I was strangely drawn to this beetle — preserved forever in acrylic — when I saw it lurking on a shelf at the wildly eccentric Toronto vintage shop, The Chief Salvage (1493 Dundas Street West). Stocked with taxidermy, faded pennants, old photos, religious icons and a boatload of ephemera, The Chief summoned American designer Thomas O’Brien who has a special knack for composing vignettes incorporating everything from star charts to junk shop castoffs.
Yet when I combed through O’Brien’s book, American Modern, I found only two instances of butterflies, above, and even those were tenuous (notice the butterflies on the fireplace mantle, photos by Laura Resen).
Priced at $18, the beetle came home with me. It was one of those harbingers like a newly-learned word that suddenly starts appearing in everything you read. Soon, I began seeing bugs and butterflies in vintage shops far and wide, I even noticed them behind dealer Cindy MacCool in the portrait I shot of her in her Prince Edward County shop, MacCool’s Reuse.
In the latest New York Times Style mag (May 6) I spotted another example, below left (photos by Alix Browne), in the Amagansett home of model/stylist Tiina Laakkonen and Jon Rosen. Even the bedroom wallpaper sports butterflies.
Bug collecting or entomology as it is properly known, was a craze in Victorian England and some of the examples you’ll see in vintage shops today actually stretch all the way back to the 19th century.
Recently, I was scouting at The Salvage Shop (1492 Kingston Road) and I was mesmerized by a collection of bugs and butterflies for sale, priced around $40 – $60 for individual specimens, more for larger groupings.
Proprietor Roy Clifford showed me an astonishing butterfly collection he keeps housed in a neighbouring storage facility with drawers upon drawers of specimens so rare some of them are now extinct. Roy’s butterflies aren’t for sale; he says he does a good trade renting them out as props for TV and films.
Back at his shop Roy does have one butterfly for sale, below. I think Chocolate Albatross be a great name for a band and they could use a photo of the framed specimen for their CD cover. Or I could buy it to keep my beetle company, the yellow wings would go with my sofa.