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 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...
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.
Chinese fans were also popular at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. These fixed fans (they did not fold) usually had a rounded shape. The handles might be made of black lacquered wood, or perhaps a stick of ivory. As for the leaves, they were frequently made out of paper, which was strengthened by a radiating network of slender ribs. Early Chinese fans were hand painted; later ones were printed.
Because Chinese-style fans were inexpensive to produce, a variety of companies made fans to promote their products and services. For example, Coca-Cola gave away advertising fans to its customers, Pan Am made fans with maps of its routes to the Orient on the leaf, 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.
Interviews & Articles
Many fan collectors have asked me how artists dyed mother-of-pearl fans. A collaborative article published on the FANA Forum in Ju… [more]
This double-leaf folding hand fan from 1897-1899 features hand-painted cabretille (vellum) on the front and silk on the back. It w… [more]
Many people ask me about the "language of the fan": how hand fans were used in earlier times to communicate. And in fact, the role… [more]
When I was a girl, my mother had a lot of wonderful handbags. My dad traveled often in Western Europe. Every time he came home he … [more]
Even as a young girl, I was interested in the historical aspect of handbags. I probably started collecting in high school when I b… [more]