Fans have been in use at least since Egyptian times; one was discovered in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen. Admired for their beauty and fragility, fans maintained their popularity and achieved a certain notoriety in 1711 when Joseph Addison famously commented in The Spectator that "Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them." Fans remained an important and fashionable addition to a lady's wardrobe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That use of the fan encouraged publications such as La Belle Assembl
ée and Godey's Lady's Book in the 19th century to illustrate fans in fashion plates, along with directions for following the latest trends in dress and accessories. Although twentieth century fashion moved away from the fan, fans continued to be manufactured for use as gifts, advertisements, and decoration, with many Japanese-style paper fans still imported.

This exhibition has a purpose that goes beyond the exhibition of fashion plates and fans. Here the Athenaeum combines prints from its extensive Regency and Victorian collections of ladies’ magazines with recent fan donations from our members. However, Athenaeum librarians and curators admit to knowing more about the ladies’ magazines than about the fans. Therefore, assistance for fan captions has come from the Fan Association of North America, whose members have graciously supplied identifications and descriptions wherever possible. It is the hope of the Athenaeum staff that visitors to this exhibition will also add to our knowledge of the fans presented here, and we encourage you to share your information with us. This exhibition is designed, therefore, to gather information while placing the fan in a context of fashion plates.

For more about fans in general, visit the Fan Association of North America online at They plan to have their 2013 Annual Meeting in Wilmington, DE, in April.

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Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Case 4

Case 5 - Mourning Fans

Case 6 - Asian Fans

Periodicals 1 - The Lady's Monthly Museum and La Belle Assemblée

Periodicals 2 - Godey's Lady's Book

Periodicals 3 - Dame Fashion


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