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    

Antique Chinese Qing Dynasty Daoguang Gold Lacquer Export Brise Fan 1830 DragonAntique Victorian Brightly Embroidered Cream Chinese Piano Shawl - Fan DesignFine Chinese Fan Painting On Paper Of A Squirrel Among Grapes Calligraphy SignedAntique French Victorian Carved Mother Pearl Hand Fan Painting Greek God Zeus Superb Antique 18th Chinese Hand Carved Filigree Birds Figural Scene Brise Fan Japan Antiques Iron Fan Kabutowari Yoroi Weapon Samurai Katana Koshirae Edo 19cNice Mid 19th C.century Chinese Gilt Silver Filigree And Enamels FanFine Antique Fan Painting On Paper Of A Mantis Hunting Bugs By Ju ChaoFine Antique Chinese Gold Lacquer Figural Scene 100 Faces Painted Leaf FanSuperb Antique Chinese Hand Deep Carved Figural Scene 100 Faces Painted Leaf FanRare Antique Meiji 19th C. Japanese Shibayama Fan AfFine Antique 18th Chinese Hand Carved Filigree Floral Design Brise Fan Lovely Chinese 19 C. Embroidered Silk Fan - Original BoxGood 19th C.century Chinese Cantonese Asymmetric Sandalwood With Box FanSuperb Large Antique Chinese Silvered Lacquer Hand Painted Scene Asymmetric FanNice Mid 19th C.century Chinese Cantonese Lacquer Fan With BoxFinest Masterly Engraved Vintage Signed Japanese Solid Sterling Silver Fan JapanSuperb Mid 19th C.century Chinese Cantonese Lacquer FanLarge Antique Chinese Hand Deep Carved Sandal Wood Painted Birds Asymmetric FanLot Of 7 Antique Chinese Fans, Carved In Cow Bone And Wood Antique Chinese Carved Fan EventailFine Antique Chinese Porcelain Famille Jaune Fan Shaped Vase, Qianlong Mark Antique Chinese Carved Fan EventailRare Antique Chinese Hand Carved Sticks Birds Scene Painted Cabriolet FanChinese Qing Dynasty Hand Painted Fan With Wooden Box Marked Maquan Ta563k Antique Chinese Carved Fan EventailAntique Chinese Mixed Sticks Faux Tortoiseshell Figural Scene 100 Faces FanAntique Important Hand Painted Mother Of Pearl And Paper Hand Fan Antique Chinese Gold & Black Lacquer Fan Applied Faces To Leaf + Fan BoxAntique Chinese Fan Shape Paktong Inkwell Seal Box Signed & Decorated【japanese Samurai Command Fan】yoroi Japanese Samurai Kabuto Armor Mask Menpo19th Century Cantonese Hand Carved & Hand Painted Brise FanVintage Handmade Antiq Ladies Fan "faux Tortoise Shell" Initial Ma C. 1840-1850Antique Vintage Ornate Hand FanAntique Chinese Carved & Pierced Bone (bovine) Brise Fan C1900Jiku22086 Cfsw China Sensu Folding Fan Calligraphy & Figure PaintingFine Antique Japanese Lacquer Bamboo Sticks Floral Design Leaf FanLarge Mixed Lot Of Vintage Hand FansFine Antique Chinese Celadon Glazed Ceramic Scholars Brush Pot Pierced Fan VaseVtg Ostrich Feather Lot White Pink Blue Fan Skirt Hat Boa Re-pair -purpose -cyclAntique Japanese Samurai Iron Weapon Tessen Gunsen War Fan 1800s Edo PeriodFine Antique Chinese Celadon Glazed Ceramic Scholars Brush Pot Pierced Fan VaseJapanese Vintage Paulownia Wood Storage Box Kiri-bako Folding Fan Sensu SuehiroVictorian Lace Fabric Folding Hand Rose Pattern Lady's Wedding Favor Fan BlackVintage Black Lace Sequin Decorated Hand FanLarge Antique Japanese Hand Paianted Paper & Gold Gilt Lacquer Sticks FanNew Chinese Handmade Lady's Folding Colorful Silk Bamboo Flowers Hand Fan Chinese Japanese Folding Blue Butterfly Silk Hand Flower Bamboo Asian Pocket FanJapanese Gold Folding Fan Sensu For Dancing W/silk Fabric CaseAntique High Quality Carved Brise Fan Xix CenturyAntique Black Silk And Bamboo Painted Fan Spider Webs For Halloween Vintage 11" Spanish Matador Painted Fabric Hand Fan Carved Wood Sticks BullLarge Antique Japanese Geishas Scene Paper & Lacquer Wood FanSpanish Style Red Dance Wedding Party Lace Silk Folding Hand Held Flower Fan New Chinese Handmade Lady's Folding Colorful Black Silk Bamboo Flowers Hand Fan Vintage Folding Bamboo Original Wooden Carved Hand Fan Fit Wedding Bridal PartyFan-shape Porcelain Jewelry Box Painted Nice Young Girls In Spring Landscape 3"Fan-shape Chinese Porcelain Jewelry Box Painted Nice Spring Flowers Don't MissAntique Hand Fan Framed French Silk Painted Carved Stick 18th C Rare H. LunaHand Crocheted Cotton Lace Umbrella Sun Parasol With Hart & Clover Design