Diss U3A February Meeting – “Fans-tastic – The History of Fans by Ann May”

Ann started collecting fans after she found one in a school jumble sale.  Early wall paintings have evidence of fans being used to keep cool, often by male dignitaries. Ann later discovered some beautiful antique fans and began her quest to find out their history.

The next meeting of Diss U3A will be on Thursday 5th March 2015, at Diss United Reform Church.  The guest speaker will be Denise Hammond-Webb who will give a talk entitled, ‘Semer and the Workhouse’ the story of a little Suffolk village.

Please note: the Annual General Meeting will take place before this talk, starting PROMPTLY at 9.45 a.m.  Please try to arrive by 9.30 as it is very important that our AGM has a quorum of least 70 people.

For further information on Diss U3A please visit the website:  www.dissu3a.org.uk

When Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutenkhamun, he discovered a chalice-shaped ostrich feather fan, which, unfortunately disintegrated when exposed to the outside world. It is thought that fans were also used to expel evil spirits from the burial chamber.  Tambour-shaped fans were also used in religious ceremonies, again, carried by men.

Fans were also used by the Greeks and Romans to keep flies away from religious vessels.  The materials varied.  They included animal horn handles, skin, peacock feathers, even brass.

By the time of Queen Elizabeth, fans were being used as fashion accessories. Travellers would bring them back from the Far-East, often decorated with jewels and gold tassles. These could be attached to belts and carried by men. Tudor fans tended to be heavy and bulky, whereas Stuart fans were smaller and lighter.  The brisé (folding) fans were delicate and needed to be opened and closed correctly.

Some of the most delicate fans came from China.  These would be made from ivory with hand-made decorations.  Other materials introduced were mother of pearl, silver and gilt.  Some had paintings on them and fabric stuck to the figures, with tiny, intricate features painted on to the faces.

Queen Victoria, renowned for her black mourning attire, encouraged the use of black fans.  These were large and austere, although some of them were made with delicate black lace and tortoise-shell. At this time many fans arrived in satin-lined boxes or engraved wooden cases.

In the early twentieth century fans were sometimes used to advertise or commemorate events.  They were also used by women to spy on others! These peephole fans had tiny holes covered in gauze, for peering at others in secret.

In the eighteenth century there was a language of fans whereby men and women could speak to each other in code, sending messages of love and intrigue.

Ann has collected over 100 fans and showed us a variety of different sizes, materials and designs.  This is an impressive collection and invited many questions from the audience.

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