Displaying a Hand Fan

The hand fan, as a woman’s daily accessory, is dead.  In its heyday, it was the equivalent of the cellphone. A device associated with expense and prestige, used to send messages, and to display wealth and popular culture, via its materials and adornments. For us today, an antique fan is a pretty, old-fashioned thing to look at. A new fan is, at best, a cute finishing touch for a goth or rockabilly ensemble, a clever wedding favor, or a dance accessory.

But there is nothing wrong with a pretty, old-fashioned thing to look at. Many old fans have a “stick” or two damaged. This reduces their value, but they’re still fine to display.

Fans should be framed to protect them from dust and UV light. A fan just stuck in a rectangular frame is a sad thing, and it is best displayed with some consideration for its shape. Good solutions include:

My British grandmother gave me a simple old Canton ivory fan. I’m not sure if she used this to cool off during her Hong Kong days, or if one of our earlier ancestors did. I was very taken by the butterflies. (Moths? Let’s say butterflies…) It had a broken “shoulder” stick, which I glued to the neighboring stick with an ivory-appropriate epoxy, and I’ve had it framed to hang in my bedroom, using Fan Framing Solution #3 above:

Old Canton ivory fan, , framed in a shadowbox with a specially cut mat. The frame is actually 1 inch deep.

The fan’s not perfect but I’m just loving it – I lie in bed and gaze happily in its general direction through my myopia. Here’s some of the detail on the fan. No way can I see this without help from my optometrist!

Canton ivory fan detail. Moth or butterfly?

Frame done by Petone Frameworks – they specialize in shadowboxes and they do laser-cut mats. (Disclaimer: I paid. Mentioning them by name because the specialty-cut mat is pretty unusual around here, and they were super lovely. The cinnabar background mat was their suggestion.)

To conclude: everything you ever wanted to know about hand fan construction and restoration. And an excellent book, The Fan: Fashion and Femininity Unfolded by Valerie Steele.  Which contains the agreeable quote, “Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them.” – The Spectator, 1711.


  1. Pingback: A big fan of ours « The Wellington Picture Framer

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