediately (see steps below) or store it, with wings folded, in a glassine envelope.

Before you spread the butterfly (unless it hasn’t yet stiffened), you need to to “relax” it. Make a relaxing chamber by setting a damp rag inside an airtight plastic container. Set the butterfly inside, cover it with 2-3 damp (not dripping) paper towels and close the lid. You can leave the butterfly inside the glassine envelope. The butterfly should soften in 2-3 days if you keep the cloth and paper towel damp. When the butterfly has relaxed enough for you to gently move its legs and antennae, it’s ready to be spread.

How to Use a Spreading Board

Use paper strips to hold down butterfly wings on a spreading board For butterflies and other large winged insects, you should use a spreading board and insect pins. Carefully insert a pin through the right side of the thorax. Pinch the thorax to spread the wings enough so you can pin it. Place the butterfly’s body in the groove on the board – it varies in width for different-sized insects. Gently press the wings down so they lie spread out flat, then put a thin strip of paper over each wing and pin the ends of the strip to the board. (Be careful not to pin through the wing itself.) This will hold the wings flat until they dry out. The drying process may take up to two weeks.

When the butterfly has dried, remove the paper strips, but don’t try to remove the pin through the thorax! Use that pin to mount it in a display case.

How to Mount a Butterfly

Keep your collection in a glass-fronted case

For any insect collection, it is essential to know the name for each insect that you find! With a good identification guide, you should be able to find the scientific and common name of each one. Write or print out a small tag (card stock or other thin cardboard works well) with the name, and attach it to the pin that you use to hold down your insect. You may also want to list the date and place where you found the insect (e.g., in the garden, April 13, 2005). If you can, collect two specimens of each species and mount one to show the colorful top of the wings and the other to show the more camouflaged underside of the wings.

Collecting butterflies is a fun and rewarding summer activity, and a mounted butterfly collection has both scientific and artistic value!

Source: Home Science Tools