A lady’s hand fan was one of the most important clothing accessories during the nineteenth-century. Not only decorative, but they also had a practical purpose of moving air for cooling. Color, design and style indicated not only moods and events but also the highest in modern styles. There were all types of fans. One example is a mourning fan which became popular following the death of Queen Victoria’s husband Albert in 1861. After his death, she wore only black for the rest of her life. This mourning style was translated into the fashion of using solid black fans for mourning the death of public figures but also for friends and family.
An interesting aspect of hand fans is the special language which developed whereby moving the fan in certain ways conveyed information or wishes according to Parisian fan maker Pierre Duvelleroy in early the nineteenth-century. These include:
Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: Yes
Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: No
Fanning slowly: I am married
Fanning rapidly: I am engaged
The museum collection has more than fifty hand fans with most of them formerly owned by du Pont women throughout the nineteenth-century and into the twentieth. One of the earliest fans is this French fan in an elaborate presentation case (above) which dates between 1808-1811. This light and delicate design were typical of French Empire Style. Presentation cases were made not only to preserve the fan but also to acknowledge who had owned it. In this case, it was owned by Anna Van Dyke, Mary V. du Pont and Greta du Pont Barksdale. Treasures like these were frequently handed down throughout the generations.
Owned by Julia Sophie du Pont Shubrick, this gorgeous fan (above) dates to ca. 1860. Made either in England or France, the upper part of it is highly decorated paper with three scenes that have been hand-colored. The pierced sticks are made of ivory and it has pearl guards.
Mrs. Louise du Pont Crowninshield owned eighteen fans. She lived through the transitional period of hand fans where the more decorative ones gradually began to fall out of favor. Her collection consists mostly of Oriental fans with decorative paper scenes, ostrich feathers fans, and souvenir fans acquired when she traveled overseas. This colorful paper fan (above) from Paris, France was made by Goossens Frere et Soeur (brother and sister), dates to around 1900 and represents the “Restaurant Ambassadeurs, Champs-Elysees”.
Visit our online collection to see a beautiful Tiffany made wedding fan. More hand fans including a Victorian scrap fan will be added online in the near future.
Debra Hughes, is the Museum Curator of Collections and Exhibits at Hagley Museum and Library.