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Guess what this tray is made from...

2008_021_24T1 This tray's colorful design features a central Masonic square and compasses motif.  The colors are vibrant, but the texture seems unusual – not paint or ink.  Several of the tray’s motifs were made using butterfly wings.  The wings form the background and the small beach scenes at the corners.  The design is supplemented with black and gold elements that are reverse-painted on the glass that covers the bottom of the tray.

While at first glance this object might seem unusual, butterfly wing collectibles have been sold as travel souvenirs for decades.  Jewelry, trays and framed pictures were popular, not just with Masonic symbols, but also with scenic views and figures in traditional costumes.  Another butterfly wing picture in the National Heritage Museum collection is marked “Rio de Janeiro,” suggesting both its probable place of origin and its function as a travel keepsake.

Do you own a butterfly wing souvenir?  Do you know more about the history of these items?  Share your information with us in a comment!

Masonic Tray, 1930-1960.  National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.24.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Randy Ent

I recently purchased a tray with compass and square emblem that are blue butterfly wings on top of an assortment of other butterfly wings.All are painstakingly inlaid.
I had thought I had a one of a kind item until contacting the Scottish Rite National Museum.
I am now hooked on this kind of art,Masonic theme in particular.Now If I could only find the history behind this particular piece.

Aimee Newell

Hi Linda: Thanks so much for reading our blog and sharing the information about your picture. It sounds quite fanciful! I'm glad that the post was helpful. Aimee Newell, Director of Collections

Linda roberts

I have a picture of five fairies around a pool in a glade of trees. I inherited it from my grandmother. Its in the art deco, butterfly wing style. Ive always loved it so am very interested to read some information about it. Thanks. Linda

Aimee Newell

Hi Patrick: Thanks so much for reading our blog and commenting. I am not aware of any kind of database about these pictures - or even a book about them. If anyone reading this knows of a source of information, please share it in a comment! This blog post includes everything I was able to find - and then we have had some very useful comments. Thanks again for the comment! Aimee Newell, Director of Collections


I was clearing out my parents house yesterday and found a beautiful image of a fish stuck behind an old and unused wardrobe. As soon as I moved the furniture the image literally glinted at me as soon as the light struck it. I had a close look and realised that it was a butterfly wing artwork. Its quite large as its about 60 cms by 40 cms and is in a beautiful old wooden frame.
If I cant find a signature is there a database or someone I can send a picture of the artwork to get a bit more information with regard to its origin. Its not the value I want to know as I really like it but would be interesting to find out a bit more if possible.


Aimee Newell

Hi Sali: What a great question! Most of these pictures seem to have been produced on a mass scale, often as souvenirs, so they weren't generally made as a hobby by one person at a time. They also seem to have been made in Brazil quite often and I am presuming that they have more butterflies down there. Regardless, I think the manufacturers had a bulk source for the butterfly wings and then turned out the pictures for sale. Thanks for reading our blog and commenting. Aimee Newell, Director of Collections

Sali Dellysse

Hello. I was wondering how people acquired these butterfly wings. Were they so abundant a hundred or so years ago that they were able to just catch them in their backyards or were they purchased in bulk for the sole purpose of making something decorative? They seem to be fairly scarce now.. at least where I live.

Aimee Newell

Hi Rachael: Thanks so much for reading our blog and leaving a comment. As I've mentioned before, this post shares what I was able to learn about butterfly wing pictures and I hope you read all of the comments because several others added some information. I hope that we will continue to get feedback and share information here! Aimee Newell, Director of Collections

Rachael Stevenson

Hello, i found this site while looking for some info about a beautiful picture that was given to me by my grandfather some 30 years ago. He would be well over 100 years old if he were alive today. My picture is a small black frame about 15cm x 15cm it has fairys made from cruhed opal and butterfly wings. it is absolutely stunning. I would just love to find out more about it history. It was made in England.
I would love someones feedback.

Aimee Newell

Hi Denise: Thanks so much for reading our blog and leaving a comment. Your picture sounds lovely and I am fascinated to learn that these pictures were evidently also made in China and probably sold as souvenirs there too. I have not run across much information about these pictures, but perhaps another reader will see this and let us know if they have more information to contribute. Thanks again for your interest! Aimee Newell, Director of Collections

denise blagojevic

Recently I found a very large picture(3FT.H x 2FT.W)from the 1950-60s period.The picture is of a Chinese Market that is made with only Butterfy Wings. The picture has two buildings that are on each side with a market place in the center with 3 women walking through market. On the right lower corner is a man in a Chinese Wagon.This is a very detailed picture with Chinese writing on the buildings.It has a Chinese stamp on the lower left corner.It looks like some type of cloth is underneath with a few pieces of butterfly wings underneath that is lifting up with a piece of glass on top.It is a very beautiful piece of art. I would greatly appreciate any information on this piece of art.

Aimee Newell

Hi Susan: Thanks for reading the blog. I suspect that your tray was probably a souvenir brought home from an exotic location, but I don't know much about whether the type of image can tell us much. Perhaps another reader knows? Thanks again for sharing with us! Aimee Newell

susan wilson

I was left a wooden tray made from butterfly wings with a bengal tiger in the middle would like to no a bit more about it if any one can help

Aimee E Newell

Hi Karen: Thanks for reading and commenting on our blog. I'm not at all surprised that your picture is from Brazil - looking back at all of these comments, many of these pictures seem to have been made there and brought back to the U.S. as souvenirs. Museum ethics prevent me from commenting on the value of your picture, but you could look at online auctions (like ebay) and see if similar pictures have been sold recently - that would give you a sense of the market value. Also, many local auction houses offer appraisal services, so you could go that route. Historically speaking, I put pretty much everything I know into this post - but I have learned quite a bit from some of these other comments. Thanks again for your interest and do let us know if you learn more about your picture!
Aimee Newell

Karen Taylor

my last post said there was an apple in the picture...my brain said Banana and I typed apple...ok...a banana and a pomagranate

Karen Taylor

I have a framed art piece of Indigo Blue Butterfly Wing Artwork. It has 3 monkeys in a tree with an apple and a pomegranate. It was given to my great grandmother and it is dated 1930 on an attached handwritten note. The note states - "The background is made of butterfly wings. Man made this for Harry in Brazil for a pack of cigarettes in 1930". It also has a gold diamond shaped sticker that says " origina lidades Santos Rua Frei Gaspar, 44 Brasileiras. Do you have any other information about such a piece of artwork and perhaps if it has any value beyond, a piece of artwork history. Thanks.

Aimee E Newell

Hi - Thanks so much for reading our blog and letting us know about the pictures you have. I wrote about this tray in our collection because I was also hoping to learn more about these pictures. There seems to be very little published about them. I have learned from the other comments made here. I can only surmise that yours are souvenirs from Brazil - did your parents or grandparents ever go there on a visit? Thanks again for leaving a comment. Aimee Newell

Wendy Emerson

I have inherited three butterfly wing pictures all with Rio written in the bottom right hand side. They have been hanging on the wall in my parents' house for as long as I can remember...I was born in 1946. They have wooden frames and I would be very interested to have some information about them. There is no possibility that they are recent copies. They are in very good condition.

Aimee E Newell


Thanks so much for letting us know about your tray. I'm not at all surprised to hear that yours shows biblical sites - I imagine that was a popular seller. As I mentioned in the post, we also have a butterfly wing picture that is marked "Rio de Janeiro." These seem to have been tourist items made and sold in Brazil. Thanks for reading our blog and leaving a comment!
Aimee Newell

vrubel ofir

i have this kind of tray with jerusalrm sites made in rio brasil
can i add him to your tray ?
we have this tray more than 70 years

Aimee E Newell

Hi Bead - Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. I agree with you - I want to know so much more about these pictures! I wish we had a way for you to post the images of your picture, but we don't at this time. As I mentioned in my post, we also have a picture that is prominently marked "Rio de Janeiro," so I'm pretty certain that one was a souvenir sold in Brazil. We also have three other butterfly wing items - all with Masonic emblems and all of them include some painting with the wings. Two of them are plates, although I think they were meant to be decorative and not necessarily functional. Thanks again for your interest and your comment.
Aimee Newell


FINALLY... someone knows something about these trays and pictures (etc).
But, after reading Graeme Perkins note, I wonder too, if mine are not those of which he speaks. Mine are marked, panama, on the smaller picture, in gold. there is No painted picture in it, it's All Butterfly wings, in a geometrical design (both of them). They are quiet heavy. They are both framed in wood, which is inlaid. I could take pictures, but where to post with this note, I have not figured out..
This is the only place in my search, where I found the only one close to it.

I was given these two pitcures about 10 yrs ago, by an elderly friend, and story about them goes like this:
Her husband was over there (panama) in the war, and when he came home he brought them to her. Then when he passed away, she moved.. and where they wer' noticed by my son, in a storage shed... they had sat there, back in the corner for 40 yrs since.
My son spotted the glimer from the sunlight hitting one of the corners.. he asked what that was, and she said she didnt quiet know off hand, that it had been there the last 40 yrs. She told him to bring them out, so he climbed over everything in there to get them, n when he brought them out, he was in AWE! He said to her, my mother would love to see these! So she said, go get her, (me) I came back with him, and she came out the door with them.. and said to me, I hear you would like to see these, and handed them to me. I was in AWE, am still in AWE 10 yrs later.. She said, I think these should go home with you! I nearly fell off my feet with joy, amazing things people do, just to see others smile, and enjoy.
To this date, I still have found Very Little out about them, One person I contacted, was very rude, and replied back saying this was crule, and I should be ashamed. I was floored! Well.. turns out it was an angry person thinking that they wer' killed for this soul purpose of this art. I wonder if the person doesn't know that they only live a short while?
Anyway, I would love to know more about these, if anyone can help. Graeme Perkins, Thank You for some insight, I bet that was a wonderful exsperience!

well.. thanks for reading this, and if you or anyone can help me learn more, I would truely be greatful.
Happy New Year,

Aimee E Newell

Hi Graeme: Thanks so much for your comment! What a fascinating visit that must have been - at Shiptons. I am going to print it out for our research files. If you do find a way to publish a reference book, let us know - I haven't been able to find much published information on these pictures. I think they're so interesting. Thanks again for checking out our blog and for sharing your information!
Aimee Newell, Director of Collections

Graeme Perkins

Hello.. Here's what I know about Butterfly Wing Pictures:

Thought I'd write this after reading the warning report on fakes on Ebay. i've been fascinated by these evocative and beautiful pictures for some time. I tracked down the descendants of the people who registered the UK original patent no 202213 on the 16th August 1923. The patent was registered to 3 people, Albert Emily Shipton, Caroline Emily and Amy Marie Shipton. To my amazement, the company Shiptons, is still in business in it's original premises in Birmingham, England. I contacted them and the current Managing Director and grandson of the Shiptons, Mr. J. May, very kindly agreed to let me visit. On entering the building, one enters a wood pannelled building in a time capsule. Shiptons now (and then) make Jewellery and to my uninitated eye, seeing the production techniques of yesteryear was fascinating. I had taken some of my own collection with me and Mr May showed me some of his pieces. I had expected to merely talk to Mr May about his memories of the time before WW2 when they were produced. He showed me prizes won for the pictures at, I think, exhibitions in the 1920's in Glasgow, South Africa and Paris (possibly New York but I'm not sure. He then took me thru to a 1st floor back extension to the building. He pulled back a floor-to-ceiling curtain and, as my eyes became accustomed to the dim light, I could see a dusty workbench, covered in debris. I soon realised the debris was remnants of frames and half finished pictures. I was astounded, it was a real Marie-Celeste moment, the workbench is as if, the artists had left to go home on a Friday 70 years ago and never returned. I since heard from a researcher who visited Shiptons in early 2008 that a serious fire in the adjoining premises has possibly damaged the workshop and that the surviving pieces have been moved internally for safe keeping. Whilst walking back thru the building, Mr May reached up on top of wooden cabinet and brought down 3 x boxes, like large cigar boxes. Inside, he brought out folded sheets of newspaper. The newspapers were German and dated from 1915, inside the folded sheets were the butterfly wings, as they were received all those years ago ! They must have come into England via a neutral country as we were at war with Germany in 1915. Never used, being in the dark and undisturbed, the wings are as vibrant now as then. There still exist all the remnants of the production process up to and including labels ! Quite an experience for an unsuspecting collector. I had (and still have, if anyone is interested ) the idea of publishing a slim reference book on these beautiful and evocative pictures as nobody seems to know much about them and , as far as I'm aware, there is still no widely available ref info....any way I digress. In our discussion, Mr May told me that (excuse me if you know this) that the most common pictures were traced from blocks and then reversed painted on glass, then backed with the wings, glassed and framed either wooden or silver. In addition, they manufactured butterfly jewellery eg pendants, rings, broaches as well as powder compacts. He is not certain where the idea came from but we thought that the Shiptons would have seen the butterfly trays that came back with the sailors from South America from about 1880 onwards. Somewhere they got the idea to combine the iridescent colours and the form of the wings with hand painted reverse glass pictures and they patented the method in 1923. Mr May thought that the total production of pictures was a 'few' up to 'several' thousand over the period 1923 - 1939 when production stopped on the outbreak of WW2. So perhaps 4 - 7000 of these pictures were produced. At most there were 3 people producing them at any one time...the high stools they sat on are still there..or were when I visited in 2006. The United States patent was granted in 1924, which, while I have no details, caused problems to Shiptons. Apparently, Mr May's Grandmother was in New York in 1939 with half that years collection with her brother. I think she sold them both there and in San Francisco. Her brother went to Canada and joined the RCAF. The most common pictures seem to be ladies in crinolene dresses, noblemen in the 18th century style and Dutch boys fishing. The rarest and now, oh so expensive, are the classic art deco scenes of elves and fairies, flapper girls and the like. The other rare ones are scenes of England, coastal resorts, valleys and streams. In silver frames and if signed by any of the 3 main artists (Dorothy Buckley, Daisy Smith plus ?), even more so. Shiptons had (and still do) jewellery shops in several English coastal resorts and the English scenes were developed for this market. I'm told by a fellow collector that at their shop in Hastings is a collection of pictures on display. In addition, they made pictures and ashtrays to be either sold or given if you were travelling 1st class on the ocean liners both plying the routes and generally. For example I have one of the Queen Mary. I had thought these were not by Shiptons but there was an example. in the factory. These shipping pictures continued to be made for a short period after WW2, particularly for Cunard. These later pictures are identifiable by their metal frames whereas the pre war pictures seem to have wooden frames. The largest I have ever seen was a beautiful fairy in woodland setting in a silver frame about 12" x 12". 2 other firms also made butterfly pieces Thomas L Mott and Henry W King, both of which Shiptons purchased. That's all for now, I'd be happy to hear from anyone who knows anything. I've tried to contact the writer of the fakes warning for more info but no reply. My guess is that the trays and other south american scenes (religious pictures, parrots,scenes of rio de janeiro) might still being made in south america. Since I've written this, I've been contacted mainly from the USA and the UK where there are clearly others who collect. ,

Aimee E Newell

Thanks so much for sharing the information about your tray! The note on the back is fascinating - and gives it a bit of a story. Are you thinking of donating the tray? If so, the Museum would certainly consider it as a gift. Or, if you are concerned about its condition, please feel free to contact me by email and I can provide additional information (anewell[at]monh.org). Thanks again for reading our blog and telling us about your tray!

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