I used to collect antique fans… I have a thing about them. Ever since I saw my great-grandmother’s little fan in the china cabinet as a girl, I have wondered about their stories. Grandma’s fan was a simple affair; pierced ivory brisé, threaded with a faded yellow ribbon to hold the sticks together and still wearing the ribbon hanging-loop she used to carry it over her wrist. She was a handsome woman when I knew her, already in her sixties when I was born, but there were some old, faded photographs of a young woman who had been more than handsome. Born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, she grew to womanhood through the Edwardian era, she was married when George V became king. To a small child, this was ancient history! And Granny had been there!
It was with real excitement that I used to wait for the monthly Dusting of the China Cabinet, when Grandma would let me carefully take out the small antiques and curios, the memories in porcelain, ivory and silk and clean them with a soft cloth before rearranging them. I loved the paper-thin bone china of the tiny coffee-cups, the opaque glass Easter egg and, of course, the fan.
I could see the swirl of gaily coloured gowns, shy eyes meeting bold ones over the top of the fan, coy glances and maidenly blushes. Fans have a language all of their own and somehow I felt that I knew it. The little brisé fan, soiled now with the years, had been Grandma’s first and it was the first one to capture my heart. I learned to love them, from the social history of advertising fans, to the glorious feathers, mother of pearl sticks and ornately carved guards that protected their secrets. Many are exquisite works of art in miniature, incorporating many arts and crafts into a single, practical thing of beauty. Some of them were painted by people whose names have gone down in the annals of art history, others painted by the young girls themselves. They tell stories both in their design and in the hidden history of the hands that once held them. I always promised myself that I would collect fans one day if I could, and for a while I was privileged to be the custodian of such beautiful things.
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