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Antiques & Collecting: A Fan for Easter

PUBLISHED: 16:18 06 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:54 20 February 2013

Silk leaf painted with a parrot and doves c1775, value £550-£600.

Silk leaf painted with a parrot and doves c1775, value £550-£600.

Before the existence of air conditioning ladies of all ages carried fans to events such as a ball or the theatre. Either kept in handbags or hung from the wrist by a short decorated strap, they rapidly became a fashionable as well as practical acc...

They can be dated by the painting on the leaf - the material stretched between the sticks - and the shape and colour of the sticks. The painting can be compared to contemporary portrait miniatures, watercolours and oil paintings to give a date and country of origin, and costumes worn by painted figures can also help with a date.

The subject matter on fans varied considerably. At the start of the 18th century, classical and Biblical subjects were popular; from the mid-18th century pastoral subjects became fashionable, often painted as two- or three-sided pictures. Lacquered fans called Vernis Martin were popular in the early 18th century and again in about 1900. Printed fans that were often commemorative were made from the 1720s onwards, when fan-makers felt it was necessary to expand their trade and produce less expensive pieces. Although at the time these were cheap, because they were short-lived they are now scarce and much sought after. Some are rare and interesting, such as those commemorating the 1727 coronation or the Battle of Colloden in 1744. These fetch almost as high a price as a painted fan. Some subjects are amusing and entertaining, such as 'conundrum' fans. Most from the 18th century are etchings, but many other types of prints do appear on fans, such as aquatints, stipple engravings and even mezzotints, but these are very rare.

Early 19th century fans were mainly very small and made of ivory or bone. A few from the late 18th and early 19th centuries were painted in the manner of famous artists and from the 1880s some very fine lace fans were produced. In the 20th century amusing advertising fans were made, usually for grand hotels, restaurants and perfumes. These were mainly French and were often designed by well-known artists.

Fans were popular presents to give on special occasions such as Christmas, Easter and anniversaries. Though no longer a fashion accessory, a fan can still make a lovely gift and a collection of fans can make a most attractive display;

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