History of the Hand Fan

History of the Hand Fan

Fans have been in existence since earliest civilised time. It is highly probable that fans originated from the spontaneous action of ordinary people who used a large leaf or some other suitable object to cool themselves. Ancient illustrations found in Egyptian temples reveal that the fan held a prominent place in noble society as early as the XVIII Dynasty in sixteenth century BC. The Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all used fans for cooling and ceremonial purposes.


Fans from China and Japan, were not fashionable or feminine but were symbols of significance both social and religious. It was the custom to request an artist to paint a fan for a particular purpose, such as a farewell gift or as a token of friendship. Fan painting became a recognised branch of Chinese art and the leading artists of their time produced paintings for fans amongst their work. A parallel partnership of fine art and fans occurred in Europe during the latter part of the 19th century with the advent of Impressionism. Many of the leading impressionists and post impressionists painted fan leaves mainly inspired by Japanese art and culture. The fan’s purpose evolved from being functional and decorative into fine art, indeed Degas exhibited nineteen hand painted fans and Pissarro exhibited twelve at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibit in 1878/79. 



Once fans arrived in the West in the 17th century, they quickly took over. Europeans regarded them as accessories of fashionable dress, increasingly so in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which witnessed a considerable development in trade between China and the West. Along with the tea, sugar and silk came fancy goods such as fans and fan sticks.

When we think of fans, we usually imagine the folding varieties, however, the folding fans are only a relatively recent development in the vast fan timeline. The early fans were fixed not folding, the folding fan does not appear either in the east or west until relatively late in its history. The prototype for the first fans in Europe were copied from prototypes brought into Europe by merchant traders. These early fans were considered a status symbol and were used primarily by royalty and the nobility.  The materials used for the sticks and guards were mother of pearl, ivory and tortoise shell. They were often carved or pierced and decorated with silver, gold and precious stones.

In England towards the end of 17th Century the material of the fans were painted by craftsmen who along with the stick makers, pleaters and shavers, amalgamated from being a Guild into The Worshipful Company of Fan Makers which today is still an active Livery Company in The City of London. The Worshipful Company was formed via a petition to Parliament concerning the threat of imported fans and in 1709 it received its Letters Patent from Queen Anne. It was the last Livery Company to do so for 200 years, after which Letters Patent to form a new Livery were given by The Guildhall. 

 Fan making flourished in England during this time and 1741 accounts from 'The House of Commons Journal' record a petition of the fan-painters pointing out that 'within the previous three years the increase in copper plate engraving had been putting the fan-painters out of business'. In 1752 the Daily Advertiser tells of 'The English fan makers' complaint to the East India Company which sets out ' the Hardship they labour under by the importation of India Fans.' 

 The trends of the 20th century were for advertising fans, first in Art Nouveau style, popular at the turn of the century and then later Art Deco style. Feather fans such as ostrich were very popular in high society at this time and the enormous ostrich plumed fans were seen at the Moulin Rouge.

 Rockcoco, is proud to be reintroducing the fan as a beautiful and useful fashion accessory for the modern women.