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Vintage Hand Fans

Hand fans were used over 4,000 years ago as ceremonial devices, to shoo away bugs, and to keep cool in the heat. Hand fans were a status symbol and a work of art. Today, they are decorative collectibles and fun accessories.

What styles of hand fans are available?

Folding fans were invented in China or Japan in the 17th century. Before that, fans were rigid. There are several styles of folding fans.

  • Regular folding fan - This opens into a half circle shape or just larger.
  • Cockade fans- This style opens into a full circle. This style has thinner handles as they double as the guard-sticks.
  • Fontage fans - This creates a shell shape with the middle sticks being longer than the outer ones.
  • Brise Fan - This is a folding fan with no leaf. The sticks are flatter and wider and create the leaf themselves. These are often made out of one material.
  • Non-folding fans - These are paddle hand fans or any flat shape attached to a handle. Before the 17th century, most antique fans were this design.

How do you store an antique or vintage hand fan?

Most vintage fans need to be stored out of direct sunlight to protect the paint and materials. It is recommended to store them closed since they can get stuck open if left this way for too long. Temperature is also important. The best storage temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Hand fans can be displayed in cases if properly assembled.

What materials are hand fans made from?

Hand fans are made of two main components: the screen or leaf, and the sticks or skeleton. The leaf and ribbing are made from numerous materials. More and more materials and designs were experimented with over the centuries.

Ribbing -Wood, bone, and metal were very common materials for the ribbing. Later, plastics such as celluloid and Bakelite were used. Luxury materials were tortoiseshell, bone, ivory, and mother of pearl. The guard-sticks, which are the two outermost sticks, were often inlaid with gold or jewels, ornately painted, or carved. Often famous artists, artisans, and jewelers produced these works of art.

Leaf - Fabrics such as silk and satin were painted or embellished. Lace was stiffened or combined with other fabrics for added structure. Lace was often dyed or painted. Paper fans have always been a favorite material for craftsmen. Some papers are quite unique, like mulberry paper. Feathers were popular, too. Hand fans used ostrich, goose, and other bird feathers. Dramatic or luxurious, feather fans are ideal for special occasions. Many fans were made completely from wood or leaves like palm or pineapple. The wood can be exquisitely cut or painted. The palm fronds were dyed or woven.