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]

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    

Superb Antique 18th Chinese Carved Filigree Figural Pagoda Flowers Brise FanRare Antique Chinese Gold Lacquer Figural 1000 Faces Painted Scene Cabriolet FanAmazing Antique Chinese Gold Silver Mixed Sticks View 100 Faces Hand Painted FanAntique Victorian Signed Fan R. Serand Duvelleroy Eventail Ventaglio Fächer 1900Large Antique Chinese Faux Tortoiseshell Hand Embroidered Asymmetrical Fan BoxAmazing Large Antique Chinese Deep Carved Sandal Wood Hand Painted Feathers FanRare Large Antique Chinese Gold Lacquer Painted Figural Scene Asymmetrical Fan19th Century China Chinese Mother Of Pearl Carved Export Fan Eventail 古董珍珠母扇Very Beautiful Old Fan - Faux Tortoise Shell - Rare - L@@kExquisite Chinese Silver Vermeil Fan Brooch Pin Enamel Butterflies 1930 RareAntique Art Nouveau Woman & Harp Painting On Ostrich Feather Ladie's Hand FanAntique Fan. Victorian Or Earlier? Carved Sticks. Chinese Buildings Etc.Chinese Antique Fan Hand Painted With Figural Design & Calligraphy Bamboo HandleAntique Japanese Lacquered Paper Bamboo Signed Fan Eventail Ventaglio 1875-1900Nice Chinese Fan Mandarin Figure 19th Century84305# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Ougi-tate (fan Stand) / Bamboo1pc Japanese Cherry Blossom Folding Hand Dancing Wedding Party Decor Fan B3Vintage Folding Bamboo Original Wooden Carved Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal Party82461# Japanese Kimono / Vintage Fukusa / Set Of 2 / Embroidery / Folding Fan &a1pc Japanese Cherry Blossom Folding Hand Dancing Wedding Party Decor FanVintage Folding Bamboo Original Wooden Carved Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal PartyAntique Burmese Lacquered Papier Mache Fixed Hand Fan85853# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Maple & Kiku With Fan82565# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Kiku & Bamboo Grass With Fan86013# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Floral Plants & Folding Fan84665# Japanese Kimono / New! Folding Fan / Floral Plants1pc Japanese Cherry Blossom Folding Hand Dancing Wedding Party Decor Fan H1pc Japanese Cherry Blossom Folding Hand Dancing Wedding Party Decor Fan B4Purple Folding Hand Held Fan Fabric Floral Wedding Dance Favor Pocket Mini FanHand Held Fan Lace Flower Elegant Floral Fabric Folding Wood Fan Party FashionFd4437 Japanese Cat Kitten Silk Bamboo Hand Fan Cartoon Folding Fan Party Gift☆82656# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Kikko & Crane & Fan82631# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Fan & Floral Plants82768# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Fan & Paulownia 82725# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Folding Fan82525# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Fan With Cloud 82728# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Folding FanLot Of 7 Pretty Ladies Folding Hand Fan Free Shipping85942# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Folding Fan3 X Blue Summer Ladies Hollow Outdoor Folding Colorful Paper Hand Fans Wedding1 X Red Summer Ladies Hollow Outdoor Folding Colorful Paper Hand Fans Wedding1 X Ivory Summer Ladies Hollow Outdoor Folding Colorful Paper Hand Fans WeddingVintage Folding Bamboo Original Wooden Carved Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal PartyVintage Black Lace Fan Laquered WoodLot Of 3 Vintage Hand Fans W/ Boxes For Parts/repair Mop Ivory Bone Celluloid82778# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Peacock & Folding FanVintage Silk Nagoya Obi Belt:sake Cup / Cucumber Bottle On Folding Fan@h8482718# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Floral Plants & Folding Fan82700# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Cloud & Folding Fan82665# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Cloud & Folding Fan82749# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Phoenix & Folding Fan82744# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Folding Fan82673# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Cloud & Folding Fan84871# Japanese Kimono / New!! Noren Curtain / Hemp / Fan & DragonflyFashion Folding Fan Delicate Japanese Plum Blossom Design Silk Costume Party Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Hand-painted Holding A Color Fan Beauty Statue Antique July 4th Holiday Fan- Very Nice- Turn Of The Century- Unique Item82773# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Crane & Folding FanEarly 20th Century Japanese Silk Fan82653# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Paulownia & Folding Fan