Back in 1325 B.C.E., when King Tut ruled Egypt, minions would keep the air around the young pharaoh cool and insect-free with the aid of long-handled fans. Roughly 3,000 years later, fans were still being used to keep pests at bay, only this time they were held by young Victorian women, who would shoo away unworthy suitors by slowly fanning themselves. "Don’t waste your time," was the explicit, ego-deflating message.

When we think of fans, we are usually thinking of the folding varieties. But folding fans are a relatively recent development in the vast fan timeline. Once they arrived in the West in the 17th century, however, they quickly took over.

Regardless of what they are made of, most folding fans have the same basic parts. The piece that’s most visible to the eye, and the source of decorative expression for fan makers, is the leaf, which is creased so that it compacts into a little package within the fan’s monture, which includes the sticks, ribs, and outside guards. A pivot anchors the bottom of the fan, which is also known as the head, and that’s about it. Everything else is decoration.

If your leaf was constructed out of ostrich feathers, then most of your decoration was already done. During the Victorian era, ostrich feathers dyed in a rainbow of colors were attached to ivory or tortoise-shell sticks. With the advent of plastic, these precious materials were replaced by celluloid, and some of these celluloid sticks were so wide that they doubled as the fan’s leaf. By the 1920s, Bakelite began to replace celluloid.

Satin was another popular leaf material. Creamy tones lent themselves to hand-painted scenes and still-life studies. Paper leaves were routinely lithographed, often with depictions of life in the preceding centuries. Ecru and silks were given light treatments of delicate painted flowers, while leaves made of Brussels lace and lace-like wood were usually left alone.

One name that is not immediately associated with fans is the Russian firm of Fabergé. Known for its imperial Easter eggs, Fabergé fans are museum pieces today for their ornate sticks. Inside sticks were often produced from mother of pearl with a gold inlay. The outside guard sticks were sometimes made of gold inlaid with enamel and studded with heart-shaped diamonds.

In China, painted hand fans came into their own during the Song Dynasty, between the years 960 and 1279. Personal bian mian fans, used to cover the face, were rigid and rounded, usually made of silk stretched over a wooden frame. The handles might be made of black lacquered wood, or perhaps a stick of ivory. Folding fans ranged from ones made of sheets of paper that were glued to a radiating network of slender ribs, to brisé fans, with elongated leaves of wood or ivory that were held together at their ends by silk thread...

Chinese fans were popular especially popular in the West at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Because bian mian fans were inexpensive to produce, a variety of companies made them to promote their products and services. For example, Coca-Cola gave away advertising fans to its customers, Pan Am made fans printed with maps of its routes to Asian, and countless local insurance companies and furniture stores made hand fans with their company’s name on one side and a nostalgic print of life in a more carefree time on the other.

Japanese fans also included rigid and folding types. The most common rigid fans are known as uchiwa, which like the Chinese bian mian fans are often used as a surface for advertising. More formal rigid fans are called gunbai. Japanese folding fans are called sensu or ogi, with hiogi being the word for folding fans produced for the court and made out of hinoki, which is Japanese cypress.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Ventagli.org

Ventagli.org

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

Faechersammlung.de

Faechersammlung.de

A German collector's excellent gallery of vintage hand fans from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Features high r… [read review or visit site]

Antiquespectacles.com

Antiquespectacles.com

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare First Half 19th Century Chinese Cantonese Riviere Des Perles With Box FanAntique Chinese Carved Fan EventailExquisite Mid 19th Century Chinese Cantonese Celestial Landscape With Box Fan19c Qing Dynasty Chinese Carved Bovine Ivory Fan Made For European MarketSigned Antique Hp French Fashion Vernis Martin Miniature Fan Landscape ScenesAntique Chinese Carved Fan EventailFine Chinese Carved Telescopic Fan With Box "1000" FacesAntique Hand Painted Both Sides Hand Fan On Bone Sticks, Landscape & CourtingFine Tiffany & Co French Hand Painted & Mop Fan With 14k Gold Ring From EstateAntique Carved Mother Of Pearl Mop Hand Fan Hp Paper Romanesque ScenesAntique Chinese Carved Fan EventailBeautiful Antique All Faux Tortoise Shell Fan From Estate No ReserveChina Trade Export Silk Dragon Embroidery Brise Ladies Fan W/sandalwood Box YqzAntique Chinese Carved Fan EventailTsuba For Samurai Katana,sukashi,shyakudo,inlay,fan,edo,iron/gm045/Antique Hand Painted Hand Fan, Garden & Landscape Vernis Martin Lacquer BoneNice Chinese Mandarin Lacquer Painted Fan 19th C.Early 1800's French Hand Painted Vernis Martin Fan Antique French Hand Painted "faux"tortoise Shell FanFinest Antique Japanese Solid Sterling Silver Enamel Fan Cranes In Flight JapanFrench Cow Bone And Silk Small Hand Painted Fan From Estate No ReserveAntique Mother Of Pearl And Hand Lace Fan Framed And BeautifulAntique Chinese Export Canton Feather Fan Or Face Screen Hand Painted Antique Large Victorian Or Edwardian Silk & Ebony Mourning Fan From Estate NoresChinese Japanese Cow Bone Bamboo And Silk Small Hand Painted Fan From Estate NorPurple Japanese Hand Held Flower&butterfly Silk Bamboo Folding Fan Wedding DecorBeautiful Fan-shape Porcelain Jewelry Box Painted Nice Spring Flowers No ReserveChinese Fashion Wing Chun Style Dancing Fun Folding Lace Hand Blue Color FanPa Soft Fluffy Fancy Dress Costume Showgirl Dance Folding Feather Fan BlackSpanish Style Flamenco Dance Party Wedding Lace Silk Folding Hand Held Fan WhiteJapanese Wooden Gold Lacquer Bowl, Fan (bf10) Antique Chinese Hand Carved Sandal Wood Brise Fan Qing 19th/plus Other FanSandalwood Fan Hand Folding Pocket Purse Sensu Chinese Dragon Pattern Feng Shui New Hot Sale Chineseblack Fan Wing Chun Style Dancing Fun Folding Lace Hand Collectible Chinese Hand Painted Fan Sector 1900 SignedChinese Fan Face Painting By Qi Baishi ɽPretty Lady's Dark Blue Cotton Bamboo Gorgeous Flowers Folding Hand FanChinese Great Wall Pattern Art Wedding Sandalwood Folding Hand Held Fan TasselExquisite Women Fashion Fan Bud Silk Printing High-grade Silk Gift Wedding FanVintage Folding Fans Silk Flower Style Lace Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal PartyPw Vintage Chinese/japanese Hollow Folding Bamboo Wooden Carved Hand Fan 02New Elegant Span Fan In Summer Silk Bud Grade Silk Printing Lace Retro Fan Ue33Antique Victoria Era Ivory And Silk Gold Metallic Thread FanNice Antique Hand Fan With Mirror Souvenir 1925 String Action Fold UpVintage Folding Hand Fan Ivory Plastic ~ Lace Made In SpainHere's A Fan-tastic Offer! Pair Vtg? Folding Fans--bamboo, Child's LaceBright Red Japanese Hand Held Folding Butterfly&flower Silk Bamboo Tassel FanHandheld FanVintage Folding Bamboo Original Wooden Carved Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal PartyHand Held Bamboo Silk Butterfly & Flower Romantic Folding Fan Wedding FavorHot Red Hand Hold Chinese Bamboo Red Silk Butterfly & Flower Folding Fan Vintage Chinese Japanese Asian Handmade Black Silk &bamboo Floral Print Held FanPs Soft Fluffy Fancy Dress Costume Showgirl Dance Folding Feather Fan WhiteLot Of 7 Pretty Ladies Folding Hand Fan Free ShippingPa Soft Fluffy Fancy Dress Costume Showgirl Dance Folding Feather Fan GreenNew Arrival Chinese Wing Chun Style Dancing Fun Folding Lace Hand Black FanPs Soft Fluffy Fancy Dress Costume Showgirl Dance Folding Feather Fan Navy BlueElegant Span Fan In Summer Silk Bud Grade Silk Printing Lace Retro Fan Ue332 Vintage Chinese Hand Painted Wall Hanging Large Folding Fans Vintage Spanish Lacew/tango Dancers Handmade Gilt Tortoise Hand Fan