Friday, February 19th, 2010
Cynthia Fendel, the author of Novelty Hand Fans, Fashionable Functional Fun Accessories of the Past, has been collecting and researching hand fans for three decades. I spoke with her recently and was amazed there’s so much to hand fans! I peppered her with questions about her personal collection, where her interest in fans started, what her favorites were and she was gracious enough to answer everything. It’s a great story. I hope you’re as fascinated as I was!
“I love hand fans! I have been collecting hand fans since 1974 when I was an actress in New York City. I was rehearsing for a show in which I played a 19th century lady and held a fan. I knew nothing at all about fans (even how to hold one!) but went down to Chinatown in New York to buy a prop example. The show was the Noel Coward Operetta Bittersweet and we performed it at the St Louis Municipal Opera, the largest outdoor theatre in the United States. At the closing night party a character actress cast member surprised me with a gift of an actual antique fan. I was thrilled with the large ivory and silk fan. Since then, wherever I go, I look for antique or collectible fans. I now know that fans were not just Chinese or Japanese but fans were made in countries all over the word and have been made since the beginning of time. France was, however, source of most of best and most beautiful fans during the 18th and 19th century. I have found antique fans for a few dollars but fans are considered great artifacts in Europe and auction houses there often sell fans for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Wherever I go I always look for fans. My personal collection varies from 18th century European fans to American 1950′s advertising cardboard-on-a stick fans. I especially love novelty fans and unusual fans. While writing Novelty Hand Fans, Fashionable Functional Fun Accessories of the Past, I purchased a fan from the 1870′s that appears as if it is a six shooter pistol with two triggers. When you pull the trigger, a pleated silk fan painted with birds and flowers appears. The fan and its patent drawing are pictured on page 58 in the book. I love the pistol fan so much but it was just impossible to show to fellow collectors! Since it mimics an actual pistol I could not bring it on the plane without security thinking it was an actual pistol! Because of this I recently sold it to a fellow collector from California. The pistol fan will be on exhibit sometime this year at the Hand Fan Museum in Healdsburg CA where I am on the board of directors.
Of course I have lace fans, feather fans, silk fans and fans made of leather, rubber, mica, silver, cork and all kinds of materials. I have fans that pop out of bouquets, fans that pop out of cigars and even a fan that appears like a fish! I have fans that double as parasols, fans that go in sets with purses, fans with maps, autographs and photographs on them. I have perfumed fans, fans with perfume bottles hidden in their tassels and fans with compacts hidden inside them. There are just too many interesting fans so I had to write a book about them. Novelty Hand Fans, Fashionable Functional Fun Accessories of the Past is a labor of love. There are over 200 beautiful photographs in the book along with patent drawings (fans were patented!) and photographs of 19th century men, women and children using fans. Yes, men used fans too!
When I tell people my involvement with fans they always ask “Do you know The Language of the Fan?” My answer is, yes. I spent a year researching the Language of the Fan. Did people really communicate with the movement of a fan? Find out all about it in my book where I devoted an entire chapter to it. There was even a Broadway show tune called “The Language of the Fan!”
Don Johnson, book reviewer from Antique Week said Novelty Hand Fans, Fashionable Functional Fun Accessories of the Past is a “New fan book provides shining content, variety.” He loved it, and so will you!”
You can find out more information and order the book at http://www.handfanpro.com
ISBN 978- 0-9708852-1-0