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    

Good Antique Regency Pierced Bone (bovine) Brise Fan C1820Finely Hand Painted Antique 19th Century French Carved Mother Of Pearl Fan Exquisite Antique 19th Century French Silk Lace & Mother Of Pearl Fan, SignedFine Antique Chinese Gold Gilt Hand Embroidered Silk Lacquer Pien Mien Fan Antique Chinese Fan With Applied Faces And Lacquer Sticks C19thLarge Victorian Carved Brise Faux Tortoiseshell Fan Eventail Chinese InterestEarly 20th Century Chinese Gilt Silver Repousse Enamel Pipe Vase Fan Sword MotifAmazing Chinese Fan Figures Mother-of-pearl 19th CenturyEarly 20c Chinese Sandalwood Wood Carved Hand Painting Face Figure Figurine FanOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Catalog Of Large Full Color Fan DesignsA 19th C. Chinese 清朝 (qing Dynasty) Lacquered & Silk Lined Fan Box.Old French Fan F5Antique Chinese Hand Carved Faux Tortoiseshell Brise Fan Qing DynastyAntique Chinese Gold Lacquer Sticks Hand Painted Figural Scene 100 Faces FanAmazing Chinese Fan Figures Famille Rose 19th CenturyAntique Chinese Carved Sandal Wood Hand Painted Figural Scene Telescopic FanAntique Japanese Japan Tanto Sword Fighting Knife Estate Sale Fan TantoAntique Chinese Fan F6Japan Antiques Gunsen Fan Kabutowari Yoroi Muramas Weapon Samurai Katana Edo Old French Mother Of Pearl Fan F4Antique Regency Pierced & Spangled Horn Brise Fan - C1820Fine Antique Italy Hand Painted Figural Scene Silk Carved Bakelite Hand FanOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Hiroshige Uchiwa Fan C1830Antique 19th Century Eventail Fan Box Faucon Avenue L'opera Paris France C1890'sOld Chinese Fan Painting Of A House By A Lake And CalligraphyOld Chinese Fan Painting Of Landscape And Calligraphy17762# Japanese Kimono / New! 2017 Year Yukata / Fan & Morning GloryAntique Framed Qing Chinese Silk Embroidered Sleeve Panel 19th C Women With Fans Vintage Brown & Carmel Marbled Plastic (bakelite?) Hand Held FanOld Chinese Fan Painting Of Landscape And CalligraphyOld Chinese Fan Painting Of FlowersVintage Antique Tiffany & Co Lady's Lace Hand Fan With Mother Of Pearl With Box19th Century Chinese T0rt0iseshell Fan With Imperial Crest Eventail With BoxAntique Edwardian Painted & Gilt Wood & Black Feather Fan C1910Antique Faux Tortoiseshell Chinese Brise Hand FanVintage Estate Lot Of Five Decorative Asian Inspired Hand Fans!!! B110Vintage Hand Fan Lot Of 10 Japanese, Asian, Souvenir, Celluloid, Wood,hand Paint18747# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Cloud & Fan & PaulowniaChinese Fan-shaped Wood Inlay Afghanistan Jsde Carved Ruyi Screen 1pc Japanese Cherry Blossom Folding Hand Dancing Wedding Party Decor Fan PinkWhite Color Chinese Folding Bamboo Hand Fan Fans Art Handmade Pocket Folding FanVintage Folding Bamboo Original Wooden Carved Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal PartyChinese Fan-shaped Wood Inlay Afghanistan Jsde Bloom Wealth Screen Chinese Blue And White Handwork Emperor Holding A Fan StatuesAntique Peacock Feather Fan WoodVictorian Turn Of The Century Ornate Tan Color Lace Ladies Hand Fan EmbossedOld French Red Fan F118476# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Tatsumura / New! Sensu Ire (folding Fan Case) / SBlack Hot Sale Hand Made Soft Fluffy Marabou Feather Fan Fancy Party Hand Fan 18678# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven FanTassel Chinese App. 1820 Coppers Enamel FanMarked Chinese Bronze Stand Taoism Lao Tzu Laozi Philosopher Hold Fan Statue18688# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Fan & Floral ArabesqueChinese Blue And White Handwork Emperor Holding A Fan Statues G26618784# Japanese Kimono / Antique Fukuro Obi / Woven Fan & Floral Plants & Rhombu1pc Japanese Cherry Blossom Folding Hand Dancing Wedding Party Decor Fan &Vintage Folding Bamboo Original Wooden Carved Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal PartyHotretro Classical Chinese Fan Folding Bamboo Flower Pattern Lace Hand Fan DecorRetro Classical Chinese Fan Folding Bamboo Flower Pattern Lace Hand Fan Decor!Antique Tiffany & Co Folding Hand Fan In Box