Fans in the Locust Grove Estate Collection

Physical evidence for hand fans dates as far back as physical evidence of humans does. In the ancient world fans signified status. The Aztec King Montezuma II carried a long-handled feather fan (perhaps similar to C-0108), ancient Egyptian pharaohs used palmetto fans (possibly similar to C-0463), and Chinese officials denoted their bureaucratic status with fans.

Fan of turkey feathers and peacock feathers with a woven handle.
Probably 1900-1925.


Brown leaf fan with decorative looped fibers on the edge.
Late 19th-century. 


There are three main types of fans. The flat fan consists of a handle connected to a frame covered in stretched silk (C-0503), a flat spread of feathers or straw (C-0127), or lacquered paper (C-0496) sometimes painted with floral designs (C-0467). Painted silk fans appeared in China as early as the 5th century AD, and by the 12th century were regarded as an art form. 

Black and white silk fan with a painted scene of two Japanese women in a garden. Black handle with tassel.
Late 19th-century. 


Straw fan. Green and brown; round fan part on a looped handle.
Late 19th-century


Lacquered paper fan painted with a landscape of an ocean with white flowers. Brown lacquered handle, white cord, white and purple tassel. With original printed tissue paper covering.
Early 20th century. 


Fan. Paper painted with white flowers on a dark, slightly metallic background. Brown, carved wooden handle.
Early 20th century. 


The second type of fan, brisé, consists of a series of sticks held together by a rivet at the base and a ribbon at the top (C-0181 and C-0466). The sticks might be elaborately carved wood, bone, ivory, mother of pearl, or other rare materials. The third type is the folding fan, made of sticks connected by a pleated piece of fabric or paper, called a leaf or monture. Like a brisé fan, folding fans are held together at the base by a rivet. The two sticks at each end of the fan, called guards, are often sturdier and more ornately decorated than the others.

Wooden fan carved to resemble tree bark. Inside carved wood with openwork in a scroll design with applied speckle metallic sequins. Silk blue ribbon laced through leaves.
Early 20th century.

Carved sandalwood fan, laced with white ribbon. In the original red cardboard box labeled "China 501".
Early 20th century.


Fans appeared in Europe around the sixteenth century and became firmly ingrained in women’s fashion by the eighteenth. Brisé fans, particularly of the small, ivory-carved type, were popular in the early eighteenth century, but folding fans and chinoiserie dominated in the middle of the century. Manufacturers in the East crafted “Canton fans,” imitations of traditional designs, to appeal to European consumers. Designers in the late eighteenth century became more innovative, like C-0081, a double-sided fan. C-0109 is an example of a telescopic fan, whose sticks, when closed, hid inside its handle.

Fan with wooden sticks stained mahogany with pierced designs. The paper is gold with handpainted blossoms, leaves, and birds - different on each side.
Early 20th century. 


Fan made of leather and black stiffened fabric. The telescoping fan is stored in a leather case - opens by pushing the knob up to the top of the groove.
Late 19th-century. 


In the early nineteenth century, small spangled fans were popular (C-0199), complementing the simpler dresses of the time. The rise of the crinoline expanded ladies’ dress widths and fan sizes. Bejeweled fans with exquisite guards and intricately painted montures ruled. A woman’s marital status dictated the decoration of her fan. Unmarried women were restricted to light colors and small designs (C-0422), fiancées were permitted lace ( C-0118), but the most elaborate were reserved for wives (C-0433). 

Fan with ivory guards inlaid with silver sequins. Repeating pattern with sequins on a gauze mesh leaf.
Late 19th-century. 


Blue painted wood fan with grey scrolling design throughout sticks of the fan. Painted paper with a blue background, pale purple florals, and green vines. Metal ring at end with beige tassel & cord.
Late 19th century. 


Fan of handpainted mauve fabric and slate-blue lace on silver-painted wooden sticks. Depicting a neoclassical scene with a woman and cherub.
Late 19th century.


Gold painted wood fan with metallic painted floral design around carvings, decorated sticks throughout. Twisted metal ring. Gauze-like fabric with sewn metal sequins and picot edging.
Late 19th century. 


Even widows had their own type: black bombazine and satin, like C-0088. Feathered fans (C-0087) became popular again in the late nineteenth century, as well as a new style, which advertised restaurants, perfume, travel companies—or bullfights (C-0191)!

Black silk fan on carved black wooden sticks.
Late 19th-century. 


Feather fan on tortoiseshell sticks with purple, turquoise, green, gold, and orange feathers. A maroon cord tassel hangs from the ring at the base of the fan. Brought from Germany by Innis Young as a gift for his sister, Annette Young. 
Probably Germany, 1900-1925.


Wooden fan with gold embossed lettering of "Recurerdo" on one outer stick and "De Espana" on the other. Painted scene of a bullfight on the inside, red colored paper on the opposite side. Metal ring on the bottom.
Late 19th-century.  


The turn of the century and the rise of the “modern woman” resulted in a downturn in the popularity of fans, although ostrich feather fans were still popular for court presentations (C-0079), and new materials like Bakelite were incorporated (C-0423). Mass manufacturing of cheap fans devalued hand-crafted pieces, but World War I signaled the final blow to the fashionable fan, leaving them as the utilitarian objects we use today.

Ostrich-feather fan with mother-of-pearl sticks monogrammed in gold "AYE" for Alice Young Eaton (Annette's aunt). According to a note in Annette Young's handwriting, this fan was a gift from her brother Innis Young in 1920.


Fan with bakelite sticks. Gauze leaf painted with gold stars, gold leaves, and sequins; picot edging.
Early 20th century.


Locust Grove's collection includes more than two hundred fans, of which these are a few of our favorites.

A Short History of Hand Fans

By Athena Randall - Vassar College