One of the first manufacturers of framed butterflies and butterfly wing jewelry was established in the late 1800’s in Wellesley MA. By the turn of the 20th century this manufacturer of insect art had gained fame and notoriety around the world. The New York Times gushed over what was called the “Denton Mount.” They had stated, “The wings of the fragile creature rest against a background like alabaster, showing every minute cure and scallop. Yet they are protected from dust and pests, and may be handled without fear of breakage.” Until then, researchers had stretched out butterflies into awkward shapes by impaling them with pins and dousing them with harsh chemicals but they would still fade and crumble. The Denton family revolutionized how butterflies were displayed and have an interesting story of how they started.
In the year 1883, explorer, naturalist, self taught scientist William Denton died of ‘jungle fever’ at the age of 60 while exploring South East Asia with his sons. He had lived a full life collecting an enormous array of natural wonders not so often seen by the human eye.
His children inherited his curiosity of the natural world and the oldest son, Sherman, decided to turn the unkempt family collection into a thriving business. He organized the thousands of fossils, bird eggs, skins, fish, insects, stones, and beautiful butterflies from their collection and devised and patented a process to preserve these fragile beauties.
By early 1890’s, their work had captured the Victorian fascination with nature and became the “must have” collectible item of the decade. Not all was easy sailing, as was the case in their first attempt to ship supplies to their new store in England. The S.S Londonian sank while in route, claiming all 20,000 butterflies and their mounts. This did not deter Denton and he sailed across the Atlantic four times to replenish the collection at their London store.
From United States to Europe they were not only sought after for displays in millionaire estates and museums, but by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself (Tiffany & Co Jewelry). Butterflies no larger than the tip of an eraser were encased in varying capsules, which were now adorning the streets of Europe on lapels and brims of extravagant hats. Mr.Tiffany had asked them to sell the secret of this fashionable and painstakingly made jewelry but they didn’t accept the offer.
You can still find some of the Denton family framed butterfly creations at auctions houses around he world. While their methods may seem outdated in our time, the Denton’s were the first family of framed butterflies providing an enduring allure of these natural beauties which far exceeds the short life span of a butterfly.
– Meghan Pearl & Kevin Clarke
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