Lace, silk, fringes and painted, fans from bygone eras are delightful to collect and display. One of my favorite collectibles, these delicate amenities are a popular treasure the world over and a charming reminder of the days before air conditioning.
I was delighted to see that the Oglebay Institute used a paper fan to remind guests of its ongoing fundraising campaign, “Preserve Our Past by Creating Your Future”. The fan was a gift to anyone who attended his beautiful counseling performance last Friday night and it came in handy in this August heat wave.
Used for personal cooling comfort since ancient times, fans come in more shapes and sizes than you might think. Fans can be traced to Roman, Greek, and Etruscan cultures, but most experts associate the popular development of fans with Japanese and Chinese cultures. Europe discovered beautiful oriental fans via Portuguese merchants and the rest is history.
Although fans are considered a fashion accessory for women, even gentlemen wore fans in the 17th century.
The fans were made of feathers, hand-painted silks and advertising paper.
Fans from before 1900 are the most sought after in the collector’s world and those dating from before 1800 often sell for thousands of dollars.
The fans are collected around the world and the largest collection of antique fans is believed to be on display at the Fan Museum in Greenwich, England, with over 3,000 copies. This museum also has an excellent web page (thefanmuseum.org.uk).
Fans are a beautiful representation of fashion. These handy folding mechanisms are also an admirable feat of engineering with their slim folded size that easily opens to reveal decorative convenience.
Some fans of the past have been adorned with jewelry and accessorized with gold and other precious metals. Peepholes have even been added to make fans in France.
Over the years, fans have been used for purposes other than simple cooling and have served as ceremonial tools, status symbols, flirting props, commemorative gifts, and giveaways. Spain still uses fans in a formal social way and Asia, Africa and other warm regions of the world still find fans at their fingertips in a convenient way.
Choreography is another area of social history that fans are used to even today. Spain and Japan incorporate fans into their ceremonies and dances, such as Spanish flamenco.
The giveaways are usually non-collapsible fans that include an image and the company label behind them, like the one from the Oglebay Institute. Non-folding or fixed fans were the standard of the very first fans.
The collapsible fan only arrived on the fashion scene late in fan history, in the Middle Ages.
Fan painting is considered a highly specialized art, and many famous painters created fans in their particular style, including Degas, Gauguin, and Renoir.
The anatomy of a fan consists of several parts: the ribs, the guard, the pivot, the sticks, the head and the leaves.
All of these parts, with the exception of the leaves, make up what is called the frame or skeleton.
It’s a simple pleasure to open a beautiful fan and enjoy the decorative design found inside, then wave it around to create a cool, quiet breeze.
It’s like a hint of romance and a bit of mystery unfolded with it.
I keep my little fan collection open and on display during the hot summer months in my front room where guests love to examine and use them. Each displays a different style of art and design.
If you want to start the hobby of collecting fans, fine examples can be found in antique stores and estate sales.