The history of the Fan


When and where the first fan developed cannot be said exactly any longer today. However, already in the grave of Tutanchamun (1350 B. D.), a golden fan with feathers was found. Also in former times palm leaves and other natural materials already were used to get fresh air. Somebody found the next Chinese fans somewhat later in a grave near Chang cha. These two pieces were made of twisted bamboo. Probably the Brisé Fan originally came from Japan and was brought to China in the 9th Century by moving monks. 

We know that the first folding fan was used around 1000 A.D. At the beginning of the16th Century the folding fan took its way through Europe because of the Portuguese trade with Eastern Asia. After Portugal, Spain and Italy it also arrived in the remaining European countries. Because of being extremely practical, the folding fan became very popular soon. And because of the large demand, a production in Europe developed which ran on full speed. In the 17th and 18th Century this production was so importantly that Fan Maker became a recognized occupation. So there were the first guilds in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, England, the Netherlands and Germany soon. Leaves and sticks whose production required large fate relating to crafts, were mostly manufactured in different places. The final processing to a complete folding fan took place in the workshop of the Fan Maker. Only in France during the pass of time tremendously many fans were manufactured; there were more than 150 Fan Makers in the middle of the 18th century. 

The period of the Rococo was the first great fan time. The pieces were made of very precious materials like mother of pearl, ivory or tortoise shell with gold and silver decorations, carvings or even jewels and gold foil; the leaves were painted with cheerful motives of a friendly nature as well as musicians etc. The fan got a very high socially standard and could no longer be missed as mode accessory soon. Even a own fan language developed with which a lady could talk to her lover without any words. After a while this mode accessory was no longer reserved only for the aristocratic and wealthy classes, also civil ladies could afford themselves less expensive pieces. The fan was not only mode accessory any longer; it also became more and more a toy and pastime. So there even were trick fans which showed different scenes depending on the way they were opened. Thermometers, hidden mirrors or levers for special mechanisms etc. were attached to the guardsticks, too. Around 1790, fans became simpler again. The thin sticks were simply made of wood or ivory and were only poorly decorated. The fan leaves were printed in order to colour them by hand afterwards. 

In the time of the French Revolution, simple Brisé Fans made of wood became modern which were pasted with coloured printings. During the “Biedermeier” period there were very small delicate Brisé Fans made of horn or bone which were extremely fine sawn and sometimes painted with flowers. In the middle of the 19th Century, fan production got a new high point. Fans with complex sticks were produced again. The leaves were provided with lithographies on both sides which showed romantic or baroque-similar scenes and became hand-coloured. Such colour-glad fans were manufactured in all European countries and were absolutely popular. One of the most well-known Fan Manufactures was Duvelleroy which also controlled the French market and employed some special fan painters. In the 19th Century large quantities of special folding and Brisé fans from the Chinese Canton or Indonesia were exported because of the large demand. Particularly the so-called Mandarin Fans were a proper export hit.

At the end of the 19th Century, there were suitable fans for all opportunities: Wedding Fans, Mourning Fans, Dancing Fans, Memory Fans, etc. Around 1880, especially in France, enormously large folding fans made of painted silk and/or lace with heavy sticks became modern. In Germany and Austria there were heavy Brisé fans made of ivory or tortoise shell at the same time which were often only decorated with a monogram at one of the guardsticks. Such fans were not modern for a long time because the ladies deplored themselves that these fans would be too unmanageable and wouldn’t make enough fresh air in big Ball Halls or Operas which were illuminated with hundreds of candles.

In the 90's of the 19th Century and around the turn of the century, fans of all thinkable  forms and remarks were made. Evenly everything that pleased the buyers. Particularly, the market was also controlled by large fans made of differently colored feathers which were mounted on more or less valuable sticks. These fans were even used until to the 30's of the 20th Century where they were still sometimes be seen at big balls or festivals. At the beginning of the art nouveau period (around 1905/10) was again asked for handy, qualityful and more complex arranged fans. The “belle époque” and the Art Deco brought very beautiful and handpainted fans. However, the valuable materials were more and more displaced by celluloid and other plastic materials.

Up to the WWI and the abolishment of the monarchy, the fan was used as a mode accessory. Afterwards, in the 20’s and 30’s, there were multicolored advertising fans of all kinds, mostly from France, some Brisé fans made of celluloid or bakelite and the German so-called “Dance Lesson’s Fan” made of wood which girls received for their dance lesson and let it sign by their different dance partners.  The American Advertising can be traced back to 1860. Many examples consisted of a fixed rectangle of cardboard stapled to a wood stick. An interesting picture or image was printed on the front, while the reverse had a detailed advertising message. All kinds of products and services were advertised on American Advertising fans. Although they have lost their popularity since the invention of air conditioning, these American fans are still being made todayAfter the WWII the fan had finally disappeared because it was not used any longer. Today, fans are only produced in countries like China, Japan, Spain or Italy as souvenirs, for traditional celebrations or ceremonies, as film accessories or advertisings for airlines etc.