Monday, March 10, 2008


Fan history stretches back thousands of years. Since ancient times, fans have possessed a dual function – a status symbol and a useful adornment. In the course of their development, fans have been made of a variety of materials and have included ornamental artwork. The simplest fans are leaves or flat objects, waved to produce a cooler feeling. These rigid or folding hand-held implements have been used for cooling, for air circulation, as a ceremonial device, and as a sartorial accomplice throughout the world from ancient times.

The earliest known fans are called 'screen fans' or 'fixed leaf fans'. These were manipulated by hand to cool the body, to produce a breeze, and to ward off insects. Such early fans usually took the form of palm leaves. Some of the earliest known fans have come from Egyptian tombs. Early Assyria and Egypt employed slaves and servants to operate the fan. In Egyptian reliefs, fans were of the stiff type. Tutankhamen's tomb possessed gold fans with ostrich feathers, matching depictions on sepulcher walls. Long-handled, disk-shaped fans were carried by attendants in ancient times and were associated with regal and religious ceremonies. They had handles or sticks attached to a rigid side or to feathers. Plumage of birds was used in fans, such as those of the Egyptians and Native American Indians, that had both practical and formal uses.

In the ancient Americas, the Aztec, Maya, and South American cultures used bird feathers in their fans. Among the Aztec fans were used to represent merchants in illustrations of trades. The use of various feather types had a religious suggestion. The Paracas people of South America (modern Peru) have left numerous examples of ancient feather fans among their mummies. In India, the Hindi term for a fan is 'pankha'. Pictorial evidence records that the Greeks, the Etruscans, and the Romans used fans as cooling and ceremonial devices. In Greece, linen was stretched over leaf-shaped frames. In Rome, gilded and painted wooden fans were used. Roman ladies throughout the empire used circular fans. Chinese sources link the fan with mythological and historical characters.