Fan-tastic collectables that make the most ornate accessories at Christmas parties

Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at a cooling device that has collectors hot under the collar...

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 10:28 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 10:49 am
Collecting fans is a particular passion of mine!
Collecting fans is a particular passion of mine!

We’re well into Christmas party season, and I’m sure all my refined readers will be seen promenading at only the most exclusive and elegant society balls!

But will you be adorning yourselves with probably our most historic ornamental, functional and even ceremonial accessory- the fan?

Long recognised as a symbol of social status, the fan’s history goes back at least 3,000 years. Fans are pictorially recorded at ancient Greek, Chinese and Roman ceremonial and social occasions.

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Reaching Britain in the 16th century, the fan soon became the supreme accessory for Royalty and the nobility.

Feel sympathy for decorous 18th century ladies, for whom dressing up for Christmas festivities meant hot wigs and heavy gowns. Getting too warm risked their wax makeup melting and sliding off their faces, so a fan was an essential piece of equipment.

Incredibly popular by Victorian times was a ‘secret language of fans’ comprising up to two dozen subtle gestures. It was used for clandestine courtship and flirting, forbidden by the strict rules of society decorum.

Drawing the fan across the cheek for example meant “I love you”, twirling it in the left hand signalled “we are watched”, opening it wide meant “wait for me”, and quickly closing it meant “I’m jealous.” I trust you are all taking notes for spicing up your own Christmas parties!

Nineteenth century Parisian fan maker Duvelleroy ended up supplying Queen Victoria. Vintage Duvelleroy fans, like his beautiful delicate Art Nouveaux designs, command high prices, even for damaged and unusable examples. Pictured are English paper painted fans from the 1700s, part of my personal treasured worldwide fan collection. All are separately framed, which I would advise to protect delicate paper, materials, and feathers.

I found my favourite fan in a little shop on my holidays. The owner had no idea of its history or price- let’s just say I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse! My research has revealed it to English, about 1820-30, hand painted onto paper. It’s now worth far more than I paid, but I absolutely love it and it’s not for sale!

So have a wonderful party season, and remember to let your fan do the talking!