Hand fans have been a fashion accessory for centuries. We have all seen images of servants holding large tropical leaves by the stem to cool the air around their master (and probably keep flying insects at bay).
An Egyptian fan was found in a tomb and was constructed from peacock feathers and a gold handle.
Fans can be classified as Fixed (rigid and flat)
Oriental Brise (these fans have no leaves and are comprised of overlapping sticks, narrow at their bottom and held together by a rivet)
|Fixed fans from Japan. Collection of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History|
The anatomy of a folding fan :
- The leaf- a broad band connecting the upper sticks made of vellum, fabric, paper , or lace. The leaf is usually decorated.
- The guards – are the heavy, outside sticks used for protection
- The sticks-also called ribs – serve as the inner frame, supporting the leaf. They are made of shell, wood, ivory or bone.
- The head – the lower portion of the fan. A rivet goes through the head and holds the sticks so that they can pivot.
- The loop- a flat metal ring attached at the rivet. Ribbon or tassels are attached to the loop
Folding fans came from Japan as early as the 6th-9th C. Fans came to Europe in the 1500’s. It is said Catherine de Medici introduced the folding fan (from Italy) into France. France then became the center of fan manufacturing and export for Europe from the 15thC through the early 20thC.
England soon followed France in production, although England never realized the status of France. In 1709 The Worshipful Company of Fan Manufacturers was established in England. The manufacture of the folding fan was a process involving as many as 20 workers. Makers of guards and sticks shaped the material by hand until a French inventor in 1859 made a machine to do the cutting. The leaf design was created by artists and these designs were later copied at the factory. After the leaves were pleated, the sticks were inserted and glued into place.
By the late 18thC nearly every woman in the western world owned a fan.
The fan is associated with specific body language, often referred to as the “language of the fan” as the motion of the fan was thought to be a means of communication. As a fashion accessory it defined femininity, denoted class and social status.
Catalog from an Art Nouveau exhibition at The Fan Museum
Many museums have very large collections of fans, including The Hand Fan Museum of Heraldsburg Ca. and The Fan Museum of Greenwich, London UK
|The Fan and Lace,Beryl Melville, Lochlea Pub., 1991|
Further information can also be found at the Fan Association of North America.