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Cool Down With This Charming Collectible

Lace, silk, fringed and painted, fans from bygone eras are delightful to collect and display. One of my favorite collectibles, these delicate conveniences are a popular treasure worldwide, and a charming reminder of the era before air conditioning.

I was pleased to find Oglebay Institute used a paper fan to remind guests of its Capital Campaign now going on, “Preserving our Past Creating Your Future.” The fan was a gift to all those attending its lovely Board Benefit last Friday evening and it came in handy in this August heat wave.

Used for personal cooling convenience since ancient times, fans come in more shapes and sizes than you might think. Fans can be traced to the Roman, Greek and Etruscan cultures but most experts link the popular development of fans to the Japanese and Chinese cultures. Europe discovered lovely Oriental fans via Portuguese merchant traders and the rest is history.

Though fans are thought of as a ladies’ fashion accessory, even gentlemen carried fans during the 17th Century.

Fans have been made of feathers, hand-painted silks and advertising paper.

Pre-1900 fans are the most desirable in the collecting world and those dating to pre-1800 often sell for thousands of dollars.

Fans are collected the world over and the most important collection of antique fans is considered to be displayed at the Fan Museum in Greenwich, England with over 3,000 examples. This museum has a great web page too (thefanmuseum.org.uk).

Fans are a lovely representation of fashion. These handy folding mechanisms also are an admirable engineering feat with their slim folded size that easily opens to reveal a decorative convenience.

Some fans from the past have been jeweled and accessorized with gold and other precious metals. Peepholes were even added to elaborate fans in France.

Over the years, fans were used for purposes other than simply cooling and have served as ceremonial tools, status symbols, flirting accessories, commemorative gifts and advertising giveaways. Spain still uses fans in a formal social manner and Asia, Africa and other hot areas of the world still find fans handy in a practical manner.

Choreography is another area of social history in which fans are used, even today. Spain and Japan incorporate fans into their ceremonies and dances, like the Spanish Flamenco.

Advertising giveaways are usually non-folding fans that include an image and the label of the company behind them, like Oglebay Institute’s. Non-folding or fixed fans were the standard of the very early fans.

The folding fan didn’t arrive on the fashion scene until late in fan history, sometime during the Middle Ages.

Fan painting is considered a highly specialized art and many famous painters have created fans in their particular style, including Degas, Gauguin and Renoir.

The anatomy of a fan includes several parts: ribs, guard, pivot, sticks, head and the leaves.

All these parts, except the leaves, comprise what is known as the monture or skeleton.

There is a simple pleasure in opening a beautiful fan and enjoying the decorative design found inside, then waving it to create a cool silent breeze.

It’s as though a hint of romance and a bit of mystery unfold with it.

I keep my small collection of fans open and on display during the hot summer months in my front room where guests enjoy examining and using them. Each displays a different style of art and design.

If you would like to start the hobby of fan collecting, nice examples can be found at antiques stores and estate sales.


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