United States, 1720-1900
Donated By: Mr. Charles Tunnilcliff/ Mrs. Charles Rosenthal
For thousands of years, fans have had functional, ceremonial, and decorative uses. Pictorial records show some of the earliest fans date from around 3000 BC, and there is evidence that the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans all used fans as cooling and ceremonial devices. Chinese and Japanese historical records indicate that fans held mythological and historical significance.
The folding fan is attributed to the Japanese and Chinese and was brought to Europe by merchant traders as early as the 1500s. Early fans, made of expensive material and decorated with precious metals and stones, were reserved for royalty and the nobility and were regarded as a status symbol.
By the beginning of the 18th century, folding fans were being made throughout Europe while increasing numbers were being imported by the East India Companies of Holland, France, and England. The 18th century also saw the development of the printed fan, which was cheaper to manufacture and therefore cheaper to purchase; fans were suddenly available to a much wider audience than had previously been the case. By the 19th century, fans were available to most classes.