Fans Unfolded

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Summer is a great time to delve into large-scale cataloging projects with the help of interns. This year our focus is fans. We have over five hundred in the museum collection dating from the 1700s to the 1900s.  They are made of paper, silk, leather, feathers, bamboo, tortoiseshell, bone, ivory, and early plastics. Most are from the 1800s when fans were considered an important fashion accessory and a communication tool.

Eileen Fresta, a graduate intern from the American Studies masters program at Penn State University has spent the past two months cataloging many of these fans. Here is a selection of some of her favorites in the CCHS collection (so far).


 Painted Fan, Circa 1900, 1980.500.238

This hand-painted silk fan covered with yellow and orange flowers and green vines was signed by the artist named “B. Renard.” It could be possible that he is the same B. Renard who also painted a fan for the famed Russian jewelry company Faberge! 


Advertising Fan, 1880s, 1980.500.195, Gift of Miss Ethel Harvey

 This paper fan from 1880 advertises ladies’ summer hats available at the Kohn, Adler & Co. shop in Philadelphia. The illustrated hats feature fashionable names such as the "Marlboro" and the "Nilson."


Souvenir Fan, 1876, 1980.500.97, Gift of Ruth C. M. Roberts

Souvenir fans often commemorate an event or destination. This lithographed and hand tinted fan depicts Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park during the 1876 Centennial Exposition.


Brisé Fan, 1800s, 1980.500.123, Gift of V.D. Keeney

Sometimes fans commemorate people instead of places. Several Quaker school girls autographed this brisé fan made of individual wood sticks with a ribbon threaded through holes in the sticks to keep them together. One girl named Lidia B. Harper included a memorable verse on the stick. In pencil she wrote,"Lidia B. Harper. Love me little, Love me long. I do not bite for it is wrong."  

To learn more about the fans in the CCHS collection, please visit our library to search our collections database or visit the museum this fall to see a pop-up fan exhibit in our Decorative Arts gallery.