Evolution of an Antique Dealer - Butterfly Pins: Everyone's Favorite Bug

Is it fair of me to assume that everyone has, at some time in their life, stopped and wondered about the awesomeness of the process of metamorphisis and the ultimate unveiling of a newly formed butterfly?

How fortunate for us that so many townships now feature Butterfly Parks that not only showcase these extraordinary creatures and their lifecycle, but also participate in the preservation of them for generations to come.

For me, I can't remember a time that butterflies did not have a significant place in my consciousness. As soon as I first became aware of their transformative life style I was able to identify with them and relate my own maturation to theirs. At age 65, my colors may be fading just a tad, but my desire to fly free persists. And so it is for our beautiful friends.

The average butterfly's life lasts approximately one month although smaller species last only about a week while larger ones can last as long as 9 months! So when we observe those pretty little charmers flitting about the garden it is a bit sobering to think that their natural life cycle will come to an end by this time next week! Meanwhile, they give us pleasure and for many of us, they make the insect kingdom accessible and less fearsome.

It is this lifelong reverence for these critters that led to my attraction to butterfly pins. Although some of the rhinestone butterfly pins can be very beautiful, I am most attracted to the enamel on silver or enamel on gold ones. The enamel captures the vibrancy found in nature and can often replicate the iridescence found on real butterfly wings. The ones on silver tend to be more affordable whereas the ones on gold tend to be very pricey. The best of the enamel on silver ones are about the starting point for one on gold!

When I first got into buying them for resale, they were fairly plentiful in the general antique marketplace. They were not particularly valued by jewelers and often found their way to antique show dealer's inventories. Twenty years ago, the average Scandinavian butterfly in the 1-2" range could be acquired for $5-15 making the resale price in the $30-35 area very affordable for a dealer just starting out. The larger ones were always coveted by the dealers and we were lucky to acquire one in the $50-75 range and the markup was less than double so graduating to those didn't come until later.

Back then, the hottest pins were from David-Andersen of Norway. The largest of the David-Andersen butterflies is about 2 1/2" and the bright blue ones and some of the multi-colored ones were and still are very sought after. (David-Andersen,1843-1901, was a designer and his name and legacy continues on with the Oslo store and new designs by his heirs and others. His name has become nearly synonymous with enamel jewelry). Over time, we developed a reputation of carrying D-A wares and we always drew a crowd at our booth because of our butterfly pins and other enamel jewelry items. They accounted for as much as a third of our total sales. A significant amount. And that fact encouraged us to continue in that vain and so we have.

Over time finding them became more difficult and the prices escalated. Then came ebay and the world changed. For a while, the butterfly pins came flying out of the jewelry boxes and into the worldwide marketplace in swarms (aka 'rabbles'), but in recent years the quantities have thinned out and the prices remain high enough that often they are not affordable for a dealer to purchase for resale and the collectors themselves buy them directly. Every now and then one precious butterfly escapes their detection and we will scoop it up and offer it for sale on our site.

As our awareness of these pins progressed, we saw that there were other Scandinavian and British makers whose designs equalled or surpassed those of Andersen and others. Namely Marius Hammer of Bergen, Norway and John Atkins of Great Britain. Some of their specimens exceeded 3" and were absolutely stunning in their shapes and colors. Always expensive to acquire and pricey to resell, they are still the crown jewels of any butterfly pin collection. In recent years, our most expensive Marius Hammer butterfly sold in excess of $1,000.00 and several in the $800-900 range. Even those with some damage are collected and of course, are found as much as 50-75% less depending on the scope of the damage. Surprising only because enamel is almost impossible to repair and the damage will likely last a lifetime. Their desireability even in that condition speaks of the rareity and desireability of them. Even I will spend hundreds of dollars for one I don't yet have or I think is still highly wearable in spite of damage.

We recently acquired a 3 1/4" Marius Hammer butterfly pin with 9 colors! It is shown in the accompanying photo. Extremely rare to find one with more than 3-4 colors so it is currently our most prized piece. It helps that it is in superior condition!

If you don't already know, butterflies are revered in most cultures and are symbolic in most of them as representing such things as, long life, prosperity, and even the soul or spirit of a person. Many people recount poignant situations in their lives when a butterfly appeared and landed on them at the most inexplicable moments (taking their wedding vows outdoors, for example) where they attributed the presence of the butterfly to actually be the spirit of their deceased parent. It is because of these beliefs that we who love these pins continue seeking them out as they are an everlasting symbol of love, beauty, endurance, longevity, and humanity.

Barbara Jokel
That Was Then Antiques


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