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Article: Antique Decorative Folding Fans

Antique Decorative Folding Fans

We recently acquired four beautiful antique folding fans. Decorated fans have a rich history, and date back to as early as 3000 BC. The fan has been used as both a beautiful piece of folk art as well as a functional, ceremonial, and symbolic tool. Few art pieces combine this level of functionality with such beauty and extravagance.

Some of the earliest evidence of fans appears in records from the Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans, as well as in myth and lore from Eastern empires. These folding fans that we acquired from the mid 19th century and later show that the fan tradition lived on through history. This fan from 1876 was produced in the period of the American Centennial, when the Centennial Exhibition brought about a spike in displayed patriotism across the nation. The celebratory paper fan is printed with crossed American flags, surmounted by a glorious spreadwing American eagle.

Folding decorative fan

While ancient fans were originally reserved for nobility, regarded as a status symbol, these folding fans from American history were considered celebratory symbols of tradition, and were even used for advertisements or announcements. In the 19th century, the decorative fan became less centered on status and was instead far more accessible to the masses. Americans, who had previously imported fans from Europe from the late 1600s to the mid-1800s, joined the fan-making fray soon after the Civil War. Large scale production gave way to lithographed and printed fans with gorgeous gilding, illustrations, and elaborate designs, all within reach of the general public for the first time. The fan’s purpose was adapted to celebrate national events such as centennials, the addition of new states, inaugurations, or the birthdays of public figures.

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