Fans appeared in the East at least 2000 years ago. Initially, the leaves of plants served as fans, the shape of which was later assumed by artificial fans. Their appearance and functions during this time changed radically. Initially, they had a purely practical purpose – to give coolness, fan the fire, drive away the flies. Only not so long ago, they acquired ritual and social significance. A servant with a fan emphasized the social position of the gentleman, and an open flat fan became an indispensable accessory of the aristocracy and the rich merchants of Japan and China.
The folding fan, which probably appeared in Japan, was more compact, and when folded it could be carried in a sleeve or bag. By the XVII century. Folding fans with the first merchants who went to the East, came to Europe and soon became an important part of the women’s attire. No lady who follows fashion would appear without him in society. Especially they were needed at court. With their help, it was possible to whisper furtively, hide the expression on the face, or sign the lover.
Most folding fans consist of plates to which a base of paper or fabric is often sewn or glued. The outermost plate, usually thicker and made of durable material, is called the backbone. Fans were made of silk, satin, lace, paper, feathers.
Old fans can be dated by their size, by the shape of the plates, by the ratio of the length of the plates to the width of the base, by the opening angle of the fan, and also by the style and plot of the decorating image. The main ways to decorate the base were painting (including storyline), printing and embroidery, while plates and bones, usually made of bone, wood, ivory or horn, were covered with fine carving, varnish, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell, metal or gems.
Vintage, custom-made and hand-painted fans of the XVIII century. very expensive and quite often appear on auctions. But in antique shops, boutiques and shops of antiquities can be found for a reasonable price fans of the XIX and early XX centuries. These fragile items can be easily damaged and should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place.
Above left – an imitation of an oriental round fan made in 1960 from paper and plastic. Top right – hand-painted Japanese fan of the beginning of the 20th century. with a paper base, wooden plates and ivory bone inlaid with insects. Bottom right – French folding fan without base with decorated plates, made in the middle of the XIX century. Below on the left – a thin Chinese fan with plates of openwork ivory was made in 1840. In the center – fans with a lace base were produced in large quantities for tourists in Spain in the 1960-1970s.