A few of our favourite things

Fabulous Fans

By Pauline Rickard, Migration Museum Volunteer - Working as a volunteer with the Migration Museum for several years, photographing and storing images of the many interesting and diverse items in the Museum’s collection, quite often I have had the opportunity to come across some outstanding objects that particularly caught my eye. One exceptional find was the Museum’s modest but beautiful fan collection

Although fans date back many thousands of years, it is mainly those from the 1800s and 1900s that are found in collections today.  While many types and styles of fan appeared over the centuries, it is the folding type that can be splayed out and retracted into a compact stick shape that has proved most popular and is now commonly found in collections.

Their purpose was multifold and not always for staying cool in hot climates.  They were also used as fashion accessories to hide blushing and facial blemishes, for flirting and even to remain anonymous in public.

Although fans are often kept in museums for their provenance, those that are kept for their craftsmanship and as examples of design from a particular era are usually the most delicate types that are covered in lace, hand-painted, or display skilled and artistic carving.  Generally speaking, the more elaborate the fan, the higher its value.  This is especially the case with fans that are encrusted with jewels and precious metals, as well as some Art Nouveau and Art Deco style fans by popular artists during the 1920s and 1930s.

Lace fans are sought-after in collections, especially early hand-woven silk lace filigree types.  Lace fans, being easily torn and quick to fade, are therefore harder to find in collections in good condition.  Silk lace was very rarely used and being so delicate, few silk lace fans survived the decades unscathed, through use or exposure to sunlight and damp.  Hence, those that have survived in good condition are very rare and incredibly expensive to acquire.  Also rare and most desirable are the earliest fans which were hand-woven in bobbin and needle-lace style, often from silk.

Fans should be stored in acid-free boxes, placed flat and fully opened, with padding below the bottom fan and more padding with acid-free tissue paper between if more fans are to be placed on top. 

While she’s resisting the urge to revisit the Museum’s alluring fan drawers, Pauline looks after the accessioning and input of data relating to our photographic collection.

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