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Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Fans have been used for centuries by many different cultures. Pictorial records show that the earliest fans date from around 3000 BC. The Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans all used fans for cooling and ceremonial devices. These early fans were all a fixed type, folding fans did not appear until much later in the Orient, between the 7th and 10th centuries. Early fans in Europe were reserved for use by royalty and nobility and regarded as a status symbol. In Europe, by the seventeenth century, folding fans became popular until they completely replaced fixed fans. European folding fans often copied the prototypes that were brought back by the merchant traders along the coasts of China and Japan. Nobility and royalty began to use folding fans during this time, while the lower classes still used fixed fans. Americans imported fans from the late 1600s to the mid 1800s, but after the Civil War, production of fans began in Massachusetts. Fans remained a popular part of everyday fashion until the 1930s.

Please see our Facebook Gallery for photos of fans from the collection.


The Language of Fans

Fans have a language of their own, below is listed some of the symbolism.


To change it to the right hand:
You are imprudent.

To throw the fan:
I hate you.

To move it with the right hand:
I love another.

To let slide it on the cheek:
I want you.

To hold it closed:
Do you love me?

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